The Party of Wall Street meets its nemesis

The Party of Wall Street has ruled unchallenged in the United States for far too long.

It has totally dominated the policies of presidents over at least four decades (if not longer). It has legally corrupted Congress via the craven dependency of politicians in both parties upon its money and upon access to the mainstream media it controls.

Thanks to the appointments made and approved by presidents and Congress, the Party of Wall Street dominates much of the state apparatus as well as the judiciary — in particular the Supreme Court, whose partisan judgments increasingly favour venal money interests.

The Party of Wall Street has one universal principle of rule: there shall be no serious challenge to the absolute power of money to rule absolutely.

And that power is to be exercised with one objective. Those possessed of money power shall not only be privileged to accumulate wealth endlessly at will, but shall have the right to inherit the earth and all the resources and productive capacities that reside therein — and assume absolute command over the labour and creative potentialities of all others it needs.

This does not arise out of individual greed or short-sightedness (although these traits are plentiful). These principles have been carved into the body politic of our world through the collective will of a capitalist class animated by the coercive laws of competition.

If my lobbying group spends less than yours then I will get less in the way of favours. If this jurisdiction spends on people’s needs, it shall be deemed uncompetitive.

The coercive laws of competition force us all, to some degree, to obey the rules of this ruthless and uncaring system. The problem is systemic, not individual.

The party’s favoured slogans of freedom and liberty actually translate into the freedom to exploit the labour of others, to dispossess the assets of the common people at will and the freedom to pillage the environment for individual or class benefit.

Once in control of the state apparatus, the Party of Wall Street typically privatises all the juicy morsels at less than market value to open new terrains for their accumulation.

And they use the monopoly of violence that all sovereign states claim to exclude the public from much of what passes for public space and criminalise and jail those who do not accede to its dictates.

The Party of Wall Street ceaselessly wages class war. “Of course there is class war,” says Warren Buffett, “and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning.”

Much of this war is waged in secret, behind a series of masks and obfuscations through which the aims and objectives of the Party of Wall Street are disguised.

The one thing that can never be openly debated and discussed is the true nature of the class war they are waging.

To depict something as “class war” is, in the current political climate and in their expert judgment, to place it beyond the pale of serious consideration, even to be branded a fool, if not seditious.

But now, for the first time there, is an explicit movement to confront The Party of Wall Street. The “street” in Wall Street is being occupied — oh, horror upon horrors — by others!

Spreading from city to city, the tactics of Occupy Wall Street are to take a central public space, a park or a square, close to where many of the levers of power are centred, and by putting human bodies in that place convert public space into a political commons — a place for open discussion and debate over what that power is doing and how best to oppose its reach.

This tactic, seen in the noble and ongoing struggles centred on Tahrir Square in Cairo, has spread across the world (Plaza del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, now the steps of Saint Paul’s in London as well as Wall Street itself).

It shows us that the collective power of bodies in public space is still the most effective instrument of opposition when all others are blocked.

Tahrir Square showed to the world an obvious truth: that it is bodies on the street and in the squares, not sentiments on Twitter or Facebook, that really matter.

The aim of this movement in the United States is simple. It says: “We the people are determined to take back our country from the moneyed powers that currently run it.”

It says “we are the 99%”. We have the majority and this majority can, must and shall prevail.

Since all other channels of expression are closed to us by money power, we have no other option except to occupy the parks, squares and streets of our cities until our opinions are heard and our needs attended to.

To succeed, the movement has to reach out to the 99%. This it can and is doing step by step. First there are all those being plunged into poverty by unemployment and all those who have been or are now being dispossessed of their houses and their assets by the Wall Street phalanx.

It must forge broad coalitions between students, immigrants, the underemployed, and all those threatened by the totally unnecessary and draconian austerity politics being inflicted upon the nation and the world at the behest of the Party of Wall Street.

It must focus on the astonishing levels of exploitation in workplaces — from the immigrant domestic workers who the rich so ruthlessly exploit in their homes, to the restaurant workers who slave for almost nothing in the kitchens of the establishments in which the rich eat.

It must bring together the creative workers and artists whose talents are so often turned into commercial products under the control of big money power.

The movement must above all reach out to all the alienated, the dissatisfied and the discontented, all those who recognise something profoundly wrong, that the system of the Party of Wall Street is not only barbaric, but also broken.

All this has to be democratically assembled into a coherent opposition, which must also freely contemplate what an alternative city, an alternative political system and, ultimately, an alternative way of organising production, distribution and consumption for the benefit of the people, might look like.

In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the state backed by capitalist class power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space!

By what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we the people that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space and who may occupy that space when?

When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any space we the people decide collectively and peacefully to occupy?

In the face of the organised power of the Party of Wall Street to divide and rule, the movement that is emerging must also take as one of its founding principles that it will neither be divided nor diverted until the Party of Wall Street is brought either to its senses — to see that the common good must prevail over narrow venal interests — or to its knees.

Corporate privileges to have all of the rights of individuals without the responsibilities of true citizens must be rolled back. Public goods such as education and health care must be publicly provided and made freely available.

The monopoly powers in the media must be broken. The buying of elections must be ruled unconstitutional.

The privatisation of knowledge and culture must be prohibited. The freedom to exploit and dispossess others must be severely curbed and ultimately outlawed.

Americans believe in equality. Polling data show they believe (no matter what their general political allegiances might be) that the top 20% controlling 85% of the wealth is unacceptable.

What the Occupy Wall Street movement proposes is that we the people of the United States, commit to a reversal of that level of inequality not only of wealth, but even more importantly of political power.

The struggle that has broken out — the People versus the Party of Wall Street — is global as well as local in its nature.

It brings together students who are locked in a life-and-death struggle with political power in Chile to create a free and quality education system for all and so begin the dismantling of the neoliberal model that Pinochet so brutally imposed.

It embraces the agitators in Tahrir Square in Cairo who recognise that the fall of Mubarak (like the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship) was but the first step in the struggle to break free from money power.

It includes the “indignados” in Spain, the striking workers in Greece, the militant opposition emerging all around the world, from London to Durban, Buenos Aires, Shenzhen and Mumbai.

The dominating forces of big capital and money power are everywhere on the defensive.

Whose side will each of us come down on? Which street will we occupy? Only time will tell. But that time is now.

The system is not only broken and exposed but incapable of any response other than repression. So we, the people, have no option but to struggle for the collective right to decide how that system shall be reconstructed and in what image.

The Party of Wall Street has had its day and failed miserably. How to construct an alternative on its ruins is an opportunity and an obligation that none of us can avoid.

[Abridged from David Harvey is a US Marxist economist. His forthcoming book, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, will be published by Verso early next year.]


Great article, and a much better analysis than the Chomsky article in this same issue. One point bugs me though, and only because it's been so often repeated by the Marxist left: " is bodies on the street and in the squares, not sentiments on Twitter or Facebook, that really matter" (David Harvey). Well, duh. It doesn't take a Marxist to work that one out. (Does Harvey imagine protestors leave their sentiments at home when their "bodies" go out to protest? Doesn't sentiment (i.e. thought) precede/accompany action?) The point is, however, that successive revolutions in technology - especially in communications - DO actually raise the level of working class unity, organisation and consciousness. Exactly how they do that, and what the implications are should be the starting point of a materialist analysis. For example, the mobile phone was indispensible to the Venezuelan revolution. It was the primary means of immediate mass mobilisation in response to Chavez's kidnapping. It's not enough to just say, "well, mobile phones are all good and well, but they're no substitute for mass mobilisation". Owen Richards