Paul Mason's Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed reported from the frontlines of the 2008 financial crash, from Wall Street and other centres of capitalism. Mason, anticipating the social consequences of the economic meltdown, wrote in 2010 that "The future ... depends on the complex interplay between the interests of die-hard political elites and the interests of the salariat,the urban youth,the manual working class and the elderly." Read more in an extract here. His blogpost Twenty Reasons Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, written in the wake of the Arab Spring in February 2011, identified the social, economic and technological factors in the wave of social unrest, the first being the emergence of "a new sociological type: the graduate with no future".
OccupyLSX at St. Paul's Cathedral, which started the occupation on Saturday 15 October, prompted Mason to add to his original analysis after "nine months of political paralysis. And people have begun to feel the economic permafrost setting in." Observing the impulse to occupy public space, Mason suggests that it is
driven by two things: first it is - as I wrote in the 20 reasons - a meme. It is an effective action that is transmitting itself independent of any democratic structures and party political hierarchies: if you camp somewhere, the press turn up and you can get an instant hit of wellbeing by, however briefly and tenuously, living the dream of a communal, negotiated existence.
Second, because this communal, negotiated, networked life already exists in people's heads as a result of the rapid adoption of social networks and networked lifestyles. As Manuel Castells, one of the first sociologists of the internet, said: the more autonomous and rebellious a person's attitudes are, the more they use the internet; the more they use the internet, the more autonomous their lifestyle becomes.
The distance between the diverse group of "ordinary people" that gathered outside St. Paul's Cathedral and the lofty realm of institutional politics was also striking for Mason. The demographic, Mason observes, was made up by
Lots of student occupation activists from last winter; veteran leftists and veteran anarchists going back to the days of Saltley Gate; people involved in NGOs; an Oxbridge professor of computer science; a large smattering of "Anonymous" people - with their Guy Fawkes masks - who've become the new pole of attraction for the deep "autonomist" movement. Some women with their babies. And - the biggest group - just ordinary people.
A fundamental point shared by these diverse protesters is the deep desire for renewal in the relations between society, economy and politics:
most people involved in such protests have switched off from mainstream politics: they believe it's a rich-person's club and totally impenetrable to reason or pressure ... Occupy Everywhere, then, is the kind of movement you get when people start to believe mainstream politicians have lost their principles, or are trapped by vested interests, or are all crooked.
And with good reason: Mason notes that not a single politician showed up in support of the protest against the injustices of our current system. In his view, the Occupy Everywhere impulse is the global grassroots response of civil society to the failure of institutional politics to represent people's demands and is thus
much bigger than any single-issue campaign or cause. They [the protesters] mean to limit the power of finance capital and build a more equal society, while rejecting the hierarchical methods of the parties that once claimed to do so. In this sense the movement is a kind of replacement social democracy; a mirror image of the besuited young people who populate the think tanks of Labour, the SPD, the US Democrats etc.
Mason's forthcoming book Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, to be published in January 2012, charts the new forms of collective action, from London to Cairo, Wisconsin to Tehran.
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