Alex Foti on Wed, 2 Nov 2011 19:07:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 99%? 66% is more like it

"We are the 99%" is of course the very effective slogan coined by
#OccupyWallStreet and embraced all over the planet, starting with
Oakland, where today a momentous general strike will be staged, whose
repercussions are national, if not global.

It is of course convenient rhetoric portraying a movement as the vast
majority mobilized against the monstrous privileges of a tiny elite,
which like the aristocracy at the Versailles court must be deprived of
its unmerited privileges by the righteous and rebellious masses.

Unfortunately, the neoliberal regime is unlike the Ancien Régime, and
it has held economic, political, and intellectual hegemony for nearly
three decades (from Thatcher and Reagan to the outbreak of the Great
Recession) precisely because it has long commanded the consent of the
middle classes. Like the German social democratic thinker and
politician Peter Glotz used to say in the 1980s, neoliberal society is
a two-thirds society, that is, a society where the poorest third
(single mothers, minorities, immigrants etc) is effectively
disenfranchised, because it is excluded from the labor market and from
any hope of affluence and consumerism (in the legal economy, at least)
which constitute the tenets of neoliberal citizenship. The bottom
third is in effect an underclass to be feared and to be policed, a
poverty trap it is hard to escape from. As neoliberalism progressed,
precarization and casualization of job relations of course grew and
slowly but surely the middle third was affected by stagnating
salaries, wages, and incomes, especially for the younger generations,
swelling the ranks of the precariat as free-lancers and interns in the
service industry. People relied on credit cards or used housing assets
as collateral to maintain standards of living.

Starting with the summer of 2007 and reaching point of high drama in
september 2008, the financial bubble exploded once for all as real
estate values plummeted and the myth of market deregulation was
exposed in all its nefariousness. The onset of the Great Recession and
its aftermath of pauperization and mass unemployment has inverted the
two-thirds society of yore. Now there's only one third left to enjoy
the benefits of neoliberalism: the upper class is still joined by a
sizable upper middle class in enjoying the luxuries of cosmopolitan
living and leisurely pursuits. They might be time-starved, but they're
certainly not cash-starved like the rest of us. SUVs still sell
handsomely and exotic tourism has never been so much in demand, for

It's the middle class, especially the children of the middle class,
the lower middle class (petty bourgeoisie, if you will), and the
working class who are feeling the pinch of the global recession in
Europe and America. The underclass sees its suffering brought a notch
higher, due to austerity cuts in social spending, but it's been in
hell for two decades already. It's the middle third that wasn't ready
for this theft of democracy by bankers and investment funds and is
hoping to mobilize all of society fallen victim to the demise of
neoliberalism against the unwarranted privileges of the elites: these
guys have failed badly but they want to retain the lever of economic
and political power. This just can't be, otherwise it'd mean we have
shifted from democracy to oligarchy, something not even neoliberalism
could countenance (free markets in free democracies, was its ethos).
Hence the occupy/indignado rebellion at St Paul's and Wall Street. If
things go well, we'll be the voice of the 66% that alter the relations
of political, economic and ideological power in the west. The big
question is if the working class and the petty bourgeoisie will go the
way of #ows/#occupylsx, or if they will fall prey to the siren songs
of nativist conservatism and xenophobic populism.

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