Against the Institution: A Warning for ‘Occupy Wall Street’

By Andrew Gavin Marshall

While I fully endorse the efforts and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protests, now emerging internationally, there are concerns which need to be addressed and kept in mind as the movement moves forward.

The process through which a potentially powerful movement may be co-opted and controlled is slight and subtle. If Occupy Wall Street hopes to strive for the 99%, it must not submit to the 1%, in any capacity.

The Occupy movement must prevent what happened to the Tea Party movement to happen to it. Whatever ideological stance you may have, the Tea Party movement started as a grass roots movement, largely a result of anti-Federal Reserve protests. They were quickly co-opted with philanthropic money and political party endorsements.

For the Occupy Movement to build up and become a true force for change, it must avoid and reject the organizational and financial ‘contributions’ of institutions: be they political parties, non-profits, or philanthropic foundations. The efforts are subtle, but effective: they seek to organize, professionalize, and institutionalize a movement, push forward the issues they desire, which render the movement useless for true liberation, as these are among the very institutions the movement should be geared against.

This is not simply about “Wall Street,” this is about POWER. Those who have power, and those who don’t. When those who have power offer a hand in your struggle, their other hand holds a dagger. Remain grassroots, remain decentralized, remain outside and away from party politics, remain away from financial dependence. Freedom is not merely in the aim, it’s in the action.

The true struggle is not left versus right, democrat versus republican, liberal versus conservative, or libertarian versus socialist. The true struggle is that of people against the institution: the State, the banks, the central banking system, the corporation, the international financial institutions, the military, the political parties, the mainstream media, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, university, education, psychiatry, the legal system, the church, et. al.

The transfer of power from one institution to another does not solve the crisis of our ‘institutional society,’ whereby a few have come to dominate so much, to concentrate so much power at the expense of everyone else having so little. True liberation will result only from opposition to ‘the institution’ as an entity. Placating power from one institution to another renders resistance ineffective. The power structures must be discredited, and power must be distributed to the people, through voluntary associations, communal groupings, and people-powered (and people-funded!) initiatives.

In order to survive as a movement, money will become a necessity. Do not turn to the non-profits and philanthropic foundations for support. The philanthropies, which fund and created the non-profits and NGOs, were themselves created to engage in ‘social engineering’: to ‘manufacture consent’ among the governed, and create consensus among the governors. The philanthropies (particularly those of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller) fund social movements and protest organizations so as to steer them into directions which are safe for the elites. The philanthropies are themselves run by the elite, founded by bankers and industrialists striving to preserve their place at the top of the social structure in the midst of potentially revolutionary upheaval. As the president of the Ford Foundation once said, “Everything the foundation does is to make the world safe for capitalism.”

Money from philanthropies will organize the movement into a more professionalized entity, will direct its efforts around the promotion of legalistic reform, making slight changes to the system’s symptoms, promoting particular legislation, rallying around very specific issues removed from their global historical context. The effect is to turn anti-system revolutionaries into legalistic reformers. With such funding, movement organizers are drawn into the world of NGOs, international conferences, international institutions, aid agencies, and mainstream political participation. The leaders of the movement become professionalized and successful, both in prestige and finances. Thus, their own personal position becomes dependent upon promoting reform, not revolution; on maintaining the system (with minor changes to the aesthetic), not moving against it. The movement itself, then, would be institutionalized.

For the finances to grow without the threat of institutional dominance, the money must come from the people. A truly populist cause could be funded by the people. Keep the people in charge.

If we truly want freedom and liberation, we must begin to act free and liberated. If we want the ‘true liberation,’ we must understand the true system of power that confines, oppresses, segregates, exploits, impoverishes, and controls us. It is not a matter of the state or the banks or the corporations. It is a matter of the institution, itself. The structures of power must be struggled against so that we may come to liberate humanity from all that confines it, and experience what our true ‘human nature’ is.

If one studies mice in a maze, no matter for how long or what the maze is built of, looks like, feels like, you cannot deduce the nature of the mouse separate from that of the maze. Break down the maze and you may observe the true nature of the mouse. We have been living, always, within a maze. The walls are constructed as institutions which direct, steer, manipulate, define and segregate us from one another.

First we must tear down the barriers that bind us from ourselves, and then we may truly understand what it is to be human and free.

Project Manager, The People’s Book Project

10 responses to “Against the Institution: A Warning for ‘Occupy Wall Street’

  1. I am in complete agreement! And, completely irrelevant, but i love your icon picture 🙂

  2. “the Tea Party movement started as a grass roots movement, largely a result of anti-Federal Reserve protests.”
    The Tea Party was/is about excessive government and taxation.

    “The true struggle is that of people against the institution: the State, the banks, the central banking system, the corporation, the international financial institutions, the military, the political parties, the mainstream media, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, university, education, psychiatry, the legal system, the church, et. al.”
    So, if you demand to increase jobs, you may need to be with corporations, educaction, and universities as they are the base in which you can grow employment and become successful. Basing your movement as anti-corporation, anti-education, and anti-universities tells the rest of teh coutnry that you will become a burden on them and you will lose their support quickly. nobody wants to support an unemployed, uneducated deadbeat.

    Being against banks and other financial insitutions sithout knowing why will further lower the economy and increase the burdon of those that depend on a growing economy to make ends meet. Pretending to be with the 99% and then making it harder on 60% of them will only lower your support and dry up any enthusiasm they have had.

    Think of the long term impacts of your actions and look how it will impact those in the middle class and those that are the hardest working in the lower classes before demanding that you benefit by stepping on them.

  3. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Another symptomatic problem of the Occupy […] phenomenon is its own self-conception as an expression of “resistance.” Ever since the close of the Second World War, the concept of “resistance” has risen to prominence within the discourse of the Left, ennobled by the French experience of La Résistance during the Vichy regime. Unfortunately, the teleological valorization of resistance as a sort of virtue unto itself has had a rather perverse effect on protest culture over the last several decades. Instead of calling for a broader project of social revolution, activists have substituted the notion of simply “resisting” the forces of structural domination that surrounds us. Somehow — though the precise way that this operates is never made clear — this is supposed to “subvert” or “disrupt” the powers that be. “Resistance” thus becomes fetishized as a supposedly heroic act of defiance, no matter how effective or ineffective it might ultimately be.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


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  5. “Banks create money. That is what they are there for. The manufacturing process consists of making a pen-and-ink or typewriter entry on a card in a book. That is all. Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created – new deposits – brand new money. Broadly speaking, all new money comes out of a bank in the form of loans. As loans are debts, then under the present system all money is debt.”
    Graham Towers (1897-1975), Governor of the Bank of Canada from 1935-1955

    “Money is created when banks lend it into existence. When a bank provides you with a $100,000 mortgage, it creates only the principal, which you spend and which then circulates in the economy. The bank expects you to pay back $200,000 over the next 20 years, but it doesn’t create the second $100,000 – the interest. Instead, the bank sends you out into the tough world to battle against everybody else to bring back the second $100,000.”
    Bernard Lietaer, economist and author, formerly of the Central Bank of Belgium

    “The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it. The process by which banks create money is so simple the mind is repelled.”
    John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

    “Once a nation parts with the control of its currency and credit, it matters not who makes the nation’s laws. Usury, once in control, will wreck any nation.”
    William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950), Prime Minister of Canada from 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948

    Canadian coinage and banknotes are fiat money that the federal government declares to be legal tender. Canadian currency is not backed by gold or silver reserves. Just over $50 billion in Bank of Canada notes is in circulation and an estimated $1.5 billion in coins has been issued into circulation by the Royal Canadian Mint since 1969.
    The six main chartered banks in Canada, namely RBC, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, CIBC, BMO, and National Bank, had a combined total of over $970 billion in loans listed on their balance sheets for October 31, 2010, which is close to $920 billion more than the total amount of legal tender cash in circulation. Most money today exists as bank deposits.
    The reserve amount in a fractional reserve banking system is supposed to set a limit on how much money the banks may create. Statutory cash reserve requirements for banks in Canada were quietly phased out by the federal government between 1991 and 1994. The Bank for International Settlements, which generally governs capital requirements at major banks around the world, decided in 2004 that banks must hold equity capital equal to only 8-10% of their total loans outstanding, meaning they are required to have about $1 million in capital to make $10 million in loans.
    The federal debt in Canada is currently more than $560 billion, and interest payments on the debt in 2009-2010 cost $29.4 billion dollars or 11 cents of every tax dollar. The ratio of household debt in Canada, including mortgages and consumer debt, is now approximately 150% of disposable income after mandatory deductions and income taxes.
    Bank money is interest-bearing debt and it transfers wealth to those who create and control the money. Banks create money in the form of loans and credit, and interest is the price we pay to the banks to use their money. We are indebted to those who have usurped the ability to create money. The current monetary system has serious economic, political, social and environmental consequences.
    Money does not need to be created as interest-bearing debt. Our legitimate endeavours should not be restrained by the price of money or a limited supply of money. We do not have to be burdened by unnecessary debt and compound interest in the voluntary exchange of our goods and services. Anything physically possible is financially possible.
    Money basically needs to function as a medium of exchange. It is essentially an instrument, device or token that can be used to make payments or settle debts in the sale and purchase of goods and services. Local currencies can serve this purpose.
    A convenient and efficient exchange system does not even require the use of money. It only needs to facilitate the trade of goods and services. This is simply a matter of keeping an account of our transactions and our credit or debit balances based on the exchange of goods that we produce and services we provide for those that we obtain.
    The technologies already exist to create a more effective method, connecting local and national trading networks. We can collectively and co-operatively determine the structure and details of an improved system, such as credit and debit limits and possible fees to use the services provided.
    Alternatives to the present monetary and banking system are being utilized around the world, including interest-free banks, community currencies, local trading systems, reciprocal trading associations and mutual credit clearing services. Interest-free methods do not require constant economic growth, which allows for more responsible use of our land, resources, materials, energy, time, knowledge and skills to genuinely meet our needs and create real wealth.
    A better understanding of the nature and function of money and credit will afford us the opportunity to begin to implement more efficient and sustainable exchange systems.

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