Blog Post

Occupy Wall Street and a Polyphonic General Strike

It has been quite some time after Georges Sorel has proposed the idea of General Strike.More than a hundred years has passed since then, but looking at the contemporary anti-capitalist movement, this concept comes to mind more often.This syndicalist statement has become more relevant in postindustrial and postmodern times.

First of all we have to admit that the left did not benefit from the feudal and violent approach to social transformation. In fact, on the opposite—the Soviet example proved that the violent and centralized way of solving the problem of capitalism does not work.  I have spent the first 21 years of my life in the Soviet Union and I can say that by the end of its existence the “Land of Soviets” was even more imperialist, consumerist and to a greater degree bourgeois than Western countries. Even now, you can see that the biggest protagonists of the neoliberal system are in the former Eastern Bloc.  Eastern Europe and Eurasia became now the new frontier for Social Darwinism.  And partly that is because of the mistake that Lenin, Stalin and their brethren made with their statist, centralized approach to power.  The Red Revolution was lost at the Kronshtadt when it suppressed the revolt of different leftist groups.   So state violence and central command proved to be a very insufficient way.  On the contrary, a decentralized approach has almost always proved to be most effective and workable.  Delegating initiative works. 

Capitalism at the grass roots level is quite a creative and dynamic system—it gets ugly when it becomes big and outsized.In neoliberal system government serves the needs of the corporate elite and defends it from people—most of whom are disenfranchised.  So the challenge that the 99 percent face now is how to out-create capitalism, how to be more innovative than the bourgeois consciousness.And I think it is important to remember that artificial need for scarcity is one of the main problems in contemporary postindustrial society and on the contrary, creative entrepreneurship is based upon the unlimited human talent to create abundance in this world.So, we as the 99 percent need to be thinking about the abundance of revolutionary thought, how diverse those ideas could be and how well they could strike exploitative elements in the corporate system. 

By the end of 20th century it became obvious that capitalism transcended the boundaries of nation-states—multi-nationals got bigger and bigger and have incorporated more and more different nationalities in their ranks.Today, they are easily able to defeat any national labor union, since they can always outsource and find cheaper labor.So, the working class needs to learn from this example—it needs to become more international.Events of last year, starting with Arab Spring and continued in European Union and the US gives a new hope that another International will be created.This time it is the most innovative business—Internet in empowering revolutionaries—that allows the structure of information in  technology to overcome borders easier.In 1993 Derrida in his “Specters of Marx” has talked about the need for the New International—today this becomes more obvious.Violent overthrow of any government would not solve the problem, as Soviet experience proved—and also the strike in just one country is not sufficient enough today to improve the conditions of poor and working class.

Today, there is a need of Polyphonic General Strike and Solidarity—with many different cultures, nations, religions, social groups coexisting in strike and understanding their differences, while going towards a universal goal.I don’t understand why we can't talk about the minimum salary of world citizens—universal declaration of human rights provides that all human beings on this planet have equal rights.Why shouldn’t labor rights become equal as well? The International Labor Organization has been around for a long time and it still is not able to guarantee the rights of many workers around the world.Outsourcing and exploitation are big problems of the world today—and polyphonic solidarity is needed to understand the needs of different communities.

Also today, a little less than 1 billion people are starving because of commoditization of food.Scarcity of food is artificially created by commodity markets and hedge funds.But it is a taboo to talk about it, since we are led to believe that scarcity is biggest dogma of the neoliberal world order.In fact, it is very good for farmers business to start producing for those people who don’t have foodcreating abundance will create more jobs.But, again, maybe some speculators on Wall Street would lose some profits.Here again, we as 99 percent, need to find creative ways to overcome this problem.  More places join the general protest it will get more powerful.

Franchises of occupiers need to be able to do something very creative and innovative to out-create corporate system.  All of us need to become artists—to envision our freedom as human beings in our creative action.Not just protest—but also a constructive action that would lead to the construction of new self-reliant communes of people that would rule themselves peacefully and construct the future.The communes of free entrepreneurs, free artists, who build their future together and who have a responsibility to have sustainable vision is very much how I imagine the future of this movement.

It is so exciting to think about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has just started, but also, as Zizek said rightfully, it is important not to fall into self-congratulation—we have succeeded, since the Mayor of New York granted an indefinite right to protest.It is not just protest—we need to create—create the art of living—create our future without bourgeois consciousness of scarcity and exploitation.  This is a constructive process that lasts for a long time—while the protest is an important part the search of alternative is even more important.

One more point to counteract the dogmatic Marxist assumption is that consciousness matters—we see it today that human beings are artificially creating hunger and starvation because they are taught so be the neoliberal economic doctrines.So we need to be able to work with different people—some conservatives and some religious people as well—to reclaim the right to abundance.

Irakli Zurab Kakabadze's picture

Irakli Kakabadze has been a leading figure in the nonviolent movement for social change in Georgia for more than two decades. 

A member of the Civic Disobedience Committee in 1989 and during the Rose Revolution in 2003, he has since been harassed and detained repeatedly by authorities. 

He is the author of five books and hundreds of essays in English, Georgian, and Russian. His play Candidate Jokola controversially depicted a love story between a Georgian presidential candidate and an Abkhaz woman. He is also an author of lyrics for “Postindustrial Boys,” and, together with Zurab Rtveliashvili, practices a literary performance style called Polyphonic Discourse. 

He taught art and peacebuilding at Cornell University from 2008-2012 and currently teach at the Georgian-American University in Tbilisi, Georgia..