Marx and the “Occupy” Protests

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Post by Emily Clark

Recently, I’ve been very intrigued by the Occupy Wall Street (“Occupy”) movement.  Living in Washington D.C., I get a very eclectic taste of politics.  There are always people protesting or advocating political reform on the National Mall and elsewhere.  Over Winter Break, there were multiple Occupy D.C. events throughout the District.  The mantra behind the entire Occupy movement is “we are the 99%,” signifying the concentration of wealth in the 1%, while at the same time arguing that the 99% pay for the 1%’s mistakes.  This debate is all about the economic and social inequality created by a capitalist society.  Over 1500 cities globally have groups participating in the movement.

When I was reading the Communist Manifesto I came across a quote that ties directly to the Occupy movement.  Marx says, “but in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.”  Marx identified almost the exact same unequal distribution of wealth over one hundred years ago, and now the issue presents itself again.  If we read on and follow Marx’s predictions, the Occupy movement could be a sign of the upcoming proletarian revolution.

Of course this is an extreme view of the predominantly civilized and peaceful protests that Occupy activists partake in.  The majority of activists don’t want a revolution, but simply strive for economic reform and more progressive taxation.  However, I read some articles representing the extreme views of some Occupy activists, the ones who preach a transition to a socialist or communist government.  This group of activists advocates the unity of the 1% in overthrowing the 99%.  Norman Thomas, who was a socialist candidate for President in the late 1920s, once said, “The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism’, they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”  One wonders why someone in the Republican primary has not cited Thomas.  But, is this what’s happening to us in modern society?  Are we unknowingly transitioning into a socialist society?  After all, the logo of the Occupy movement is a clenched fist.  Doesn’t this recall the symbol of communism and the unity of the workers?

As we discussed in class, a major difference between our society and the society that Marx lived in is that there is not now a clear distinction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  We do not identify with these two groups.  Of course, there is a working class and a middle class, but within these classes there are many different subgroups. Marx’s “inevitable revolution” is unlikely in today’s society.  There are no viable alternatives to the system we have now, and certainly nothing that fits the model that Marx proposed.  The Soviet Bloc collapsed and the remaining communist or revolutionary nations, like Cuba or North Korea are failures that struggle to feed their people.  Society’s reaction to capitalist inequality tracks certain of Marx’s sociological views, however, we dare not try to create what Marx thought was inevitable.  People want change and reform, not necessarily a political uprising and overthrow.   Occupy activists aren’t striving for the revolution, but instead seek an alternative and fair collective freedom that balances the differences between the 1% and the 99%.

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