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<nettime> #15o and the Rebellion of the Middle-Class Precariat
Alex Foti on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 06:34:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> #15o and the Rebellion of the Middle-Class Precariat

The provocative article by William Bowles posted by Patrice Riemens
prompts me to finally sketch an analysis of the momentous events that
are finally creating a fearsome social opposition to the financial,
political, and technocratic elites that caused the Great Recession,
precipitating millions into misery and uncertainty.

The Great Recession has mostly hit Europe and America. It is in Spain
and now in the States that indignado/occupy movements have sprang most
forcefully against so-called financial dictatorship, i.e. more than 30
years of monetarist policy in Europe and of neoliberal deregulation of
financial markets everywhere, a way to echo the 2011 uprisings in
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain that have toppled (or not
yet) all-too real dictatorships. Other hubs of discontent have been
Greece (basically rioting and striking non-stop since 2008) and Chile
(the huge and hardy student movement against the privatization of
college education shares many traits of the young-precarious-led
Spanish indignad {AT} s movement).

However it is Occupy Wall Street, started in September 17, that has
sparked the global imagination, prompting similar protests all across
the Anglosphere (#OccupyVancouver, #OccupyMelbourne, #OccupyLSX etc)
and reinfusing life in the European indignado movement, most notably
in Brussels and Rome, two polar cases of what happened on October 15,
or #15o in twitspeak, being Twitter the medium of choice for political
mobilization against the crisis. The revolution might have not been
televised, but it is being tweeted. Anonymous and its hive mind have
managed to set off a swarm of political agitation unseen since
Seattle-Genoa and most likely to be the historical equivalent in the
Great REcession of popular front politics and sit-down strikes during
the Great Depression.

I was in Brussels, while the bulk of MilanoX (a free weekly which was
decisive in making the present left-of-center mayor of Milano, a man
with a radical past, win the primaries; he went on to humiliate
Berlusconi and the League in municipal elections last May) was in
Rome. We had set up a twitterbox for comparative viewing of the
so-called #europeanrevolution and #globalchange being triggered on
October 15 (http://www.milanox.eu/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/TwitterBox1.html).

Rome was an Athenian large-scale riot. Anger for the precarious
present and future reserved to the youth by most gerontocratic society
in the world, and especially at the Berlusconi government, whose ass
had just been saved once more the day before, erupted during but
especially at the end of the demonstration in the worst riots since
the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands of spaghetti neoindignad {AT} s, mostly
students, interns, temps, young precarious employees, joined by the
metalworkers' union, NoTAV, SanPrecario, and the remnants of the
noglobal movement, were sidelined by media discourse, which
predictably focused on the 2-3000 baddies (many of them girls!) who
threw rocks at carabinieri and police for hours and hours, threw a
fire extinguisher and burned a carabinieri van (a kind of symbolic
vengeance for Carlo Giuliani's death a decade before) in piazza San
Giovanni, normally used by the political and union left for staid
political speeches. The choice made by the respectable radical left to
constrain the demo in an itinerary that did not pass by the symbols of
political and financial power was probably not a wise one, given the
pent up anger (students had rioted a year ago when the political and
economic rot had barely started). Likewise, the outburst of blind
violence prevented the blooming of indignado movement in
Spaghettiland, with its now customary proliferation of tents and camps
in symbolic squares for weeks and months on end, until power is
defeated or at least ridiculed.

By contrast, the spontaneous manif in Bruxelles was sunny, creative,
joyful, peaceful and unexpected in its success (the night before we of
Precarious United formerly EuroMayDay were hotly debating with fellow
activists why this was a movement we had to contribute to, but
uncertainty hovered about how local people would respond to it). Led
by a Spanish and French core of activists (German and English were
also widely spoken) it was amazingly diverse in its political
expression against financial domination in Europe. It ended near
Schuman Square, next to the buildings of European Commission and
European Council (where EU summits are held, now frantically this
Sunday and Wednesday), and set up camp in the nearby park. Brussels
had been prepared by a month-long march of indignados form Barcelona
to Brussels through Marseille, Paris, Lille, which arrived in the EU
capital on October 8, tried to occupy a park and was given an
abandoned university building from where it started stirring things up
in the European/Belgian capital. The experience of the 15 May movement
in Madrid (acampada Sol) and then Barcelona (plaza Catalunya) was that
of a wide mobilization against the austerity peddled by all political
parties. The majority of Spanish and Catalan civil society sided with
the protesters in the Spring of Discontent. In Barcelona, the
parliament was assaulted on June 15. Zapatero, after losing the local
elections, called early elections and said he'd step down after that.
The protesters correctly concluded that the cuts (recortes) were being
decided elsewhere. That the whole of Spain and the rest of Europe had
to strike at El Pacto del Euro, i.e. the Maastricht Treaty forcing
austerity, deflation and unemployment down the throats of the people
in all countries of the eurozone. The austerity strategy was being
formulated in Brussels and Frankfurt, following the diktats of the
Merkel-Sarkozy diarchy, in order to appease financial markets and
rating agencies, which after Greece, were targeting Spain and Italy
and could undermine that beautiful monetarist creation called the
euro, the first currency in history based on a single monetary policy,
but 17 different fiscal policies, now all restrictive. US economists
like Krugman had long said it: a monetary union without a fiscal union
is a recipe for disaster, should a major crisis hit.

European policymakers are still living in the dreamworld of the Great
Moderation (1989-2008), where inflation and balanced budgets are the
most pressing concerns. Only unavowedly and half-heartedly is the ECB
practicing quantitative easing, which the Fed is doing again to rescue
the US economy from the double-dip and, arguably, help Obama's
re-election. Fact is, we live in the world of Great Depression
economics, we have fallen into a liquidity trap and only aggressive
keynesian fiscal policy can get us out of mass unemployment and
escalating inequality. What the indignado movement in Europe and the
occupy movement in America are saying in macroeconomic terms is the
same: stop cuts, invest in society. In Europe, there'll be no
political will to do so until Sarkozy and Merkel (and Berlusconi..)
are unseated. In America, Obama is finally distancing himself from
Wall Street, but is constrained on the right to do another stimulus,
which would presumably be more oriented toward the unemployed and
investment in social capital.

To conclude, a brief analysis which clashes with Bowles' and that of
other traditional red leftists. Luckily, this is not the
anti-globalization movement, insofar as it is unaffected by 20th
century revolutionary marxist dreams and nightmares. It is resolutely
postcommunist and nonviolent, unlike the Seattle-Genoa movement. It
shares with the 1999-2007 movement two aspects: it is intrisincally
anarchist, i.e. horizontal, networked, direct-democracy oriented,
mistrustful of organized politics, and it despises neoliberalism. But
while in the late 90s neoliberalism seemed to be a viable economic
discourse to the eyes of the majority, it is now totally discredited,
while neoliberals are still in power. Thus the Occupy Wall Street is
strongly anti-elitist: "We Are the 99%", in a way the previous
movement (more preoccupied with systemic critique) wasn't, and has a
much wider social appeal. In terms of social composition, the
occupy/indignado movement is mostly young and middle-class. They are
the downwardly mobile children of the middle class. I'd argue that all
postwar movements (nuclear disarmament, civil rights, may '68,
feminism, gay+lesbian liberation etc) have been middle-class and that
the educated middle classes have been bastions for the defense and
conquest of real democracy from Johannesburg to Cairo, from Lisbon to
Hong Kong. The occupy/indignado thing is about democracy, something
despised by some as "bourgeois illusion", but very real in the hearts
and minds of those presently rocking the secluded world of politics
and finance. The movement of the Teens is about radical democracy,
this is the "revolution" it aspires to. It uses revolutionary ends for
reformist means. I find this perfectly reasonable, in the context of
Great Recession politics, which, like during the Great Depression,
favors big social coalitions on the left to defeat economic élites
and, in Europe, the ever-present danger of slides to the populist,
racist, facist right. If you read the decidedly lefty Occupy Wall
Street Journal, you will find not only hope for radical change about
the economy, but also doubts about whether the indignant movement will
be able to revitalize climate activism, which has been on the wane
since the failure of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, while the
consequences of global warming have worsened. But, surely,
environmentalism is a middle-class concern;)

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