Archive for Occupy Wall Street

Are we Losing our Democracy to a Plutocracy?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on June 4, 2012 by playthell

     Mitt’s in the middle with dollars hanging from his coat

 Notes From the Class War

All one need do is look at the line-up of corporate titans who are backing Mitt Romney, then consider how the Supreme Court decision in the United Citizen case has overturned election finance laws and opened the door for unlimited corporate spending in support of candidates they favor, to recognize that our American democracy as envisioned by the Founding Fathers is on life support.  Thomas Jefferson, the most prescient of the Founding Fathers, correctly recognized the critical importance of an informed electorate to the proper functioning of our Democratic system.

The whole idea of popular democracy and Republican government – as opposed to Monarchies or oligarchies where power is based on blood lines or wealth and military power – is that all power is in the hands of the people through the exercise of the ballot.

Hence with the military firmly under civilian control, an informed citizenry armed with the ballot, an independent judiciary refereeing the competing claims of the executive and legislative branches of government, and a free press standing watch over them all reporting to the citizens; the architects of America’s Constitution thought they had created a system that would prevent the development of tyrannical elites in the military or civilian sectors of the nation.

However thoughtful people have always recognized that tyranny is a danger that must be constantly opposed; that each generation must be vigilant in defense of democracy.  And many American leaders, including Republican and Democratic Presidents, have recognized massive concentrations of wealth in the upper classes as a danger to democracy.

The only way to prevent the tyranny of a super-rich minority is through government regulation of their activities: the government is tasked with protecting the public interests and the capitalist class is committed to increasing the wealth of its investors – which is often not in the public interests.

Hence the capitalist class hates regulation, as well as powerful unions that force them to bargain with their workers collectively, or face strikes that could cripple their business activities and reduce their profits.  They also abhor paying taxes.  Thus they are committed to electing politicians that are beholden to private i.e. corporate interests rather than the public interests; a parliament of whores that can be trusted to do their bidding.  In the coming election we have two presidential candidates that present a stark contrast between representatives of public and private interests.

While over 50% of President Obama’s contributors donate $2000 or less, Mitt Romney is being bankrolled by people like the Koch Brothers, and the CEO’s of corporate giants like Target, K-Mart, Intel, General Electric, Dell computers, CVS Pharmacy, Home Depot, Countrywide Financial, Occidental Petroleum, and may other giant corporations along with numerous sports franchises.

Since in the United States mass media has the power to determine political outcomes that were only enjoyed by all powerful militaries in earlier periods of history; the candidate who has the power of mass media at his command will have the best chance to win – and that’s a matter of money!

Given the epidemic of ignorance and apathy that infects of millions of Americans – which was prominently on display in the “Miss USA” pagent where four contestants couldn’t name the vice President of the country –  people whose heads are empty media markets that can be filled with smartly crafted lies electronically beamed into them; there is a clear danger of Karl Rove aka “Turd Blossom,” the evil spinmiester that gave us George II and Dirty Dick Cheney, might just succeed in buying this election for Mitt.

                                                           Turd Blossom

Running Dog of the Plutocrats

If Karl Rove, does succeed in his grand plan to buy this election it will mark the end of democracy – the rule of the people – and the triumph of plutocracy: a tyranny of economic royalist.  The “One Percent” will have triumphed; while Occupy Wall Street fiddles – unable to even identify the enemy let alone mount an effective strategy to defeat them.  These people are the richest economic elite in history, yet they oppose the minimum wage, public education, and are pledged to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.  Make no mistake: These are cold blooded killers of the American dream!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 4, 2012

Listen Up Anti-Wall Street Rebels!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on November 30, 2011 by playthell
 progressive Florida Democrat unseated by Republicans

 Working Americans have 3 friends in this world: God, Yo Mamma, and the Democrats!”  This simple declarative statement by former – and hopefully future – Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, a former Wall Street whiz kid who has become their worst critic, appears to be very hard for many on the left to grasp, and totally beyond the comprehension of the most vocal elements of the Occupy Wall Street rebels. Yet it is fairly easy to demonstrate that the third assertion is true, because the Republicans are clearly the enemy of the working class and the public interests.

Despite spurious rhetoric about concern for “the American people,” which has no observable relation to their actions, the Republicans are unambiguous in their support for the filthy rich in the policies they propose. This is why the Super-Committee failed, and this is why the payroll tax break for working and middle class Americans is about to lapse.  The Republican position, which they repeat ad nauseum, is that unless the rich are exonerated from any increased tax burden they are quite willing to starve the poor!

This charge is not overblown rhetoric, it is an accurate description of policies that seeks to destroy unions; cut health and welfare benefits to the poor; reduce Social Security benefits for the elderly; raise taxes on the poor, and allow unemployment benefits to run out – during the Christmas season no less – while refusing to agree to any increased taxes on the rich; even if it just means allowing the ill-conceived avaricious Bush Tax Cuts to expire.

Furthermore, the raison d’etre of the anti-Wall Street movement is the gross and growing inequity in the distribution of wealth in American society, yet the Republicans have blocked the tough regulatory regime designed to keep the Wall Street bankers from driving the economy off a cliff again.

This legislation was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats and signed into law by President Obama.  This bill also includes the toughest consumer protection legislation in American history.   Clearly it is the Democrats – people like Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, Anthony Weiner and Professor Elizabeth Warren, the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus, et al – who have waged the fight for goals that are implied in the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

The fact that the rebels do not recognize this obvious connection, embrace the Democrats as allies and work for their empowerment in the coming elections by electing men like Alan Grayson to Congress, portends a real danger that this confused and slipshod rebellion will fail to metamorphose into an effective force capable of transforming economic relations in this country.

As I write most of these rebels are so clueless that don’t even know who the enemy is, let alone the path to victory.  And leftist ideologues – many of who claim to have a “science of society” that guides their actions – are not advancing the developmental process with their mindless prattle about the Democrats and Republicans being the same!  While simultaneously cheering any sign of an uprising against capitalism no matter how irrational it’s vision or improbable it’s success.

Alas the budding movement is in grave danger of missing this historic moment and squandering its revolutionary potential in meaningless street theater that will amount to little more than a collective temper tantrum, deserving little more than a footnote in the historical record.  Some members of the punditocracy, echoing spokesmen from the OWS movement, are attempting to compare the present uprising with the Civil Rights Movement.

These misguided wags argue that in the beginning the civil rights movement was just like OWS, and then they began to identify goals and formulate demands.  If ever there was a false analogy this is it!  The Civil Rights Movement had clearly defined goals and negotiable demands from the outset.  (See “Reflections on the Council of Elders”)

 Abbie Hoffman in his Hey Day

It Was All Theater!
 An OWS Protester

Will they go the way of the YIPPES?

The present movement has much more in common with the YIPPIES, who relied on consciousness raising “Guerilla Theater” as their sole strategy; remember Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin?  What is their legacy?   What lasting changes did they bring about?  What were their goals?   They got a lot of attention at the time and they didn’t have the internet.

Yet there were those at the time, this writer among them, who doubted that a group of disorganized acid head anarchist could bring down the American capitalist system.   Evidently Jerry Rubin also began to doubt; that’s when he wised up, sobered up, scrubbed up, and became a Wall Street Stock broker.

Rubin’s close comrade Abbie Hoffman refused to grow up and spent his post-Yippie days wandered about in a drug induced haze and died from an overdose of 150 Phenobarbital tablets washed down with alcohol.   He was fifty two years old and living in a converted Turkey coop in a Pennsylvania hick town far from the scenes of his glory days in the limelight.

While his acolytes have tried to conjure a more heroic ending for their fallen idol, the notes written by his own hand portray a youth obsessed man who couldn’t deal with the onset of middle age, and was bewildered by the right-wing conservative forces that had risen to power and was imposing their agenda on the nation.

The movement Abbie and Jerry “led” had descended into historical obscurity in their life time and is remembered by few today.  If the OWS rebels do not become political and develop a strategy for effective political action that can defeat the shills of the Plutocrats in the Republican Party, they too will be doomed to failure and historical irrelevance.  That would be a tragedy of incalculable proportions.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 30, 2012

Reflections on the Council of Elders

Posted in Occupy Wall Street with tags , on November 14, 2011 by playthell

 In The Beginning: Greensboro  N. C. 1960

Militant Youths Need Mentors  not Cheerleaders!

I just watched a splendidly produced video on The Council of Elders, a newly minted group composed of people who led the heroic struggle to rid the South of Apartheid in the 1960’s.  These icons of the Civil Rights Movement have come together to express their solidarity with the youths in the Occupy Wall street Movement.  Alas, I am profoundly disappointed with what I heard:  A gathering of old warriors reflecting on past battles and wishing the youths well.

It goes without saying that this magnanimous gesture of recognition and support is a good and positive development.  And I want to make it clear at the outset that I am with them in spirit. The problem I have with this video however is that the anti-Wall Street activists need something more than mere boosterism and inspirational anecdotes about past victories from their elders; what the militant youths desperately need is guidance and instruction!

Alas, I am beginning to feel like the curmudgeonly Harold Cruse, when he was writing his masterpiece “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” I met Harold in 1964, when he was in the process of composing this great book – which is indispensable reading for anyone trying to build a radical movement today, especially the chapter “On the Intellectuals and Force and Violence” – and he seemed something of a brilliant misanthrope at the time.

Cocksure of our purpose and methods, the way most impassioned self-righteous youths are, Cruse seemed to be pissing on our parade with his brutally honest criticism of our strategy and objectives.  I was one of those who had rejected the methods and “reformist” objectives of the Civil Rights Movement and was on the road to revolution –or so I thought. Cruse dismissed the idea that we were making a revolution as dangerous folly, and told me that he was writing the “Crisis” because my generation needed to understand our historical antecedents so that we wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes.  And that is precisely why I am writing these commentaries: IT IS AN ANCESTRAL IMPERATIVE!!!!!!

What the young people who are spearheading the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations now need from elders who were active in the Sixties movement that succeeded in changing America, is clear cut analysis and instruction about how to build an effective movement today.  The most critical thing they need to understand is that from the outset the Civil Rights movement – which was the most effective of all the social movements of the second half of the 20th century, and gave rise to the others – was an organized phenomenon that had specific demands from the outset.  And these demands were negotiable.

It was not a random act inspired by outrage when North Carolina A&T students Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat down at the Woolworths’ lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina in 1960.  This was a well organized well thought out action that was part of a larger strategy for attacking the racial caste system in the former Confederate states.  Furthermore, from the outset the Civil rights movement’s demands were based in deeply held American ideals of freedom and equality, and by their dress, speech and orderly behavior the Civil Rights demonstrators were a portrait of respectability.

Hence when Civil rights workers were attacked by southern racists they won the support of millions of whites elsewhere in the nation.  This movement became so powerful that eventually their demands were enshrined into law!!  The brilliant essayists Albert Murray called the Passive Resistance strategy advocated by Dr. King “moral jujitsu,” because they turned the violent aggression of southern rednecks into moral victories.  That didn’t happen by accident: It was a systematic movement!!!

It is important to inderstand that  The STUDENT MOVEMENT COULD NOT HAVE SUCCEEDED WITHOUT THE INPUT AND GUIDANCE OF OLDER CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND MOVEMENT VETERANS!!!!!   The Occupy Wall Street movement is also based in deeply held American beliefs about equality, but in order to induce change in the economic priorities of the United States the movement must win the  majority of Americans over to their cause and PUT THEIR OBJECTIVES INTO REALIZABLE POLITICAL DEMANDS THAT CAN BE TURNED INTO LAWS.

It is also important to draw a distinction between the Civil rights Movement from the counter-cultural movement – i.e. hippies – which was a drug fueled apolitical cultural movement with vague ideals that promoted anarchy.  That’s why we cannot point to any concrete achievements from that movement which even begin to compare with the civil rights movement – or the Anti-War, Feminist or Farm Workers movements that transformed America in the twentieth century.

Echoes of the 60’s Counter-Culture 

Fodder for Right-Wing Bloviators 

The drugged out craziness of the Hippies had the opposite effect of the Civil rights Movement and turned millions of Americans off.  As did the televised images of urban rebellions with cities in flames and black Panthers running around brandishing guns on television shouting slogans like “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun!” – a slogan lifted directly from Mao Tse Tung’s Red Book that was irrelevant to our actual situation – and “Off the Pig!” a public exhortation to kill the police.

Oakland BPP founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton 

Fashionable Pop Icons or Real Revolutionaries? 

These developments appalled the majority of Americans – including quite a few Black Americans – and resulted in the destruction of the Panthers by the police power of the State and the election of Richard Nixon.  By adopting a “southern Strategy” and opportunistically manipulating white anger and resentments over the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, Republicans, which had been a northern based Party with moderate views on the Civil Rights question and helped pass the 1964 Omnibus Civil Rights Bill even while southern Democrats opposed it, transformed the south from solidly democratic to solidly Republican and moved the control of the government from the liberal left to the right. (For a serious analysis of how this happened read “Haley Barbour is a Lying Fat Redneck” on this blog”

We are still living with the tragic consequences of this development.  At present, the encampment at Zucotti Park and many others around the country, bear a closer resemblance to the Counter-Cultural movement than the Civil Rights Movement. Whereas the Civil rights movement was aimed at prodding the government to act in behalf of the people – the non-white and the poor of all colors – the Occupy Wall Street movement is anarchistic.

However the Occupy Wall Street Movement is a class based movement against economic injustice, which is an issue that transcends race, gender and ethnicity.  This is a good thing; that’s why the most integrated multi-ethnic organization in New York is the Tenants League, because all tenants suffer equally at the hands of rapacious landlords.  By virtue of this fact the OWS has the power to transform American society in fundamental ways.  But if it is to succeed it must become POLITICAL!

This is what the elders should be talking about.  We must do for this generation of activists what people like Ms. Ella Baker, Queen Mother Moore, Byard Rustin, A Phillip Randolph, James farmer, Roy Wilkins, and legions of other highly skilled seasoned organizers from the old left and peace movements did for our generation. Although the popular belief is that Ms. Rosa Parks just sat down one day because she was tired of white folks mess and the Montgomery Boycott, a seminal event in the birth of the Civil Rights Movement that transformed the South during the 1060’s, appeared into the world as a fully formed phenomenon like the goddess Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus in classical Greek mythology.  Not so!

The Montgomery Bus boycott was a planned event, organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was the brain child of E. D. Nixon, an organizer with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Here was a master organizer who was part of a tradition that boasts one of the most successful stories in American labor history.

When the Pullman porters began to organize it was considered by almost everyone as an impossible dream.  After all, the Porters were hired when George Pullman introduced his new luxury car during the 1880’s to accommodate the rich, the  plutocrats, the American nouveau Riche of the “Gilded Age,” when the “Captains of Industry” amassed such great fortunes the were aptly named “The Robber Barons.”

Pullman’s idea was to create private cars so opulent it would be like a luxury liner on rails.  And to insure that the rich white folks he intended to cater to receive the best possible service, old George Pullman stipulated that all of his porters must be ex-slaves because they knew how to serve white people best!  This was his view of the men who would eventually confront him and demand that he recognize them as a collective bargaining unit.

The fact that the Pullman Car Company was the biggest corporation in the world at the time speaks to the heroism of the founders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.   One of their best moves was to approach A. Phillip Randolph, Publisher of The Messenger, which he billed as “The only Scientific Socialist magazine in the world published by Negroes,” and ask him to be the President and spokesman for the Union.

With his regal bearing and rich baritone voice trained for the Shakespearian stage, buttressed by his unshakable courage and unassailable integrity, Randolph became the perfect choice.  They chose him not because he was a great organizer, but because they believed he would be a great spokesman and negotiator for the Union.  It was a lesson well learned by E.D. Nixon.

He in turn recruited a brilliant young black Baptist preacher from Atlanta, who had come to Montgomery to finish a Ph.D. thesis and pastor a church for a year in order to experience what it was like to pastor a flock before returning to a cloistered life as a scholar at Boston University, where he was to become the first Afro-American professor in the school of theology.  Nixon talked the young Martin Luther King Jr. into becoming the spokes man for the Montgomery Improvement Association, and King emerged as the face of what became known around the world and preserved in history as “The Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

While it was Martin King’s grand and deeply moving oratory that stirred the conscience of the nation and won the sympathy of people of conscience around the world – which is the role of CHARISMATIC REVIVALISTS – it was the on the ground organizing of skilled labor operatives like E.D. Nixon, and the brilliant Bayard Rustin, who directed it all from a secret command post, plus the vehicles supplied by the United Auto Workers that ferried the boycotters around town, which together made the Montgomery Boycott a success.

It is critical that those who are trying to organize an effective movement today understand that the Civil Rights movement was not just some spontaneous eruption where everybody showed up and did their own thing!  Such as we are now witnessing in Zucotti Park and elsewhere around the country, where you have Ron Paul supporters calling for an end the Federal Reserve Bank; anarchists that believe no government can be trusted; 9/11 conspiracy theorist; Christian clergyman bearing witness to the evils of avarice and trying to live out the biblical commandment to minister unto the least of us – a critical element in the civil rights struggle – Marxist revolutionaries; left adventurers and agent provocateurs out to pick a fight with the cops.  And nobody is in charge!

A Ron Paul Acolyte


The evidence of profound confusion 

This is a new phenomenon, where huge crowds of protestors can be mobilized through social media to demonstrate in record time. It is not the same thing as the great mass movements that transformed American society in the Sixties. The down side of this approach to mass mobilization is that you skip critical stages that are necessary to successfully building a mass movement capable of transforming a complex mass society like the US.  (For a through explanation of this see the essays under Occupy Wall Street on this blog.) We are beginning to witness the shortcomings of this approach in Egypt – where the Occupy Wall Street movement says they took their inspiration and model for action.

The events in Egypt are reminding us that there are certain steps that cannot be avoided in building a successful mass movement – for instance clarifying your objectives with an ideology that spells out the ultimate goals of the movement.  Failure to do this in Egypt has set the stage for the anti-democratic Islamic theocrats to hijack the movement, because they have an all encompassing philosophy that adresses every aspect of human existence.  It is the role of movement elders to point these things out.  Standing on the sidelines acting like cheer leaders is insufficient: not when the youths in the streets require something different and something more!

Get out and rap with the militant youths

“Revolutionaries must swim among the people like fish in the sea”

The Great Helmsman


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 13, 2011

On Wall Street and Economic Inequality

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 14, 2011 by playthell

Civil Servants Struggling for Bread

Working Americans are Standing up to the Plutocrats!  

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has sprung up in a number of key cities after its genesis on September 17, 2011 in New York City.  The protesters in New York City have taken over John Zucotti Park and have triggered a grassroots movement that is appalled at the high level of social injustice in America.  The Movement is still a trickling tributary and some have argued that the objectives are too amorphous. On my visit to Zucotti Park, I was surprised by the miniscule nature of the Park. 

The people gathered in the Park had their cups runover.  They were mostly college educated middle class young men and women who had played by the rules, taking out loans to snatch an education, and had collided with a political system growing increasingly undemocratic, a system where money-lords controlled lopsided decision-making. One of the slogans repeated by the protesters is that they constitute ninety-nine percent of the population yet the one percent kept downloading the lion share of the nation’s wealth.

Will the Occupy Wall Street Movement capture the imagination of the quizzical American electorate and change the dialectic of electoral politics?  The movement represents the Winter of Working Class discontent.  They along with Americans of all stripes are contributing to sites on Facebook, on Twitter, and on internet sites established to facilitate and make the non-violent uprising into a mass movement.

In Zuccoti Park

All races and ages were representin!

During the Obama Presidential election of 2008, there was much talk about whether we had entered a post-racial America.  There are many aspects to this discourse but one critical aspect was young America getting to a point where race was declining in significance, to use William Julius Wilson’s words, and class was becoming increasingly salient.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the making is about class and democracy.  This burgeoning grassroots movement has within it the seeds to challenge the hegemony of Wall Street greed.

When the Tea Party popped out like a Jack-in-the Box after the election of Barack Obama, it began as a grassroots movement financed by big capital. It is is opposed to big  government, big spending, bank bail-outs and federalized health care.  After the 2010 election, the Tea Party elements elected to the United States Congress were instrumental in changing the conversation. They had the nation fixated on deficits and debt.  Joblessness took a back seat.  Legislation passed by the 2010 Congress focused on spending cuts and were oblivious to jobs.  Spending cuts in a time of economic downturn only makes the plight of the jobless more hellish.

There is a confederate syndrome to the Tea Party adherents.  They are for having everything settled at the state level yet they are supportive of corporate capital.  The Tea Party has not been able to put forward a jobs program to put Americans back to work.  These older, very white, fairly well-off supporters, as the Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman remarked, have no sense of science and have no workable ideas about the business of governing other than to reduce the taxes on the wealthy and give them the opportunity to have more than 25 percent of the wealth.

President Obama after the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, calculated that to win a second term he had to run as a centrist with the expectation that he would hold his Democratic Party base and capture a majority of the independent voters. The center in American politics has come apart.  The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party into looney right wing self-righteousness. The Occupy Wall Street movement, if it catches fire, is going to pull the Democratic Party to embrace critical issues of social justice.

It is not surprising in an age where class is trumping race that Herman Cain has emerged as a possible Presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Cain, who slept through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has become an articulate spokesperson for the Tea Party’s simplification of complex  American realities.  His solution to the economic crisis is reduce corporate taxes to 9 percent, income taxes to 9 percent, and a value added tax to 9 percent.

Right wing conservatives have been clamoring for a flat tax but are not in favor of flat bonuses, flat health care and a flat educational system.  Cain’s 999 plan to fix America’s economic woes would push up the Gini Index – a measure of the distribution of wealth in our society, which is one of the worse in the western world – and make the slice of the 99 percent even more miniscule.  It would wreck social security, Medicare and Medicaid.  It would turn America into a place where wealth would be so terribly skewed that Charles Dickens’s London would appear progressive!

Occupy Wall Street must take its time and explore a new paradigm for America.  We live in a time of great confusion.  Even as clear a thinker as Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that the solution to concentrated investment capital is to break up those holdings.  But there has been an inexorable tendency towards greater and greater concentrations of investment capital historically.

Thus the critical question for the Occupy Wall Street Movement is: what democratic interest  should that concentration of wealth should serve?  Underlying the newly surfaced voices is the demand that those entities must be structured in a way that is commensurate with democratic precepts.

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

The people chanted as they marched 

Steve Job didn’t settle for shopworn technology.  He invented gadgets that enriched human lives.  What the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks is an America that enriches the lives of the 99 percent, not just the one percenters and not those who shamelessly cover up the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street.



* By: Dr. Basil Wilson, Political Scientist 

Originally published in Carib News, 10/15/11

Will Wall Street Rebels End Up like Jack the Bear…

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Great Passion but little Politics

…..Making tracks but getting nowhere?

In my first commentary on the Wall Street demonstrations I questioned whether this budding movement was revolutionary or anarchistic, and concluded that thus far it was closer to anarchy – which is a synonym for political chaos.  This observation elicited a howl from many of those who support the demonstrators; some even suggested that I opposed them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is because I share their outrage at the Wall Street Robber Barons, and the decadent Plutocracy they serve, that I offer up critical analysis in the hope that it might have some effect on the debate about the direction of this budding movement that has now gone nationwide through the agency of social media.  I want them to succeed in curtailing the power of the Plutocrats, but I know from many years as a participant observer and serious student that all successful mass transformative movements must contain certain factors.

The most important of these factors, after defining the enemy, is to put forth a set of realizable demands around which one can rally and organize the masses.  These demands are defined by what the movement stands for, which is usually determined by ideology.  In the absence of a unifying ideology the movement lacks coherence and thus it becomes unclear what their objectives are and confuses the masses.

The demonstrators say they are patterning their movement after the Mid-East uprisings collectively labeled “The Arab Spring.”  Yet a close look at those social upheavals reveal a world of confusion which could easily end up with the cure being worse than the disease, as governments fall with no organized political formation capable of taking power and governing.

There is no chance of this in the US, because no unorganized rag tag force is going to bring down the American government.  And no highly organized force operating outside of the two party system is going to change the American capitalist system, whether armed or not.  This is the problem I have with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Yesterday I spent considerable time among the demonstrators listening to their vision of the mission they have undertaken.  And I found them as confused as two weeks  before in both their objectives and how to achieve them.  The most common theme in their arguments is that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans; hence they are above politics!

When John Was their Age 

He was fighting against armed fascist! 

They demonstrators exposed the depth and pervasiveness of this belief by denying Democratic Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to address the demonstrators in Atlanta.  Not only does Lewis share their feelings about the criminal maldistribution of wealth in the US, but when he was their age he was the leader of an organization that played a critical role in a mass movement that qualitatively changed American society for the better.  Here was a staunch ally in Congress who could transform their demands into legislation and put it before the Congress for a vote.

Then the demonstrations would have specific achievable goals to organize their activism around!  They cannot achieve their hopes and dreams by any other method. Yet they turned Congressman Lewis away. If the anti-Wall street rebels do not soon get a grip on political reality –which is to understand how change is actually made in American society – their boisterous demonstrations will be all sound and fury…signifying nothing!  Like Jack the Bear, they will make tracks but get nowhere!

The Beat Goes On! 

Intoxicated by the Afrocentric Polyrhythms

An Aroused citizenry is on the March!

But where are they headed?


Text and Photos by: Playthell Benjamin

* Picture of John Lewis: Smithsonian Institute

October 10, 2011

It’s a Barnum and Bailey World!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 4, 2011 by playthell

Protesting the Wall Street Plutocrats in California

“The whole world is in trouble…and the danger zone is everywhere”
Percy Mayfield, Bluesman

Revolution or Anarchy?

As I look at the mass uprisings against government authority around the globe it is clear that they are a class of phenomena that share several fundamental features. They are leaderless, present no specific demands, and possess no ideology or theory of change that envisions the new society they wish to construct.  In other words they are spontaneous combustions directed by social media like Facebook and Twitter, which has bypassed the organizational stages that all the successful mass transformative movements in history have evolved through. Thus their prospects as agents for qualitative change appear more illusionary than real in spite of their zeal.

Although they often refer to themselves as revolutionaries, which mean they are about the  business of making a revolution, the young people who are participating in these uprisings appear fairly clueless about the history and character of successful revolutions in the modern world.  The most shocking sign of their naiveté is the belief that they can accomplish radical change in a complex mass society like the US while bypassing politics – which is a process that requires serious discipline and organization.

Yet we see this naiveté in youth driven uprisings around the world; it is no wonder that many participants describe themselves as “anarchist,” and sing the praises of anarchy despite the fact that anarchy is a synonym for chaos.  In Israel for instance, we hear 26 year old Yonatan Levy refer to the tent cities that have cropped up in urban areas to protests the concentration of wealth in a small elite, the domination of government by ultra-Orthodox Jews and the absence of affordable housing as “a beautiful anarchy.”

In Spain, where the official unemployment rate is 21% – the highest in the industrialized world – we hear Marta Solanas, a 27 year old demonstrator in Madrid declare “Our parents are grateful because they are voting…we’re the first generation to say voting is useless.”  Clearly these demonstrators, who were 70,000 strong, have not pondered the riddle of how they are going to persuade the masses of Spaniards to join a revolution when they can’t convince them to vote for the issues they deem of critical importance.

The real difference between the vision of these youths and their parents is that their parents lived through the fascist period under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, thus they know the difference having the right to vote for their leaders can make in the quality of life…or one’s chances in life. This naviete plagues the growing anti-establishment movement from Israel, to Greece, to India, to England to Wall Street.

And while the demonstrators in the “Arab Spring” were forced to resort to violence because there was no alternative avenue to change, such as in the democracies, their lack of a clear cut vision of the society they are ushering in is a contradiction they share with other demonstrators around the world This is abundantly clear in the statement that appears on the website recruiting people to join the Wall Street demonstrations, either as physical actors or support groups; which describe their nascent movement in the following terms:

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring   tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

The apolitical confused nature of the burgeoning demonstrations on Wall Street was made crystal clear by the ubiquitous gadfly Michael Moore, who has long been a foe of the shenanigans of the “economic royalist.” When asked if they were demonstrating to force Congress to fund the agency
tasked with carrying out the President’s rigorous new regulations of Wall Street, or to force them to pass the President’s American Jobs Act, Big Mike glibly replied “We’re beyond all that.”

While one can sympathize with the demonstrator’s motivation and objectives, the serious student of revolutionary movements cannot fail to conclude that an unorganized headless host challenging the citadel of world financial power, but could not present a list of realizable demands if the Robber Barons capitulated and were willing to deal today, has about as much chance of changing the modus operandi of the financial elite as a chimp has of performing the Paganini Variations for solo violin.

Hence from all the observable evidence I am convinced that what we are witnessing is anarchy not revolution!  And if they don’t build an organization and coherent ideology they will not win the support of the public and they will be crushed by the police power of the state…a scenario that we are already beginning to witness.  Let us hope that the entrance of organized labor into the fray will give this populist revolt some real direction and increase their chances of having a positive impact.

The People are on the Move

But Where Are they Headed?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 4, 2011