In Oakland, California, where I live, the Occupiers have been struggling to keep their ground on Ogawa Plaza, a piece of public property in front of City Hall. On the night of Tuesday, October 25, I saw from my apartment, miles northeast of the action, dozens of police cars zoom in from a neighboring jurisdiction. I looked at an online police scanner where the Oakland police department described the situation as a riot and requested a multi-county tactical response. Hundreds of police, donning intimidating riot gear, swept in to confront the crowd on the streets. There was no riot, however, as almost all the protesters were peaceful, the only ones acting out with petty violence being loudly chastised by the crowd. The most belligerent participants by far were law enforcers, who responded to thrown bottles and civil disobedience with tear gas and rubber bullets. One man, Scott Olsen, was hit with one of the police’s projectiles, his skull fractured. Thankfully, he is now reportedly in fair condition. You can tell from the videos that the police were not exactly using restraint with these weapons. They even threw percussion grenades at the protesters who came to Olsen’s aid. What began as a typical overbearing government response to protesters in the name of public health now offers a peak into the full threat to liberty that we face in modern America.
When it comes to the rights of the protesters vs. the police, we have to side with the protesters. Some of the particulars were different in his time, but we should remember that Murray Rothbard argued that the occupiers of People’s Park in Berkeley were in the right and the police who beat, gassed, arrested and injured them entirely in the wrong.
Beyond this human rights issue, how freedom lovers should regard the Occupy movement, now alive in over a hundred towns and cities worldwide, depends largely upon whether we see it as a radical rebellion against the establishment or an uprising on behalf of more statism. But there’s also another consideration: whether there exists an opportunity to reach out to the disaffected and explain to them why only true liberty will remedy the grave economic and social problems some of them at least partly diagnose correctly.
Insofar as this movement is an arm of the left-liberal establishment, there are reasons to worry. There appears to be an Astroturf element in play, and as the movement grows, the risk of it being co-opted by the administration and the institutional center-left increases. At the same time we must cautiously note that, as with most leftish groups, the more radically opposed to the status quo someone is, the more likely he is to oppose private property and to wish to revolutionize society in many of the worst possible ways.
Yet there is also a libertarian contingent in these protests that cannot be denied. Like the Tea Parties, the Occupy movement comprises a hodgepodge of voices, some of which are aimlessly calling for change, some with good rhetoric but not so good an agenda, some who simply favor one faction of the bipartisan American state, and some who would replace current policy with something much worse. The folks in both camps who rail against corruption but oppose key pillars of the free society have no better a vision than Obama or Bush. Occupiers who wish to expropriate the entrepreneurial class, nationalize the economy, and abolish private property are flirting with totalitarian ideals, just as Tea Partiers who reject civil liberties, demonize Muslims, and cry for war with Iran are embracing the very worst components of modern American governance, and are in fact calling for a program even worse than the current president’s.
But many like millions of other Americans are simply frustrated with the undeniable corruption running through the state-corporate nexus. Seeing this common ground, some conservatives have defended the Occupiers, just as Noam Chomsky has humanized the Tea Partiers as “people with real grievances.” And surely there is a lot to be angry about. Like some of the disenchanted Tea Party types, the Occupiers include many who have played by the rules and work hard to scrape by in a system that seems gratuitously rigged in favor of corporate fat cats, which of course it is. A faction of the Occupiers have been waving End the Fed signs, as they among the crowd understand that the government’s money monopoly – anathema to Austro-libertarians, Old Right conservatives, and Tuckerite anarchists alike – has created a crooked system that gradually seizes money from the poor and middle class and funnels it to the banking establishment, government contractors, and the military-industrial complex. And beyond this, nearly the whole economy is dominated by the corporate state.
Intellectual property and licensure have turned much of the telecommunications industry into a fascist arm of the government. The agricultural sector is so distorted by the USDA and subsidies so as to present a threat to the health and liberty of all Americans and many foreigners. American health care is plagued by patents, the FDA, Medicare, and other national programs that tip the scales in favor of Big Pharma, the medical cartels, and the insurance companies. Clearly, the ubiquity of corporate influence, if it could emerge in a free market setting, did not do so in our world. Even the welfare state and federal education programs often benefit the rich and connected as much as they help the poor.
But how many of the Occupiers see this? When establishment hacks like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich cozy up to the protesters, many of whom take them with open arms, we know something is wrong, because the very New Deal-Great Society style of governance that has ruled America for four generations is exactly what is responsible for the very disease the Occupiers wish to cure.
The modal Occupier appears to be some kind of social democrat who can easily be used as a pawn for Obama’s left-corporatist schemes like job plans and infrastructure Keynesianism. The Occupy Wall Street Demands Working Group unanimously approved a horrible “Jobs for All” proposal, reportedly angering anarchists and others who see it as an obvious call for Obama-style liberal corporatism. As for the more radical and yet more clueless camp, I previously wrote about one list of socialistic demands and was criticized on the Web for tarring all Occupiers with the same brush, although I didn’t really intend to, but it really does seem that insofar as the Occupiers are calling for anything, it is channeled into a statist demand. I still stand by my concern that this movement, at least on its current trajectory, will ultimately serve as pressure from below to enhance the ruling class’s power.
The same day the liberal Democratic Oakland government brutally cracked down on the Occupiers, President Obama held a posh fundraising event in nearby San Francisco. This speaks to an immutable political reality the Occupiers need to understand: the president probably loves the demonstrations to the extent that they serve as pressure for his jobs, student loan, and stimulus programs, but in any altercation between the protesters and the police state, the president of course represents the side of power – not just represents it, but serves as its chief executor and figurehead.
The Obama administration and domestic liberal government are the police state. The same police power involved in tear-gassing and critically injuring dissidents is used to implement national health care. The same statist force behind war and the corruption on Wall Street is behind taxation and liberal social democracy. It is also this force that has extracted the nation’s wealth for the benefit of a few, so that now the Washington, DC, area is the richest in the country. Mao was right: All political power flows from the barrel of a gun. To ask for the state to tax anyone more or regiment society in any way is to give another tool to the true power elite to punish enemies, give advantage to the politically connected, and threaten those who don’t go along with the central plan with imprisonment and state violence.
Entrepreneurs, taxpayers, and everyday Americans should see one another as being on the same side, with big government, the fascist financial system, the empire, and corporate state being on the other, and as long as the establishment divides us against each other, liberty will be lost and Obama’s cronies will laugh all the way to the bank.
I’ve been nuanced on the Occupiers and I’ve been asked to take sides. I think it’s time for the Occupiers to take sides: Do you oppose police brutality? Do you oppose state capitalism? If so, you must oppose the government power that makes them both possible. Reject any and all calls for more government for any reason, and instead only focus on reducing and abolishing the state’s control.
Divorcing the ruling class from state power, using political power to equalize the economy, is the most fanciful aspiration humans have ever considered. Lord Acton was right that no class is fit to govern. It is why when the disenfranchised grab the reins of the state, they almost always become as despotic as those they have supplanted. Instead, we must all reject the state and all its works. Government is the iron fist, and its promises of welfare and universal humanitarian always come with nightsticks, tear gas, and rubber bullets, at best. When the state offers you a hand up or a hand out, notice the blood dripping from its fingers.
October 28, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.