Chris Hedges on OWS

I respect Chris Hedges as a smart guy who sees big pictures, so I always consider his opinion carefully. His take on OWS is worth reading.

He puts his finger on some issues that have long bothered me, also, and any liberal who sees the New Left caused more problems than it solved is brilliant in my book. But in other ways I think he misses some things —

The occupation movement’s greatest challenge will be overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color. Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected. This distrust is not the fault of the movement, which has instituted measures within its decision-making process to make sure marginalized voices are heard before white males. It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics.

Now, I mostly agree with this, but … “identity politics” and the abandonment of economic justice issues were as much choices of African-Americans in the New Left as it was whites. I remember that well. What you ended up with in the late 1970s, once the dust settled, was that all the different factions of the New Left, including the Black Power movement, had scampered off in different directions and mostly had abandoned the poor.

I also think bringing in economically marginalized whites, who have been taught to distrust liberals also, is just as important as bringing in people of color.

But I am encouraged that OWS recognizes one has to level the organizational playing field and not let white guys take over, as they do tend to do.

Very far down in the article, he says,

The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it has not replicated the beliefs of the New Left. Rather, it is rooted in the moral imperatives of justice and self-sacrifice, what Dwight Macdonald called nonhistorical values, values closer to King than Abbie Hoffman. It seeks to rebuild the bridges to labor, the poor and the working class. The movement eschews the hedonism of the New Left; indeed it does not permit drugs or alcohol in Zuccotti Park. It denounces the consumer culture and every evening shares its food with the homeless, who also often sleep in the park. But, most important, it eschews, through a nonhierarchical system of self-governance, the deadly leadership cults that plagued and ultimately destroyed the movements of the 1960s.

Most of that sounds good, but I’ll have to think about that last part. Was it really “leadership cults” that destroyed the movements of the 1960s? Does anyone else see it that way? That’s not how I remember it. There were some personality cults, but they tended to come and go. I’m a few years older than Hedges, and my memories are no doubt different.

Then Hedges loses me for a few paragraphs, until I got here —

In line with the occupy movement, we must not extol the power of the state as an agent of change or define progress by increased comfort, wealth, imperial expansion or consumption. The trust in the beneficence of the state—which led most liberal reformers to back the wars in Vietnam and Iraq at their inceptions, as well as place faith in electoral politics long after electoral politics had been hijacked by corporate power—ceded uncontested power to the corporate state.

He’s off here, I think. I don’t think “trust in the beneficence of the state” was really the main culprit behind ceding power to the corporate state. It was more the distrust of the state, the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the abandonment of party politics by the New Lefties.

Liberals and liberal groups, such as MoveOn, which urge us to appeal to formal structures of power that no longer concern themselves with the needs or rights of citizens have become forces of disempowerment.

I need that explained to me. Examples?

The rest of the article, about toppling the corporate state, certainly sounds stirring, but he’s not telling me how the corporate state is going to be toppled. If we’re not going to use the levers of government, which seems to be what he’s saying, then what? Revolution? Is he nuts?

18 thoughts on “Chris Hedges on OWS

  1. He probably means use OWS to shed light on those “formal structures of power” and their failures in order to change them, or fix them – though I don’t know how, not when we’re talking about money in the trillions.

  2. Your choices for change are :
    1. Either via democratic means by changing/using the levers of government,
    2. Revolution.

    As for what happened to the left, well, there’s a boatload of things to choose from. But I think, partially, the greatest causes of poverty were seen as racism and sexism, and when inroads in that started to happen, we took our eyes off the prize, which should have been social AND economic justice, and fractured into more specialized interests. We hadn’t yet seen what growing corporatism would lead to. And that gave the right time in the 70’s to concentrate on what they wanted to do, which was to take apart the middle class so that people went back to worrying about themselves and stop having the economic means to worry about others. And that’s what the Reagan 80’s were all about – to start unraveling the middle class, the “Reagan De-evolution” that I’ve talked about before.
    We are now seeing the results of their 30+ years of class warfare, and we have been losing badly. And that’s why OWS scares them. It’s NOT leader driven, where they can take that leader apart, or kill them, like they tried with Malcolm, Martin, Bobby, etc. It’s NOT issue specific, where they can attack the message. It’s very general dissatisfaction/anger with the way things are may be its greatest asset. The right doesn’t know how to turn the message around because they depended on a lot of those 99%ers to be willing to attack and kill the rest for them and their divisive causes. And they fear that the Reagan Democrats will return to their roots. This time, the construction workers are lining up to JOIN the protesters, instead of lining up to help crack their skulls. And what are they to make of that? What indeed…

  3. “then what? Revolution? Is he nuts?”
    I don’t think that’s what he is talking about; it’s more like what Olbermann and Tom Haden were talking about last week. They were saying one way to advance the agenda is total passive restistance, having mass arrests, THEN clogging up the court system with law suits and civil trials. Beyond that, refusing to do business with banks and other large, maleviolent corporations.

    Eventually something will break. I heard the Oakland Police conducted mass arrests today (sporting riot gear). Polls suggest main street is with the protesters, and police brutality will not be met with open arms.
    Plenty of ordinary Americans are waking up to the reality of scope and magnitude of the damage done by the corporate masters and compliant politicans.

  4. I like Hedges a lot too (I heard him speak once at a big left coast Anglican parish, probably as part of a promotion for War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, and years before he wrote Death of the Liberal Class), but he’s got some pretty black and white ideas in certain areas, particularly as a result of that latter book. He comes off as a nihilist in the sense that he’s given up entirely on existing structures (such as the Democratic Party/The Liberal Class) to effect change. He seems instead to encourage people to check out of the existing system in whatever ways they can, and form local, self sufficient communities to survive (he no doubt sees OWS as a prototype). As more do this, perhaps he thinks this is how the corporate state will fall (or “whither away” as Marx might say). I also think he believes mass demonstrations are a way to overthrow the status quo.

    I’d love to see the both of you in a conversation – my problem with Chris is that he’s brilliant but there’s no medium or venue in which someone with a counterpoint (or even questions) can engage with him, particularly with this latest incarnation of his ideas.

  5. OWS has POTENTIAL–I hope they realize it. That’s why the dipshits with pepper spray are scared.

  6. Folks, the next time you hear someone attack “the unions”, kindly remind them about the Ironworkers and Operating Engineers union members in NYC who bravely filed into ground zero right after the 9/11 attacks. ‘Gulag, thanks for the reminder via your comment.

    Moonbat, thanks for the link to Hedges.

  7. Vastly different in almost all other ways, the Tea Party and Chris Hedges hold one thing in common: an all or nothing mentality; Their separate worldviews are alike in their craving for definitive and declarative victory and anything less is seen not just as failure, but as actual and active betrayal.

    It is for this reason that the Tea Party manufactures falsehoods (“get your government hands off my medicare”…) and Chris Hedges follows suit (“And for the bottom two-thirds of African-Americans, life is worse today than it was when Martin Luther King marched in Selma in 1965.” ) Pernicious canards in service to petulance and poutrage when they can’t get 100% of their way 100% of the time.

    Patience, dogged perseverance and continued progress, however incremental, without resort to violence, are the hallmarks of the righteous left.

    We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”

    Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.

    And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.

    Martin Luther King Jr, gone to the mountaintop… He didn’t mention anything about utopia, though

  8. Teargassing and arrests in Oakland, and just plain old arrests in Atlanta.

    My favorite was that Atlanta’s mayor said that police were sent in because there were reports of a man with an assault rifle in the park, and they didn’t know whether the gun was loaded. Maybe the man got confused and thought it was a Tea Party rally and he was free to walk around armed.

    And in the chaos, who is to say who started what?

    An oldie, but a goody from the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago:
    “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”
    Mayor Richard J. Daley

    Stay classy, Galtian Overlords, stay classy.

  9. One of the things that disturbs me about Hedges is that he’s awfully humorless – maybe he’s got good reason for this. He was almost as earnest but not quite so dour when I heard him speak (about five years ago). It works against him – in the Canadian TV interview (link in earlier comment) there were lighter ways to handle the interviewer, which would more easily have gotten his points across and win respect from a potentiall huge audience. Elizabeth Warren he’s not.

  10. erinyes – thanks for the note about rebutting those who attack unions. I’ve just about given up on reaching these attack-bots. I can hit them with all kinds of reasons and nothing seems to work. I first noticed young people spouting anti-union attitude very early in the 1980s, perhaps because of Ronald Reagan and the PATCO strike – it goes way back. It really baffles me how young people could be so clueless.

  11. “the deadly leadership cults that plagued and ultimately destroyed the movements of the 1960s. ”

    You know, Black people, specifically black leaders like sharpton and king etc.

    • You know, Black people, specifically black leaders like sharpton and king etc.

      Of course, but I am well old enough to remember the period clearly, and I still don’t see how “leadership cults” “plagued and ultimately destroyed the movements of the 1960s.” A lot of factors derailed those movements, but the fact that there were leaders is the least of them IMO.

  12. delusions die hard for folks who claim this $#(!

    here is a signature tipoff:

    “before white males.”

    • delusions die hard for folks who claim this $#(!

      here is a signature tipoff:

      “before white males.”

      Who claim what? In my experience, in most mixed race-gender groups nearly always there will be white guys who automatically take over and assume they are in charge. I’ve seen this happen over and over lo these 60 years.

Comments are closed.