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Wall Street Protests Will be Killed by the Left

October 17, 2011

On one level it makes the blood flow to see demonstrations against Wall Street. Even to imagine a rejuvenation of old fashioned American liberalism, a roughing up of corporations after the abuses that blighted the lives of ordinary families. The protest could be a voice for the unemployed and those who lost homes.

But US conservatives need not worry. Nor should conservatives in Europe or Australia at their copy-cat protests.

Anti-corporate greed as a political movement will be wrecked by the left itself.

It happens every time.

First, an anarchist fringe will attach itself to demonstrations. We saw this last year when extremists started hurling Molotov cocktails in Athens and in London when demonstrators attacked the vehicle carrying Prince Charles. This discredits the whole protest and produces public revulsion.

It happens in Australia. A demonstration here is an invitation to anarchists to fulfil fantasies of clawing out cobblestones and flinging them at the mounted Cossacks. They fasten on a serious cause – like opposition to the war in Iraq – and discredit it with violence and extremism.

Second, the Trotskyites will perform their normal mischief. Their biggest enemies are not the capitalists but other telephone box minorities. Other Trots. They would rather see the demonstration and the cause behind it defeated than see a rival sect get credit for advancing the revolution. Besides, they can rationalise that a setback will only make protests bigger and angrier next time.

Third, the more responsible demonstrators will start to formulate demands. When inchoate protest becomes a program it loses its romantic appeal. In America these demands are likely to include nationalisation of banking and more comprehensive healthcare. At that point it’s all over. They are propositions that will die in the full light of American politics.

Then the greedy incompetents on Wall Street who won bailouts will enter and leave their towers unmolested. They have to work with new regulatory controls in the Dodd-Frank legislation, which were served up, not by street protests, left wing chants and Marxist fantasists but by parliamentary politics.

  1. Peter M permalink
    October 17, 2011 4:02 pm

    Yes, the radical left wing may spoil these very interesting and inspiring demonstrations against the ugly aspects of corporate capitalism, particularly as manifest in ‘greedy” bankers. However while it lasts it does serve to raise the novel idea in the USA that inequality of incomes and wealth is a fit subject for public debate and to intimate that the good society is the one where obscene inequalities do not exist and that it is legitimate public policy to legislate toward civic equality. I would like to see more of this debate in mainstream Australian politics and more demonstrations.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      October 17, 2011 5:43 pm

      Precisely. How terrific it would be to get a debate in the US about its shameful treatment of its working class. About income inequalities. About the arrogance of its wealthy. To see a stronger union movement. Support all of these things, but the left will stop it happening even if the conservatism of American workers made it possible.

  2. Jack Howard permalink
    October 18, 2011 12:08 am

    Couldn’t agree more with your forecast, Bob. As a first year uni student (and newly-joined ALP member) there is much in the spirit and demands of the Occupy Movement that I can identify with. However, it is clear that due to marked differences between the economic climates of the U.S. and Eurozone countries and that of Australia, the anti-corporatist protests that have been sparked here are likely not to attract the average wage-earner so much as ready-made radicals with predetermined agendas – never a good recipe for movements that aim to be spontaneous and reflect the popular will of the time. I am told by friends who attended the Occupy Melbourne protest here on Saturday that within just a few hours of the gathering, one such Trotskyist group attempted to hijack the demonstration, diverting protesters to take part in a BDS action against a nearby Max Brenner store. This alone caused the gathering to lose much of its numbers, diversity and momentum in a very short-time. While I support many of the aims of BDS and have similarly strong views on Israel and Palestine, such self-serving actions when committed by competing groups under the banner of “solidarity” seem sinister indeed. An Orwell quote – that “the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents” – springs to mind.

  3. Jane M permalink
    October 18, 2011 12:14 am

    Watch a great interview by an Occupy Sydney protester on Sunrise. By the end he has the interviewer agreeing that something needs to be done about the inequalities of wealth in society (admittedly not as bad in Australia as in America).

    The Occupy movement had 950 events in 80 countries over the weekend. I wouldn’t write it off so easily. I’m old enough to remember when Labour politicians attended Vietnam moratoriums etc with these same anarchists and socialists.

  4. Jeffrey FRANCIS permalink
    October 18, 2011 2:24 am

    I have always thought that the organised trade union movement is simply part of the capitalist system.There does not seem to be any outstanding trade union leaders in the USA. The only figue I recognised at the anti wall street gig was michael moore Where are the John L Lewis, george meaney or jimmy hoffa type figures.Are unions like the teamsters just a conduit for the political class as increasingly appears to be the case in britain and australia. Could you speak to this bob. I know your late father was a train driver, thanks.

  5. October 18, 2011 8:38 am

    Try here for some concrete ideas for ways forward:

  6. October 18, 2011 12:11 pm

    There is certainly a cynicism towards leftist activism as movements seem to have a tendency to fragment over internal disagreements that turn off many who might support them as these disagreements are seen as petty, irrelevant or too extreme. On the other hand there is also a pervasive view that the political and economic systems currently in place is fundamentally dysfunctional which at best inspire apathy and at worst resentment.

    The interesting aspect of the current movement is the geographical rather than numerical scope of the protests, in particular the linking of memes such as the wearing of ‘anonymous’ Guy Faulks masks and the 99% slogan being taken up wherever the occupy protests kick off. What appears to have enabled the occupy movements to continue and spread is the ability to communicate a message over long distances despite a lack of any identifiable leadership or mainstream political support or encouragement.

    It seems to me that the problem that the system has generated is that there is a discrepancy between living costs and incomes that has led to a degradation of the economy as the bulk of money goes to serving interest fees, bloating the financial sector while reducing the amount of money that people have to spend in other areas. Ultimately the financial sector is only worth what it invests in and the story of the ’emperors new clothes’ appears to be a fitting analogy of recent events.

  7. October 18, 2011 5:23 pm

    You couldn’t be more right. I actually like the way the anarchists think: completely abolishing the 1%, but then again, it’s those types that will ruin us. 99% is a big freaking number. To pretend that we are all united on how to solve the worlds problems is a joke. It’s a cool thing, but it will tear itself apart from the inside out.

  8. O. Puhleez permalink
    October 19, 2011 4:40 am

    “Wall St protests will be killed by the Left”. By the Left? ???

    The ‘Left’ is a broad church. It has its fringes. There have always been fringe groups trying to hijack this or that. Choose your period of history,and you will find them. What Bob Carr really argues here is that any protest movement will be self-defeating. The only course with any hope of success is parliamentarism.

    Well, life is full of surprises!

    Parliamentary politics unfortunately has done nothing to address corporate greed. (Recall Kevin Rudd when PM: “Ït’s a matter for shareholders.”) The occupy protestors have done more to highlight this issue than all the politicians in all the parliaments of the world.

  9. Kim Redman permalink
    October 19, 2011 9:09 am

    If I’m reading Bob Carr correctly, he’s suggesting we should leave our hopes for controlling corporate greed up to “parliamentary politics” and not activism. Whilst I agree that anarchists are often quick to try and monopolise protests, it has to be said that if it wasn’t for the protests the issue wouldn’t be in the media right now.

    We all hope for a day when politicians do something about corporate greed, but I for one won’t be holding my breath. Whilst we retain a system where politicians can be legally bribed by the wealthy through secret campaign donations, we can forget about them making any serious moves to control their benefactors.

  10. skyring permalink
    October 20, 2011 11:51 am

    Exactly right. We’re seeing it happening now. The sort of spirit shown in the Great Depression with Woody Guthrie’s 66 Highway Blues, where people in genuine need raised genuine objections to the profiteering of financial overlords, is being diverted and subverted by activists pushing their own fringe barrows. The sort of people who see peaceful protest as wasted effort.

    I’m gonna start me a hungry man’s union,
    Ainta gonna charge no dues,
    Gonna march down that road to the Wall Street Walls
    A singin’ those 66 Highway blues.

  11. October 20, 2011 3:43 pm


    Its frustrating when the loonies turn up, but there are loonies on each political wing. The loonies don’t seem to be doing the right any harm. Why is that?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      October 20, 2011 8:30 pm

      This left is challenging the status quo, the capitalist system. Therefore there will be some focus on what they are proposing in its place. If the anarchists and Trots are the ones getting the attention the people across the nation who are fed up with Wall Street will think there is no serious alternative, that the critics are all nuts and extremists. I think the extremists on the right also damage their cause – look at Bachman, Palin et al.

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