Nobody likes to hear someone jabber on about German philosophy, but bear with me for a moment.
After the death of G. W. F. Hegel, the great philosopher of contradictions, his followers split into two antagonistic factions. The dividing line between them was directly political: Left Hegelians and Right Hegelians. To make a long story short, the Left-wing Hegelians went in many directions, but their school of thought ultimately culminated in Marxism. The Right-wing Hegelians, for their part, turned Hegel’s philosophy into a fanatical form of Christian fundamentalism that later set the stage for European fascism. The same exact thing has happened to the Occupy movement over the past couple of months. It has split into mutually antagonistic and irreconcilable Left-wing and Right-wing factions.
There is a place in the middle of the United States of America called Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa has yet to produce its own Hegel, but it has produced a vibrant Occupy movement. Local Occupy groups all across the U.S. have recently been splitting between the Left and the Right, but the curious case of Occupy Tulsa has seen such a dramatic rift that it serves well as an example to demonstrate the stakes involved in this greater trend. The divide in Occupy Tulsa has proceeded along truly Hegelian lines: one the one hand, you have socialists of various sorts, and on the other hand, you have the ideologues of fringe right-wing groups, people who call themselves simply “libertarians”, but who in reality espouse a dangerous xenophobia and a psychotic desire to flee the modern world. The example of Tulsa gives us a perfect, clear picture of the contradictions within Occupy as a whole, because the local split has proceeded in such a plain and unambiguous way: There is a “Left Occupy Tulsa” and a “Right Occupy Tulsa”.
Selecting Stones previously contributed an examination of Occupy Tulsa at a time when the movement was at a much earlier stage of its development, long before the split. Perhaps we were naive, but, more likely, the contradictions of Occupy Tulsa simply hadn’t had time to reveal themselves yet. Now, they have. Another German philosopher of much less stature, a man named Herbert Marcuse, once said that the Battle of Stalingrad was a fight between the Left-wing and the Right-wing students of Hegel. In that life-and-death struggle, the Left Hegelians won: the Soviet Union beat the Nazis. But now a little reprise of the Battle of Stalingrad is raging once again in Tulsa. They’ll just have to fight it out.
We need not get into all the details here of Occupy Tulsa’s short but turbulent history. The long and the short of it is that Occupy Tulsa was founded by socialists, by the Left, but it didn’t take long for inroads to be made by libertarians, by the Right. The Right-wing was even clever enough to initially pose as Left, starting a Tulsa IWW, but under the thumb of a few so-called “anarcho-capitalists”. Teenagers dressed in black — that is to say, anarchists — also made their appearance at Occupy Tulsa. They played off the ambiguities of both their ideology and their teenage angst in a bid to bounce back and forth between Left and Right. In the end, though, they wound up siding with the anti-immigrant xenophobes and racists of the Right, a fact which speaks volumes about the character both of anarchists and of their libertarian friends. The split was formalized when the Right-wing faction took over Occupy Tulsa’s Facebook page, and then subsequently marginalized or expelled the group’s Left-wing faction, some of whom regrouped to start over again, and to start a local Marxist reading group. This is why, in practical terms, there are now two separate and independent instances of Occupy Tulsa.
Internecine drama makes for good stories, but the important point for us is the outcome, and the current state of affairs. Left Occupy Tulsa is busy rebuilding from the ashes, but already preparing to engage in new projects designed to reach out to a larger group of Tulsans, especially those on the North Side, the city’s poorest area. Right Occupy Tulsa has a nice spot staked out at the city’s downtown library for its weekly General Assembly, but — just as we would expect — it hasn’t really been doing anything. But the interesting thing about Right Occupy Tulsa is its course of ideological development. It started out as a few Ron Paul supporters and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, but it has expanded in a crazy — and sinister — direction. Now, much of the leadership is directly sympathetic to (or affiliated with) the ultra right-wing John Birch Society. Also, much of Right Occupy Tulsa is affiliated with what is called the R3 Republicans, a bizarre mixture of cultish Ron Paul hero worship and free market utopianism that borrows from the aesthetic of the Open Source software movement. Right Occupy Tulsa also has links to something called the Center for a Stateless Society, a tacky website espousing a wild form of neo-feudalist anarchism which wants to somehow turn back the clock to the time prior to the Industrial Revolution. Of course, these insane ideologies are certainly not confined to Tulsa. Take Occupy Austin, for example.
It is absurd to search for common ground between Ron Paul supporters and Marxists, and the reason is simple: The former represents the perspective of a business owner, and the latter represents the perspective of that business’s workers. Magnets of all types share the basic common characteristic that they attract other objects, but this doesn’t override the fact that a positively charged magnet and a negatively charged magnet are opposites of each other that can never stick together. Magnetism speaks well for the world of natural forces, but in the world of social forces, there is an even more basic law of motion: No relation is more inherently antagonistic than that between employer and employee. The dramatic split of Occupy Tulsa into Left-wing and Right-wing factions has given us a little window onto this fundamental reality of life in a capitalist society.
There was once a man named C. L. R. James from the small Caribbean island of Trinidad who was wiser by far than the aforementioned Germans. He wrote somewhere that, in a revolution, you’ve got to pick your side and stick to it. Here in America, we’re not dealing with a revolution (yet), but supporters of the Occupy movement — whether in Tulsa or in New York City — would nevertheless do well to listen to these words of advice. Whose side are you on?