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Marx and the 99%

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Last week, I went to the first day of Occupy Toronto. I felt a mix of affects: peacableness, and nervousness (would the police raid the encampment that night?) and anger, and joy. Affect is a circuit of contagious, transformative feeling. It's about how we feel in and with the world. As a longtime activist I have to admit that skepticism was what I brought to the event. I was there more out of duty than out of hope. But the stolid persistence of Occupy Toronto and all the Occupy actions around the globe has moved me, and it has shifted my affect.

It's also got me reading Marx again. For as it turns out, this is no freakish dreadlocked drum-circley one-off-thing. Marx did the math 160 years ago.

It is part of the cycle of capitalism. What Marx described in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto has uncanny relevance for these times. For just as standard media (and even some of my students) decry the presence of the middle class in this protest with their cellphones and their (underpaid) jobs, Marx declared that "the proletariat is drawn from all classes of the population [...] small tradespeople, shopkeepers, retired tradesmen, handicraftsmen and peasants." In other words, small business owners gone bankrupt; retirees whose pensions have gone belly-up; artists living on almost nothing; students with crippling debt loads; homeless people.

"With the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it becomes more aware of that strength." Keep laying off workers? Keep stealing peoples' investments? Keep throwing in them in jail or depriving them of the right to strike? The 99% aka the proletariat "continually re-emerges, stronger, firmer, mightier."

And as for their iPhones, their wireless encampments, their Facebook pages? Marx understood the irony of it: "This union [of the proletariat] is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another." And as for Canada being too great, too just, too nice, to need an Occupy Movement? Whatever. The 99% is no longer national; it is global.

The 1%, according to Marx, are watching late capitalism as they have known it, in its most extreme and profligate manifestation, crumble.

"What the bourgoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own gravediggers."

No cohesive message? No ultimate goal, according to standard media? I'd say the goal is so obvious it's too scary for CNN or even the CBC to repeat. It's nothing less than the overthrow of capitalism. But the real victory, according to Marx, "lies not in immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union" of the 99%.

According to Pressenza International Press Agency, there are now 1,257 Occupy communities around the world. And counting.

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