Occupy Wall Street is becoming mired in an ideological civil war just as it seeks to reestablish itself as a dominant force in American political discourse and openly pushes for a crippling general strike on May 1st.
What's behind the various Occupy Wall Street (OWS) factions engaging in online squabbles and tweet battles? Believe it or not, Barack Obama. Within the movement, there are those who believe the established Left is trying to co-opt OWS to get President Barack Obama reelected. And it's causing quite the stir.
In fact, Adbusters -- a prominent force in the movement -- is calling it a "Battle for the Soul of Occupy." It is railing against groups like Moveon.org for seeking to piggyback on the enthusiasm and digital organization of the Occupiers to ensure the status quo in the federal government continues for four more years.
(Author's note: This OWS struggle is already a chapter in my upcoming ebook, "Occupy: American Spring, The Making of a Revolution," available next week on April 24th.)
But the Occupiers aren't taking this usurpation lightly. Since Adbusters wrote an article decrying the phenomenon, Occupiers have been rallying to the meme of "Jump, jump, jump over the body of the old dead left."
Adbusters has even tried to create a sort of cautionary tale for OWS followers by advancing the idea that the Tea Party is now a co-opted movement of Beltway Republicans -- a fate they claim could befall Occupy with Democrats:
"First they silenced our uprising with a media blackout… then they smashed our encampments with midnight paramilitary raids… and now they’re threatening to neutralize our insurgency with an insidious campaign of donor money and co-optation. This counter-strategy worked to kill off the Tea Party’s outrage and turn it into a puppet of the Republican Party. Will the same happen with Occupy Wall Street? Will our insurgency turn into the Democrats’ Tea Party pet?"
If Obama partisans have been on a stealth mission of Occupy Wall Street co-option, this is wholly unsurprising. That the institutional left (unions, community organizers, liberal media) would disingenuously promote the regime in power while pretending to stand apart from the process is as logical as it is deeply cynical. Even anarchists should know it's easier to get what you want when you control the levers of power.
Not so, it seems. The Occupiers' media reaction thus far has been more Jacobin than Jerry Garcia, as even Adbusters is willing to call out Occupy-leaning establishment leftists as heretics:
"Will you allow Occupy to become a project of the old left, the same cabal of old world thinkers who have blunted the possibility of revolution for decades? Will you allow MoveOn, The Nation and Ben & Jerry to put the brakes on our Spring Offensive and turn our struggle into a "99% Spring" reelection campaign for President Obama?
The ideological vanguard of the Occupy movement is particularly upset about a group called "The 99% Spring." You can check them out for yourself here. As for what they want, this snippet from their site is predictably grandiose:
"This spring we rise! We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time."
Instead of welcoming this group as another faction in the Occupy ranks, many bloggers are leveling accusations that the 99% Spring is a front for the Obama re-election campaign." Some are calling it "Spring99% Astroturf." Others claim it is a Moveon.org front group.
Despite its rhetorical flourishes, so far Spring99% has been unimpressive according to many who would otherwise be supportive of their message. The planned week of training in preparation for massive May Day protests ended yesterday, and the socialist agitators in attendance complained of boredom and disorganization.
Yet amidst all this, some have a sneaking suspicion that the Occupiers doth protest too much about the 99% Spring. While OWS has always claimed to be acting outside the traditional political channels, from its earliest days it was intertwined with labor unions and community organizers. It was happy to take on established leftists then. The current protestations of ideological purity -- in a movement with no official ideology -- seem more reactionary than anything else.
The Occupiers know that if they are seen as working in favor of a political party -- the one that has been in power for over three years no less! -- their whole "we stand against the powers that be" vibe is in trouble. But as the Occupy movement is a creature of the political left, much of it will of course work for Democratic Party interests in one way or another. And some big names in the movement have already given up the pretense that this is not the case.
Frances Fox Piven, the grande dame of contemporary American Marxists, has made it clear, officially or not, that the Occupy movement has always been on Barack Obama's side and always will be. Piven wrote in the nation in early April that:
"Of course, they [Occupiers] should refrain from attacks on Obama. After all, think of how bad things would be with Romney as president and Tea Party Republicans controlling both houses of Congress...I, for one, hope the movement forces Obama to pay for its support, in desperately needed economic, political and environmental reforms."
No surprises there. Piven and company feign complete disillusionment with the state while fighting for the statist agenda of Barack Obama.
Regardless of the hemming and hawing over Spring99%'s authenticity, or lack thereof, nobody involved in the process seems to have any doubt about the stakes for Occupy Wall Street this Spring. The Canadian rabble-rousers of Adbusters offer this assessment:
"We are now in a battle for the soul of Occupy… a fight to the finish between the impotent old left and the new vibrant, horizontal left who launched Occupy Wall Street from the bottom-up and who dreams of real democracy and another world."
And since no Occupy pep-talk this Spring would be complete without a reference to the social upheaval and widespread protests of the past, Adbusters adds that:
"It’s up to you to decide if our movement goes the way of Paris ’68, the dust bin of could-have-been-insurrections, or something more daring, more inspiring, something not yet dreamed."
Take that in for a moment. The General Strike of May 1968 in France involved millions of workers and almost brought down the government of Charles De Gaulle. If that's not disruptive enough, perhaps the famed Paris Commune of 1870 -- which ended in horrific bloodshed -- is more the desired end game.
Occupy Wall Street talks openly about fomenting similar revolution here. Whether allied with Obama and the Democrats or not, it's time the rest of America began to take them seriously.