October 10, 2011

Revolution 101: How Occupy Wall Street is Failing to Fight Global Capital

They are saying we are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.”—Slavoj Zizek, October 9th 2011.


The fact that prominent Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek came to speak at Occupy Wall Street is no surprise, in fact I was surprised he had not come out to Zuccoti Park earlier. Zizek and the Occupy Wall Street movement share a defining character trait, they have both been commodified. Zizek is right, we are all losers in the system of global capital however, him and the members of Occupy Wall Street are the true losers in the system for when they awaken to the nightmare they simply do nothing.

Zizek is a prolific author well known as an eminent Lacanian scholar and revolutionary extraordinaire, the problem is Zizek has lost his revolutionary zest. His academic stance within the university has only allowed him to become a pawn within the system of global capital, he too with Occupy Wall Street is a failure at leftist revolution. The countless books on revolution and the crisis of modern capitalism written by Zizek is the exact same as the thousands of scantily clad people yelling in Zuccoti Park, they are examples of co-opted dissent. Since the 1970’s the political right has deployed cultural hegemony to establish conservative think tanks and institutions that privilege and preserve  conservative beliefs, these institutions have also allowed open public protest. During Vietnam the Nixon administration chose to allow the protests to continue and to affirm that those protests were examples of democratic deliberation that this country was founded on, turning those movements into mere support blocks for the system they so desperately wished to oppose. Occupy Wall Street finds itself in the same place today, a movement co-opted and commodified. The dissent of Occupy Wall Street only affirms the system of globalization and capital that it opposes. Capital takes the very protest and glamorizes it, creating T-Shirts, Bandannas and Ipod accessories all fitting the theme of revolution. We see the protesters of Zuccoti park heading towards the same direction as Che Guevara, merely a face on a T-Shirt, no longer a revolutionary but a material object for every hipster to go out and buy. THAT is the trick of global capital, it commodifies the aesthetics of dissent by allowing to occur, destroying all political efficacy of the movement. So how does Occupy Wall Street fix their paradox of dissent? They pick up bricks.


Instead of becoming Facebook statuses with a million “likes” the protesters need to end this allegiance toward civil disobedience and take over the system by force. In the May ’68 protests the city of Paris was turned upside down, streets were blockaded and protesters were seen writing Graffiti one very corner, but this too was co-opted. Those who stick to civil disobedience when given lip service by the elites in power accept even the slightest hint of reform and go home thinking they have brought down capitalism, waking up the next morning to the same nightmare. As Zizek says :

What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.”

No statement could be more true on how the revolution should be carried out.


So my message to the people of Occupy Wall Street who sit daily in Zuccoti Park, start the revolution. Grab a brick and throw it through the window of the first Taco Bell you see. Storm Wall Street and tear down the stick exchange monitors, take control of the levers of power by eliminating those levers. The task at hand is to do wake up tomorrow not to a nightmare but to a new world, one without a blueprint but one free from corporate domination. Occupy Wall Street must do what they say they will do, that is Occupy Wall Street, and not leave or take no for answer. If this means violence, so be it, bullets change governments far surer then votes do. The people of Occupy Wall Street have to be willing to get their hands dirty in order to fight global capitalism and it’s influence on politics. The expansion of capital to every aspect of our lives was not clean so neither must the revolution be. 

To effectively carry out their movement Occupy Wall Street must not take the reforms that doomed ’68. It is time for people to stand up and say no, not with their voices with their actions. The people of Occupy Wall Street must be ready for political insurgency or they should stay at home and let real revolutionaries fight their battle.


  1. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


  2. I disagree with your analysis that reforms 'always fail'. The reason 68 fell was that it was co-opted, in this manner, the solution is not radical violence, but instead unconditional resolve. As Zizek said,

    "We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire"

    The problem with the revolutions of the past was the co-option, not the approach. To say that Occupy Wall Street is failing is interesting, because I am not entirely sure the movement's goal is a challenge to global capitalism. It certainly is a challenge to local capitalism, and in that sense they do seem to be asking to be co-opted, but I don't think reforms are necessarily bad.

    Nelson Mandela was a good leader for south Africa in that it presented an opportunity for a disenfranchised group a political voice, and challenged the reign of F.W. de Klerk. Were there better choices for a South African leader? Certainly, but does that mean that the choice to elect Mandela was wrong? I hardly think so.

    Reform works and moves to a better world. There is a place for radical politics, but I also just find it ironic that you feel you are in a position to instruct us how to challenge capitalism. Telling these people to violently revolt from the comfort of your chair. As I recall, violent revolution only seems to replace one gang of thugs with another. The worst capitalists today are the communists from the 50's. This reminds me of that classic moment of when Michael Hardt traveled to South America and asked to join the rebels.

    "He explained that in the 80s he was an activist working in solidarity with rebels in El Salvador until the rebels asked him and his friends to stop. They told him that he should go back to the US and make revolution there rather than trying to help a struggle that was not his own.

    “I said to him that Reagan was in the White House and I have no idea what it would mean to make revolution in the US. And he said, ‘Don’t you have mountains in the US?’"

    Academics certainly posit themselves as "go big or go home" many times. Nothing is radical enough, which is sad because it ignores the change that happens on a micro political level that sometimes can lead to great things.

    Small steps work, the last thing we need is someone to start stomping on our shoes.

    (Zizek's speech at occupy wallstreet)