When the now-national demonstrations against the Wall Street / Washington status quo began in New York last month, it was easy (too easy, it turns out) to write the whole thing off as a hackneyed, vapid hipster fest. The most confident early appraisals were essentially exercises in verbalizing the eye-roll: In mainstream news coverage, new-to-CNN business anchor Erin Burnett’s first reported segment on the story was called “Seriously?!,” a heading that said everything she needed it to say. On the (non-libertarian) right, National Review editor Rich Lowry quickly gratified anyone who might happen to hate being surprised by Rich Lowry, identifying the protestors as a “a juvenile rabble” and “woolly-headed horde,” “the perfect distillation of an American Left in extremis.” Some on the (old-school) left, meanwhile, showed acute disdain, too, with political cartoonist Ted Rall — author of Wake Up, You’re Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right — writing that “for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street’s] failure was a foregone conclusion. … yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.”
… this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite–in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.
Now, weeks later, The New Republic has set out to fill a remaining gap on the anti-OWS spectrum, declaring in a behind-the-paywall editorial for the magazine’s November 3 issue that liberals should oppose the movement — chiefly on account of “the protestors’ apparent allergy to to capitalism and suspicion of normal democratic norms,” but also on account of their “creepy” ways of trying to reach, and speak with, consensus. Yes, TNR is castigating Occupy Wall Street for its putative group-think in a collective statement published under the byline “The Editors.” But don’t be too distracted by the irony. There’s an important issue here: The more we want to take the revolutionary (vs. reformist) strains in OWS rhetoric seriously, the more we’ll have to ask a question that real revolutionaries have ended up with some grim answers to, from the Jacobins of the 18th century through the Bolsheviks and Maoists of the 20th: How is society going to work after the Revolution?
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