The global protests against capitalism

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 18, 2011
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Extreme redistribution [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Extreme redistribution [By Jiao Haiyang/]

The international occupation of squares will define the history of 2011. First those that burst out in the Arab Spring to bring down long-standing dictatorships and then those that developed in Spain and the United States, which touched off a wave of sympathy protests around the world.

The protests in the United States have finally given voice to the generalized discontent against corporate and banking excess. They have exposed the embedded relationship between economic and political power; long-established connections within the state and civil society, that bind layer upon layer of power and exploitation together. Now that the economic reproduction of the system has broken down, these relations are revealed as systemic corruption and nepotism, all concealed beneath a thin veneer of democratic procedures.

The brutality of the free market is accepted when significant layers of the working class feel that their interests are at one with those of their superiors. These circumstances of organic reproduction of the capitalist social system are rooted in economic development and improving opportunities and conditions. The American Dream required many small examples of "pauper to president" style advancement, to anchor itself in popular consciousness and become a material force.

The American Dream, like all dreams, according to Sigmund Freud, was a symbolic representation of unresolved conflicts. Conflicts caused by unspoken experiences and traumas, and which expose the sham illusion of the unity of all classes in the nation. Moments of exorcism of such ghosts are always traumatic and explosive, as one form of dream disappears and anger about this loss of innocence finds expression.

The questions asked lead to dark places. The disfigurement of more than 30,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the death of more than 4,000 was this all simply serving the interests and agenda of the rich and powerful and not those of the people? Were any wars in the 20th century serving the people? Were the banks and major corporations once upon a time serving the people? Or were they always profit-seeking exploiters manipulating the masses, using the theater of democratic procedure as a cover?

The U.S. protests gain their vitality from the lack of an encrusted labor bureaucracy. In Europe, for over a hundred years, social democratic reform acted as a buffer to capture the anger of the working classes and channel it into reformist demands for welfare rights and democratic improvements within capitalism. But such demands were muted in the U.S. political mainstream because of, firstly, its imperial ascendancy and virulent anti-communism after World War II, and secondly, its capacity to develop the economy at a rate capable of absorbing internal discontent.

The epoch of U.S. global economic dominance appears to be coming to an end, its internal balance of class forces is unstable and being questioned. Pressure to provide reforms for the masses instead of bailouts for the super rich will become overwhelming. This in turn will shatter the political balance of power, thrusting the working classes and the poor into a decisive position within U.S. politics. The idea of a mass party of the working class if scattered in the winds from the occupation movement will certainly fall on fertile ground.

In Europe, the reformists are embedded to capitalist power relations and so offer no proposals and make no attempt to capitalize on the crisis. Instead of standing at the head of social unrest, they tail-end it waiting for their chance to show their loyalty to the existing order by condemning violence and calling for dialogue. A radical rebirth of the workers' movement is likely to spring forth over the many months and years of bitter struggle that lie ahead.

It appears that the tide of public opinion in the West is shifting inexorably against the existing structure of wealth and power. A world in which a few hundred billionaires own more personal wealth than half the population of the world is no longer considered tolerable. As waves of social discontent bring ever-larger layers of the working classes and the middle classes into activity, the central demands for economic transformation will come to focus on public ownership and democratic control of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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