Rortybomb had this interesting analysis
of the “Ideology of the We Are 99% Tumblr.” Konczal ran the HTML text which accompanies many of the images through a program to assemble data on age and keywords. He found two age clusters, around 20 and 27.
The 25 most common “words of interest” all involve the necessities of a decent life (except that several like “jobs” and “debt”, the two most common, are endemic to capitalism and other economic hierarchies). One important finding is that none of the key words are characteristically “consumerist”. This plus the overall impression of the images is that, contrary to the fears or scoffing of detractors, the 99ers are not thinking primarily in terms of being gipped consumers who just want to go back to the 1990s. They’re not thinking in terms of a more inclusive neoliberalism whose crimes would continue but merely trickle more of the loot to them, the way previous more fortunate consumers allegedly benefited. So we can take this as a piece of evidence which is promising in light of the previous discussion on this blog of consumerism as a movement
Instead, they’re thinking in terms of survival amid permanent dispossession. Their first concern is to be free of the oppression of unemployment and debt, which are the only modes of exploitation the decrepit system has left. So although they don’t know it yet, anything they say about jobs and debt is already tantamount to the call to abolish Wall Street and debt as such.
Indeed, Konczal himself acknowledges but only dimly envisions the radicality of the implicit ideology here.
With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.
Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here. Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.” And think through these cases. The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land). In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.
Everywhere I look I see a convergence toward what I started saying over a year ago
when I first pegged us as post-workers, incipient or actual “lumpenproles”. (I’ve recently
.) Our mindset, our actual circumstances, and the possible modes of resistance and revolution are all more typical of the peasantry than the classic proletariat.
Apparently the 99ers are still shy about demanding the land, but that will have to follow if this is to go anywhere. Meanwhile, although they’re not yet conscious of the need to self-jubilate all system debt, they’ve zeroed in on this debt as such as the existential problem which must be existentially solved.
Konczal wrongly sees this as some kind of diminution:
The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay. They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share. The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy. There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.” It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.
While he’s right about how the demands are far simpler than those of the Oil Age welfare state, he’s mistaken to equate simplicity with paucity. On the contrary, while one might be whimpering for debt relief today, that’s only one small step from raging for the giant leap of total jubilee tomorrow.
The fact is that Wall Street (including all global financialization) and kleptocracy itself comprise a Tower of Babel which can stand at all only through the ever more intense exploitation of all people. These demands many lament as so picayune are absolutely impossible for corporatism to satisfy without its own destruction. So the demand to be free of the bondage of debt is objectively the demand for complete transformation. If this movement continues along the line of its logic, it will fight as a revolutionary movement regardless of the original subjectivity of the weary post-workers who thought only in terms of their student loans, their children, their unemployment, and their health care (to name the four big clusters of concern Konczal identifies). Indeed, the post-employment mindset in evidence here can easily become conscious as a rejection of the entire capitalist “employment” model itself.
It’s a testament to the irrationality, depravity, and criminality of the system that such basic concerns of humanity must be forced to become radical aspirations.