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Occupy Wall Street and the Delusions of the Left

II. Todd Gitlin, one of the old SDS’s first leaders, proclaiming its importance in the Left’s paper of choice, the New York Times.

Somehow, I don’t recall the Times asking a defender of the Tea Party to do an op-ed explaining what they believe and want when the movement first started. I wonder why. Anyway, the good professor of journalism and communications at Columbia, and an early leader of Students for a Democratic Society in the '60s, has done the job for OWS in its pages.

Gitlin is ecstatic. As he sees it, the chant of “We are the 99 percent” shot “across the bow of the  wealthiest 1 percent of the country.” There might be a similarity with the Tea Party, he acknowledges, but the difference is that of the different goals and “passions that drive them forward.” The Tea Party, he says, is “white, male, Republican, graying, married and comfortable.” How does he know? The only Tea Party people he has seen, I suspect, are those whose images appeared for a fleeting moment on TV. They do not have the “untucked shirts, the tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks,” evidently credentials that are required to prove you are part of the real Left.

The OWS is therefore “nascent and growing,” the proof being the thousands the unions brought down. Yes, Hertzberg too said the same: it must be a necessary point of all Left journalists. So his hope is that in a month the movement will look “quit different,” and become something that will challenge the citadels of power. As he points out, it might be somewhat anarchistic, but “anarchism has been the reigning spirit of left-wing protest movements for nearly the past half century.” Gee. I thought, having read Michael Kazin’s new history of the American Left, the animating spirit was the very non-anarchist American Communist Party, but it seems one has to change the standard to meet today’s anarchistic protest.

Then Gitlin grows nostalgic. He remembers his old days in SDS, when Marxists tried and failed to “define proper class categories for the student movement.” Somehow, my memory is different. Didn’t SDS fall apart when the two different Marxist factions fought it out till one triumphed and took over the group? Didn’t they all support the North Vietnamese Communists and urge them on to victory? I once read a book about this by one Todd Gitlin that understood all that; indeed, I either blurbed or reviewed it at the time. I guess the author forgot what he wrote so many years ago.

Well, Gitlin does admit that the “tiny hierarchies” took over “decisive control” over the New Left. Could it have been any different, when its original members made that fateful decision to admit Communists into their ranks, since the only evil was Red-baiting, and they didn’t want to be accused of that? Yet Gitlin seems to persist in believing that the radicals of his era were “mostly leaderless.” Anyone remember the role of Tom Hayden? Leaderless, indeed.

So Gitlin is enthralled. He is reliving his youth, finding that a new generation is validating his own past, and will soon be making the same mistakes his people made forty years ago. It is the “counterculture,” he writes, and it must be celebrated. So he hopes the “allies” from the trade unions who arrived mid-week will stay firm, and rescue them from their romantic anarchism. This is “what labor and the activist left have been waiting for” since the '60s. No wonder Gitlin is swooning. The last remaining step is to convince Barack Obama, that compromiser, to move towards “significant reform,” like socialized medicine and redistribution of wealth by government edict. Then we can all be poor together, as we destroy the banks and no money is available to lend to those who want to use funds to build and create corporations and jobs.

Remember, corporations are by nature evil. They are the epitome of capitalism; and if the protest is anything, it is anti-capitalist. If only they can last, Gitlin pines, and come out with “concrete goals, strategies and compromises.” Gitlin is no doubt pining away for a new Michael Harrington to emerge from the ashes, and give this amorphous mass the necessary Marxist content to push forward towards socialism. Until then, it is sufficient, he writes, to refuse “to compromise with this system,” with its “hierarchies of power and money,” and honor anarchy’s “great, lasting contribution.”

Occupy Wall Street, he says, can eventually move movements and “move countries,” but they need leverage. And perhaps centrist liberalism will be moved to adopt what they are demanding.

You get the picture. The revolution has never been closer. And its word can be spread in the pages of the New York Times.