Reprinted from the Black Agenda Report
Fresh from his winning debate at Oxford, Dr. Cornel West discussed a ranged of subjects with two graduate students. "More and more these days, race is taking a class form because you've got a black middle class that is often times indifferent to the black poor."
An Interview with Cornel West on Occupy, Obama and Marx
by Shozab Raza and Parmbir Gill
This interview with Dr. Cornel West was conducted following the Oxford Union Debate on November 22 nd 2012. It previously appeared in CounterPunch .
" If you go through life with no enemies, you're probably not living a good life."
SR: Why are you here speaking in favor of the Occupy Wall Street movement?
CW: The Occupy movement being the major public response to a 30 year class war against poor and working people, not just in the American Empire but around the world, that to have this space -- this space has of course been consecrated by the Malcolm X's of the world, the Desmond Tutus, and so many others who have come through here -- it has a certain visibility, an international form, and so I figured it would be right.
SR: There have been some critiques of Occupy Wall Street from the Left: for example, that it failed to significantly engage with the labor movement and trade unions in the US or that its radically decentralized structure made it very difficult to arrive at decisions to accomplish particular objectives. And so moving forward, what are the lessons that we, as participants in Occupy and supporters of it, can learn from the movement?
CW: I think we have to draw a distinction between social motion and social movements . Social movements are very rare because they require a sophisticated level of organization, of leadership, of persons who are highly courageous and willing to actually pay a price. Social motion is very important because it helps shape the climate of opinion and that's exactly what the Occupy motion has been all about -- it helps shape the climate of opinion. But it was in many ways so heterogeneous, so diverse in all of its various voices and perspectives. What I loved about it was that there was a lot of respect. It wasn't dogmatic, imposed from above, professional revolutionaries coming in with Truth (with a capital "T') and imposing it on everybody. That's what we were wrestling with in the 60's and 70's. You didn't have that kind of thing this time around -- and that was very important.
" As a black man in America dealing with the repressive apparatus, you live under death threat every day from your own government."
On the other hand, it was difficult to sustain it. But I think that the next wave of social activism will be among young people and it's going to take a variety of different forms. I'm old school so I have to learn from young people -- for example, about social networking to forms of democratic expression that I haven't even thought of in that regard. I have a respect for the anarchists precisely because -- though I'm not one -- they have a powerful critique of concentration of power in the nation-state. And as a black man in America dealing with the repressive apparatus, you live under death threat every day from your own government. You know governments can be vicious -- and that's the history of black people in America. So then the anarchists say "we want democratic accountability, not just of the corporations (which, coming out of the socialist tradition, I accept) but we want to make sure that the government doesn't have a concentration of power, especially instrumentalities of violence which can be brought to bear on dissidents, who are then criminalized and assassinated." And that's very important. Yet at the same time, as a radical democrat or a deep democrat, in the end I'm not an anarchist but anarch ism has some deep truths that one has to take into consideration.
PG: Cornel, you campaigned for Obama in 2008 but unlike many other critical supporters of the President, your critique of his policies eventually eclipsed your support as his first term unfolded. And as a result you've found yourself in confrontation with former comrades -- but still brother -- like Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton and others, who remain allied to the Obama regime while purporting to be critical of it from within.
CW: You don't see too much criticism coming from either one of them though! (laughs). I think they've sold their soul for a mess of Obama pottage!