Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865): Before the ’12 election, Progressives staged an anarchist-inspired street theater entitled Occupy Wall Street


By Lee Cary

In the year before the 2012 general election, the American Progressive Movement choreographed a series of street theater productions which fueled a media-driven counterpunch to the Tea Party.  The production was entitled “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS).

Despite the ideological diversity of the OWS cast, it was an anarchist-inspired production.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is the world’s first, self-professed “anarchist.”  If alive today, Pierre would not be aligned with the progressive movement.  Witnessing OWS, he would have felt…violated.

Many of the OWS extras came from pre-existent protest organizations and activists unions.  Consequently, OWS’s posted agenda was an eclectic hodge-podge of revolutionary gibberish.

Occupy Wall Street March

Two attempts to list the involved groups and their funding sources can be found here and here.  Many of the likely progressive suspects and organizations are credited.  They won’t be reviewed here.

As the curtain went up on OWS, former Green Jobs Czar for the Obama administration, Van Jones, indicated that significant pre-opening-night planning had gone into the OWS production.

It wasn’t coincidental that opening night for OWS came slightly over a year before the ’12 general election, and then faded away as November neared.  Today, the road show has long been over. It served its purpose, and closed, somewhat abruptly.

With regard to OWS’s relationship to anarchists, due credit goes to David Graeber, a Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, the University of London.  His article, dated November 20, 2011, entitled “Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots,” posted on Aljazerra.  Here’s what Graeber observed about OWS:

“[S]ince the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States’ financial elites taking the approach…journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.

I should be clear here what I mean by ‘anarchist principles’. The easiest way to explain anarchism is to say that it is a political movement that aims to bring about a genuinely free society – that is, one where humans only enter those kinds of relations with one another that would not have to be enforced by the constant threat of violence. History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.”

Graeber noted four Anarchist principles variously expressed in the OWS script, or modeled by OWS staging:

1) “The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions.

2) The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.

3) The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.

4) The embrace of prefigurative politics [not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organisation – a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old.]”

Graeber’s observations are consistent with Proudhon’s book What is Property? wherein Proudhon wrote (Cosimo Classics edition, 2007, original published in 1904) the following:

All have an equal right of occupancy [of land]. The amount occupied being measured, not by the will but by the variable conditions of space and number, property cannot exist.” (p.55)

“[C]an men legitimate property [ownership] by mutual consent? I say, no…Man can no more give up labor than liberty. Now to recognize the right of territorial property is to give up labor since it is to relinquish the means of labor; it is to traffic in natural right, and divest ourselves of manhood.” (p.62)

The right of property was the origin of evil on the earth, the first link in the long chain of crimes and misfortunes which the human race has endured since its birth.” (p.63)

“[I]f property is divided, all conditions will be equal – there will be no more large capitalists or large proprietors.” (p.79)

“[A]ll accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.” (p.81)

“’To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its results. To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skills.’ This proposition…is false, absurd, unjust, contradictory, hostile to liberty, friendly to tyranny, anti-social, and was unluckily framed under the influence of the property idea.” (p.82)

So in every exchange, there is a moral obligation that neither of the contracting parties shall gain at the expense of the other; that is, that, to be legitimate and true, commerce must be exempt from all inequality.” (p.90)  Recall how some OWS protestors condemned “profit.”

The peasant who hires land, the manufacturer who borrows capital, the tax-payer who pays tolls, duties, patent and license fees, personal and property taxes, etc, and the deputy who votes for them, – all act neither intelligently nor freely. Their enemies are the proprietors, the capitalists, the government.” (p.90)    

Property is impossible, because it is the Mother of Tyranny.” (p.142)

Property is impossible, because it is the negation of equality.” (p.152)

Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised…In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence…Communism is oppression and slavery….Communism is essentially opposed to the free exercise of our faculties, to our noblest desires, to our deepest feelings…Thus communism violates the sovereignty of  the conscience, and equality: the first, by restricting spontaneity of mind and heart, and freedom of thought and action; the second, by placing labor and laziness, skill and stupidity, and even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort.” (pp. 180-181) Proudhon and Marx corresponded, but didn’t hit it off – oil and water.

Anarchy, – the absence of a master, of a sovereign, such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating.” (p.191) Anarchists are the extreme opposites of Statists – no government versus huge government.

In determining the nature of liberty, we do not unite communism and property indiscriminately; such a process would be absurd eclecticism. We search by analysis for those elements in each which are rue, and in harmony with the laws of Nature and society, disregarding the rest altogether; and the result gives us an adequate expression of the natural form of human society, – in  one word, liberty.” (p.195)

Occupy Wall Street MasksPhotos of OWS events often include people wearing the mask of a cartoon-like man with a thin-chin beard, closed-mouth grin, and devious eyes. It’s a stylized depiction of an Englishman, Guy Fawkes, who tried to bomb Parliament in 1605. But the most recent source for the character is from the comic-base movie “V for Vendetta” that depicts an anarchist as a modern day Fawkes rebelling against a tyrannical government.

The identity of those wearing the OWS Vendetta mask is hidden.

Likewise, the guiding light  behind the OWS movement that, for a year, sucked much oxygen out of the daily news cycles before the 2012 general election, also remains hidden.

It wasn’t Pierre Proudhon.  So, who was it then?

Obama and Occupy Wall Street