Preoccupied with Marx

I’m no Marxist.  In fact, I went to York University when it was rife with stale socialist foment and avoided it like the plague.

I appreciate the balance of interests manifest in the economy here, even if I think the dinosaurs of the right are tipping the wrong way.  So, it galls me to confess a minor revelation about the nature of social change and the upheaval ahead of us politically, even here in complacent, self-congratulatory Canada.

It’s very cold across Canada today, so the Occupy movement is not much in evidence anywhere except in the media.  This morning I watched Bill Moyers interview the authors of, Winner Take All Politics and was reminded of both this movement’s latent power and of the lame rearguard rhetoric of its opposition.

The power is latent because it gathers unseen, grows in strength, and will not go away because the conditions that created it aren’t capable of voluntary change.  The opposing rhetoric is lame because it insists on perpetuation of those intolerable conditions.

I’ve let the cumulative weight of this movement slip my mind over the past few months.  Like most of the rest of us in the 99%, I’ve been entertained by the protestations of both sides without becoming engaged.  Occupy has been driven by individual frustration and feelings of deprivation rather than political theory, so mainstream media lacks the dexterity to explain it.

What surprised me today is the utter inability of plutocrats to comprehend and respond convincingly.  Never mind the possibility of willing compromise, they seem incapable of strategic obstinance.

Around the world, plutocracies arise from the seed of their own destruction.  The same self-interested impulse that results in the creation and concentration of wealth, and its legitimization politically, will ultimately offend the rest of society so much, that it can no longer be tolerated.

This isn’t theoretical for me.  I have heard respectable, decent friends of mine spout the reactionary vitriol of the political right, as if unaware that they have been co-opted into defense of a doomed cause.  Their historical referents are too narrow.  They ignore revolutionary episodes because they are remote in time or because they are removed from them geographically and culturally.

The message that shocked me came from a street level visit from one of the Great Swinging Dicks (a phrase popularized by Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities), who came down from his bank tower to address the protesters.  His basic message was that the protesters were better off than they realized, and that there would be nothing but rubble around them if unfettered capitalism hadn’t funded the public institutions that the protesters enjoy today.

In a single breath, he validated the worst criticisms of Wall Street and Washington, and made the mumbling, stumbling new movement seem more legitimate.  Of course, he couldn’t hear himself that way, any more than he could hear the ring of inevitability in the demands for change being chanted at him.

But that is the way of change, according to Marx.  I think.  I didn’t study him when I had the chance, so I don’t really know, but I think that’s what he said.

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