The #Occupy movement and the U.S. party system: a prescription?

It is telling that our founders recognized the need for a semblance of democratic governance, if only to establish the legitimacy of the regime they established.  This is why capitalists and their political representatives have always been reluctant to quash democracy altogether.

The democratic character of the regime under which we live has waxed and waned over the past two and a third centuries.  Today, it is at an especially low ebb; and unless current trends are reversed, the situation is sure to become even worse – now that corporate “persons,” as our Supreme Court defines them, are, thanks to that Court, less constrained than they used to be in their pursuit of political influence.

Of course, we still have elections that are bitterly contested.  But however polarized the electoral scene has become, there is little genuine political contestation in it.   Our Tweedle Dums and Tweedle Dees despise one another and display their contempt profusely, but their politics is of a piece; they are all, in their own ways, faithful servants of the capitalist order. 

Definitely worth a look.

While this piece on Counterpunch is written in an American context, much of the underlying analysis is applicable to the Canadian experience as well. It addresses the class aspect, the suborning of democratic institutions by elites, and the fundamental challenge of maintaining popular democratic sovereignty when so much of the economic sphere is seemingly beyond the ambit of democratic governance. While our society may not yet be polarized to the extent that we see to the south, the warnings are there in the widening inequality gap and in the level of popular disengagement evident in the low levels of voter turnout in recent elections.

I won’t pretend that anything here is the definitive explanation of the Occupy movement’s significance, or try to provide an exhaustive set of reasons for its enduring resonance. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that a big part of the reason for its success is in its implicit recognition of the futility of electoral politics, as currently practiced. In that light, Andrew Levine’s call for participation in the U.S. primary process seems counterintuitive on first glance, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Yes, there’s always a danger of co-optation. And yes, the figureheads can talk one game while playing another. But given what I’ve seen from the Occupy movement (its lack of hierarchy, its refusal to engage in the kind of stilted and reductionist dialogue demanded by traditional media outlets and communication channels), I believe it has the potential to redraw the entire terrain. The system may well be rigged, but effective and strategic participation in it will, at the very least, force it to react.

Are there lessons here for Canada? I don’t think the possibility can be ruled out.

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One Comment

  1. TSIndiana
    November 18, 2011

    By some Occupy movement pundits, this is a "left" version of the Tea Party. I propose that’s a mistake. For if it is, it disenfranchises the middle and independants of the 99%, making it a party simply co-oped by the two party system, by the Democrats. More importantly, this movement must have conservative elements as well as compassionate and progressive, to be succesful in making serious structural change. It must represent the vast middle’s interests with compassion for the poorest amongst us and be a check on a developing oligarchy, I believe.

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