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Ron Radosh

Occupy Wall Street and the Delusions of the Left

October 11th, 2011 - 3:37 pm

III. And finally, here is the most delusional entry of all. It comes from the pen of a professor of history and rapper who teaches at Fordham University, the ultra-left historian Mark Naison. Now he went as a participant, who took part in “a grade-in organized by teacher-activists,” whatever that is. I assume all the students who went got As for merely showing up at the protest — a real example of today’s learning in the universities.

Finding them very “international,” Naison felt like he was in Berlin or Barcelona. Did he forget Greece? Clearly, even more than Gitlin, the revolution had arrived for Comrade Naison. He writes:

I felt like I was in the midst of the global youth community that I had seen emerging during my travels and teaching, but I had not expected to see at this particular protest.  It definitely made the discipline, determination and camaraderie of the protesters that much more impressive.

Well, if bong smoking and topless women protesters are the mark of a really genuine revolution, I guess he is right. Suddenly, Naison had a sense of déjà vu. It all seemed very familiar. As he explains:

The longer I stayed at Liberty Plaza, the more it felt like the countercultural communities of the 1960s, where discontent with war and a corrupt social system had bred a communal spirit marked by incredible generosity and openness to strangers.

I don’t know what revolution he played at in those turbulent times, but I recall a hostility to anyone who was against us, as in, i.e., “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” So if you were not part of the revolutionary vanguard who was willing to risk your life for the class struggle, you were part of the sell-out bourgeois brigades who talked the talk but would not walk the walk. It was the opposite of generosity and openness, especially to strangers, who might turn out to be FBI agents. But I guess Naison has forgotten all about the dark side of the movement he now idealizes as he remembers his young radical past.

Now, Naison really waxes ecstatic and becomes truly delusional:

I had feared those days would never return—erased by decades of consumerism, materialism and cheap electronic devices—but when I visited Liberty Plaza, I realized that the global economic crisis had recreated something which I often thought of as an artifact of my own nostalgia.  Because right here in New York were hundreds of representatives of a whole generation of educated young people around the world, numbering tens if not hundreds of millions, who might never land in the secure professional jobs they had been promised or experience the cornucopia of material goods that came with them.  Described as a “lost generation” by economists, a critical mass of these young people, in cities throughout Europe and Latin America—and now right here in the United States—had decided to build community in the midst of scarcity, challenge consumerism and the profit motive, and call out the powerful financial interests whose speculation and greed had helped put them in the economic predicament they were in.

Cheap electronic devices? Did he not go to the Liberty Plaza media center, with its expensive generators so those bloggers would not depend on running their laptops on battery power, and see all those Macs, iPhones, iPads and state of the art PCs? Cheap? Perhaps he did not wish to inquire what corporations made these products, what their stock was selling for on the market he despises, or ask how these poor, unemployed protestors could afford all this stuff? Anyway, Mark, I have news for you. It ain’t cheap!

Tens of millions? Where does he get his figures from? And obviously, they cherish their “material goods,” even if they pretend not to. He is happy to see them challenging the profit motive and consumerism. I wonder if Professor Naison, in his own life, is really so immune to these?

Somehow, I doubt it.

And so the communist-socialist dream lives in Naison’s take on Liberty Plaza. He hopes they will unite with the minorities, the workers and the immigrants, creating that all-class alliance they hoped for in the ’60s that would produce the socialism that until now has eluded them.

And speaking of illusions, he asks: “Can the protesters connect with the people in poor or working-class neighborhoods who were already practicing communalism and mutual aid to create a truly multiracial, multiclass movement?” Pray tell. What neighborhoods is he talking about? I suspect that multiclass movement exists in his own head, and is in fact part of the “artifact of… nostalgia” he writes about in the beginning of his article.

The “global youth counter-culture,” Naison concludes, is part of what he sees as part of a “global movement for freedom, democracy, and economic justice.” It’s all so very simple. Protest, take to the streets, bring down the banks and the corporations, and Nirvana will finally arrive.

On my way from a dentist appointment today, I saw a sign on a lamppost: “Occupy Wall Street: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” That I recall was a slogan from a famous poem written decades ago, I think, by the late Gil-Scott Heron. But in fact, it is being televised, which is one reason it is not a revolution. So I suggest to the media they leave their cameras home. How many nights can we see the same crowds, the same scenes, the same incoherent ramblings of phony rebels? Take them away, and they will soon go back home.

So the Revolution will fade away, and 30 years hence, its few stalwarts can write op-eds about how they were there when it really counted, and bemoan the fact that the socialist future once again eluded them, and hope that in the mid 21st century, it might occur, if only the spirit of Liberty Plaza could be resurrected.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on modified Shutterstock.com image.)

Also read: “Occupy L.A. Speaker: Violence Will Be Necessary To Achieve Our Goals”

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