Here are links to 2 interesting commentaries addressing historical antecedents to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a recent column, Chris Hedges interviewed an OWS participant in New York and used this to introduce some perceptive comments about the historic role of the underclass in political movements, drawing on the 19th century debates between Bakunin and Marx. Thai Jones, writing for the MRZine blog published by Monthly Review, looks at the involvement of prominent individuals such as Emma Goldman and Upton Sinclair in what was probably the very first occupation of Wall Street in 1914 – a response to John D. Rockefeller’s massacre of striking mineworkers in Ludlow, Colorado.
From Hedges’ article:
Marx, for all his insight into the self-destructive machine of unfettered capitalism, viewed the poor as counterrevolutionaries, those least capable of revolutionary action. Bakunin, however, saw in the “uncivilized, disinherited, and illiterate” a pool of revolutionists who would join the working class and turn on the elites who profited from their misery and enslavement. Bakunin proved to be the more prophetic. The successful revolutions that swept through the Slavic republics and later Russia, Spain and China, and finally those movements that battled colonialism in Africa and the Middle East as well as military regimes in Latin America, were largely spontaneous uprisings fueled by the rage of a disenfranchised rural and urban working class, and that of dispossessed intellectuals. Revolutionary activity, Bakunin correctly observed, was best entrusted to those who had no property, no regular employment and no stake in the status quo. Finally, Bakunin’s vision of revolution, which challenged Marx’s rigid bifurcation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, carved out a vital role for these rootless intellectuals, the talented sons and daughters of the middle class who had been educated to serve within elitist institutions, or expected a place in the middle class, but who had been cast aside by society. The discarded intellectuals-unemployed journalists, social workers, teachers, artists, lawyers and students-were for Bakunin a valuable revolutionary force: “fervent, energetic youths, totally déclassé, with no career or way out.” These déclassé intellectuals, like the dispossessed working class, had no stake in the system and no possibility for advancement.