In his recent column The Milquetoast Radicals, David Brooks suggests that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is predestined by the collapse of Soviet-style nationalization in 1991. It’s predetermined to demand reform but not radical transformation. Its participants know the perils of state-led capitalism, the repeated failure of Communist 5-year plans, and the impracticability of worker-run and worker-owned industry. Their discontent with wealth distribution, he argues, will inevitably be tempered by the lessons of state-run industry; will find a backstop in the experience of nationalization (or, in its original incarnation, of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”). Their demands will be more cosmetic than systemic. They will organize for progressive taxation, a bigger welfare state, student loan forgiveness, free higher education, and the like. They will not, however, demand that Bank of America, Wells Fargo, General Electric, Merrill Lynch, and the myriad other American corporations are run by democratically accountable representatives of the people.
Brooks’s interpretation of OWS is somewhat fatalistic because it denies the host of possibilities that the initiative generates, and recycles some of Fredrick Hayek’s injudiciousness from The Road to Serfdom. In what is now a handbook of laissez-faire thinking, Hayek argued that “the various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc.” (RTS, p. 100) only find practical expression through the nationalization of industry. Some would contend otherwise – George Orwell would have been among them. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell recounts his brief experience as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War during which he saw a Socialist configuration (unlike Hayek’s and Brooks’s characterization) that didn’t depend on industry nationalization. He saw “anarcho-syndicalism” in practice, or the highly organized, egalitarian, stateless organization of resources and decision-making. Notably, Noam Chomsky, who has vouched solidarity with OWS (http://tiny.cc/ot13u), is an anarcho-syndicalist (or, as he says, a libertarian socialist).
The occupiers, then, have more options than Brooks suggests. Additionally, Brooks might have too quickly dismissed the undiscovered possibilities that, presumably, some of the occupiers expect to grow out of their daily general assemblies.