A Xmas Letter To A Neoliberal Friend

Dear Friend

I totally agree with you that the Arab Spring was the big story of 2011.  Toppling dictators means putting your life on the line.  That takes guts and, politically, nothing else comes close.  So no arguments there.

But what you havent quite grasped is the political significance of the other big international protest story of 2011: the Occupy movement.  Whether its all middle class kids or not is of little importance.  The fact that the Occupy movement has ebbed away, while the banks continue as before, isnt important either.  Street protests against banks were never going to put an end to financial skullduggery. That needs legislation, government regulation and progressive taxation.

The major significance of Occupy is that it redefined leftist politics almost overnight.  The old lefty jargon about working class, ruling class, middle class, capitalists versus workers, has been all but swept away.  What has emerged is a new class-based politics which the Occupy movement have defined as the 99% versus the 1%.  And, crucially, this has struck a chord internationally.  This is so breathtakingly simple it masks the subtle but far-reaching shift in thinking that has taken place.

The significance is that people all over the world are beginning to identify with and politically align themselves with the “99%”.  Against the 1%.  The 19th and 20th Century concepts of “working class” and “middle class” are becoming politically redundant.  Its only aging political dinosaurs like you (and me) that persist in speaking this archaic incoherent terminological gibberish.

I can see why you hate this new development with a passion because it undermines your entire political vocabulary.  But whether you or I reject the concept of the 99% is irrelevent.  What matters is whether it will provide an ideological framework for a serious and sustained international challenge to the financial elite, corporate power and neoliberal agenda.

Of course its too early to call either way but given the way the world economy is screwing up so badly, and given that people are increasingly realising that its the financial institutions and corporations (the 1%) who are responsible for global austerity, my gut instincts tell me that the concepts of 1% v 99% are here to stay and will become deeply entrenched into political thinking and actions.

The millions of trade unionists who took strike action against the Westminster posh boys?  The kids camping out in tents?  The Arab Spring youth?  The students on the streets demanding free education?  The Greek workers striking and protesting against austerity measures?  There is no differentiation.  These are the 99% resisting the agenda of the 1%.  There is no “middle class” or “working class” anymore, my friend.  Its a case of out with the old, in with the new.

The jaded ideological remnants of the 20thC left are being overthrown in the process too.  And not before time either since they spoke political Esperanto as far as most folk were concerned.  But by identifying the 1% as the removable object to social justice, and by merging the politically divisive concepts of underclass/working class/middle class, a giant ideological leap has been made in 2011.

I’m surprised you aren’t grasping the bigger picture.  Even Time magazine get it.  But as you say, each to their own.

Have a great Xmas


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  1. Roger Hall says:

    I would like to add that the 911 Truth movement is part of the 99% and that this year the Toronto Hearings and the 911 Consensus Panel have placed a lot of indisputable evidence (researched by academics, scientists, engineers in the US and Europe) in the public realm contradicting the “official” story.
    I think the perpetrators are in the 1% – not in Afghanistan, or Iran (as has been suggested just as the US “withdraws” from Iraq, ready for another war). The FBI had no evidence associating Bin Laden with 911, as indicated on their website even up to the day when he was “executed”
    (I checked). If he was ? – we’ve never seen that evidence.

  2. Andrew says:

    Its good to see more people are seeing the truth, its not the end for them but it is,”The beginnning of the End”.

  3. Paul Carline says:

    I think we need to be cautious in our assessment of the “Arab Spring”. The revolution in Tunisia was probably a genuinely democratic uprising. But Egypt? Only possibly – and the reality is that one form of dictatorship has been replaced by another. One can suspect ‘outside’ interference. In the case of Libya, the evidence for ‘outside’ (i.e. CIA and other agencies) instigation and engineering is clear. This was not about “democracy”, but about Libyan oil. It was part of an old neo-imperialist agenda for the Middle East, still being played out in Syria, Iran and now also East and Central Africa.
    But it is also clear that the “African Spring” demonstrations and camps inspired the OWS protests – the most encouraging development we have seen in years. As Michael Moore said, it has “changed the conversation”. What people like Alex Jones have been saying for years has now become common knowledge. People have woken up large-scale to the corrupt agenda of the political and financial elites, well-expressed by Bush Senior years ago as “the continuous consolidation of wealth and power into ever higher, tighter, and righter hands”.
    Millions have also been waking up (finally), as Roger Hall points out, to the realisation that the official stories of the major “terrorist” events of the past decade (9/11, London, Bali, Madrid and elsewhere), on which the never-ending “war on terror” was based, are outright lies. Two opinion polls this year, one in Germany, the other in the UK, show less than 10% of those asked saying that they believed the official story of 9/11.
    The truth about 9/11 (and 7/7) remains the most powerful tool for breaking the stranglehold of the 1% (in reality less than 0.5%) of criminals in politics, finance, big business, the military, the secret services and the media.

  4. Scott says:

    ‘…by identifying the 1% as the removable object to social justice, and by merging the politically divisive concepts of underclass/working class/middle class, a giant ideological leap has been made in 2011.’

    I’m not so sure. However arcane, Marxist categories are at least based on an *analysis* of power. You could say the ‘99%’ model simply registers the *fact* of extreme inequality. It doesn’t seem to provide any intellectual tools for understanding or dismantling the plutocracy it points at. I get that its function (so far) is simply a badge of solidarity, but rhetorically it seems both murky and very soggy.

    Even New Labour said it was ‘for the many, not the few’. Is the latent demand that the ruling 1% please stop being evil, in the name of the downtrodden majority? Or that a more acceptable fraction would be 30% bossing 70%? If nothing else, the language of class forces you to stop seeing *democracy* as the ultimate horizon of political action. My hunch is that the ‘99%’ just re-inscribes it.

    Fine as a starting-point and means of affiliation (a bit like popular-frontism), but as the first comment demonstrates, an open invitation to incoherence.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      The concept of 99% versus 1% is only a starting point and the actual percentage numbers are clearly symbolic. I’m sure we could agree on that. IMO it was an advantage rather than a disadvantage that the Occupy movement didn’t come gift-wrapped in programmatic certainty. This allowed space for exploring ideas. Much of those ideas would be incoherent, of course, speculative, as well as silly or even reactionary.

      Why would this not be the case? A new generation of activists need space to find their feet and discover what works and what doesnt. Eventually the Occupy movement, like all such movements, ebbed, and the remaining shell became focussed on energy-sapping and largely fruitless little battles with local churches, local police or local councils.

      But what has emerged of lasting value IMO is the concept of the 99% versus the 1%. That, plus identifying the 1% as the corporations and banks. That’s no small feat for such a spontaneous international movement.

      I’m surprised that the traditional Marxian left dont embrace this sea change in thinking. And its not as if Marxism has such a great track record to lecture the Occupy movement with. 150 years of failure to transform society along Marxist lines is hardly going to impress anyone. Sure, there’s a lot of value in Karl Marx’s economic thinking and writings. He was the first thinker to understand the boom-to-bust economic cycle and predict the rise of large corporations. But a modern understanding of democracy, institutional or corporate power, international law, and the neoliberal agenda is nowhere to found.

      I would even argue that a traditional Marxist analyses of power is almost non-existent in any kind of coherent or relevant form. Central to Marxian thought is the idea of a working class with the power of revolutionary violence sufficient to bring “the capitalist system” to its knees. This negates any meaningful use of existing democracy (except to raise the profile of organisations and ideas) and serves to frame the Marxian jargon. It also reduces all other economic classes to the role of adjuncts, spectators, obstacles and opponents. Is it any wonder the traditional Marxian left are marginalised and unable to connect with people when this political model and analyses of power underpins their thinking?

      Connecting the social and economic interests of the 99% has a beautiful logic to it. Most importantly it unifies opposition to the 1% rather than divides everyone up on class lines. But crucially it does so while retaining an understanding of class-based economics! By that I mean it keeps in focus the idea that the interests of global corporations and a financial elite are in opposition to the rest of humanity. That’s why IMO this is a vastly superior approach and revolution in thinking.

      I’m sure you’ll agree that how this will develop into powerful and effective opposition to the 1% is the really interesting and as yet unanswered question.


      1. The main problem that the 99% have is a complicit media who are just regurgitating government spin especially the BBC who have tried to ridicule the whole occupy concept. But time is running out for the money men as the online community are slowly getting the message out.

        Episode 226

        This week Max Keiser and co-host, Stacy Herbert, after revealing that the Lizard King is back, discuss the radical redistribution of gold and silver holdings in the US and the radical experiment in the UK to have capitalism without capital. In the second half of the show, Max talks to Professor Steve Keen about the UK’s financial sector debt which is at least four times larger than America’s was before the global financial crisis

      2. Scott says:

        Good point on the failed alternatives. But I don’t see the ‘thinking’ part of this revolution in thinking, and instinctively distrust the idea that me, my boss, my boss’s boss and *his* boss are all on the same side — along with fruit-pickers, divorce lawyers, Chinese factory workers and middle-management at Nestle and Lockheed Martin.

        I don’t see a beautiful logic in (symbolically?) aligning the social and economic interests of all these people; I see a fairytale logic. (That’s not to dismiss the value of a mobilising myth, especially if the symbolic dimension is self-conscious; this quasi-religious claim to the common good is very powerful.)

        I wasn’t really advocating a return to Marxist terms, but their lack of sentimentality strikes me as quite valuable just now. What seems flimsiest about the 99% rhetoric is the image it projects of the nefarious 1%: a sinister cabal of pure evil and greed. I think we agree that the obscene inequalities which the 99% idea seeks to name were not generated by the moral qualities of good ‘us’ and bad ‘them’ (whisper it, but there is no us, there is no them).

        I get the symbolic potential, and obviously hope it goes somewhere, but I’m sceptical about the way this rhetoric sets aside all the hard questions indefinitely, and seems to continually personalise and moralise *structural* problems. For good or ill, it seems one step removed from a properly *religious* ethical vocabulary, with a whiff of cut-rate identity politics.

  5. Why Are We Forced to Worship at the Feet of ‘Mythical’ Financial Markets Controlled by the Elite?

    Our financial high priests taught our political leaders how to appease the financial market gods: cut more taxes for the rich, gut more regulations and trim social programs. Not only didn’t the riches flow to all of us, but the markets again crashed in 2008 revealing as they did in 1929 to be nothing more than enormous casinos designed by and for the high priests.

    1. Raphie de Santos says:

      try http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/ for a modern marxist analysis of the crisis or http://www.versobooks.com/books/613-power-and-money for how modern democracy can be extended in the transformation of society

  6. Paul Carline says:

    The mainstream media are as guilty as hell – especially the Beeb, as cynicalhighlander says. “Auntie” has been the voice of the establishment since it started. This Medialens article is worth reading: http://www.medialens.org/articles/the_articles/articles_2001/de_new_chairman_bbc.html. Lord Reith noted in his diary: “They [the establishment] know they can trust us not to be really impartial.”
    Its neutrality and impartiality is pure fiction: in fact it is systematically biased (read “Bad News from Israel”, for example). But the Beeb has gone much further than most mainstream media outlets in producing a whole series of “debunking” films on some of the most controversial topics, like 9/11, 7/7, and the death of Diana and Dodi – full of distortion, spin, and omission of key facts which undermine the official accounts.
    In any reordering of society after the coming economic collapse, the Beeb ought to be near the top of the list for radical reform – to make it what it dishonestly claims to be: a public service broadcaster.

  7. Michael says:

    “Hmmn, Smithers put some more into pepper spray”. Is the likely response from the 1%. “Oh and make a few more donations to those alternative Occupy groups the strategy people mentioned at our last meeting.”
    I will be at the Sao Paulo house next month, get back to me after I deal with the yield issue there.

  8. cynic says:

    In all honesty, I was blissfully unaware as to why a group of privately-educated uni students were sitting around in tents until one of them told me (with marbles in her mouth!) that ‘we are the 99%’. It gave me the giggles to be honest but University cities would not be University Cities without a bunch of posh kids running round with placards of some sort………then they will get a job and all the idealism will be crushed by those brown envelopes that come through the letterbox.. I should really try to be less cynical but cannot help myself.

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