The month-old Occupy Wall Street movement that began in lower Manhattan has since spread to scores of cities across the US. It has won widespread sympathy from millions of working people, who welcome the prospect of a struggle against the capitalist banks, corporations and financial aristocracy that are responsible for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
At the same time, this movement has prompted duplicitous statements of support and advice from a socio-political layer of pseudo-lefts and former activists in the middle class protest movements. These elements view the emerging movement against Wall Street with some trepidation and with the aim of foisting onto it a definite political agenda.
An op-ed column by Todd Gitlin, published in the New York Times Sunday is representative of this layer of ex-lefts, whose principal preoccupation is how to channel this movement behind the Democratic Party and the upcoming campaign to reelect President Barack Obama.
Gitlin, who was the president of the Students for a Democratic Society in 1963-64 and later an organizer of protests against the Vietnam War, has since secured a comfortable berth in academia as a tenured professor of journalism and communications at Columbia University in New York City.
Gitlin titled his Times column: "The Left Declares its Independence," apparently in reference to the protests' relation to the Obama administration in Washington. He argues that many of those now protesting "went door-to-door" for Obama in 2008 and quotes a fellow academic as writing that "This is the Obama generation declaring their independence from Obama."
While Gitlin's long-winded piece is full of professed sympathy for the demonstrations and celebration of its supposed "anarchist" and "New Left" sensibilities, the thrust of his argument is that, sooner rather than later, it will have to--and should--come under the wing of the Democrats.
He hails the efforts of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy to hijack the protest movement and turn it into a prop for the Obama reelection campaign in 2012. In this energetic movement from below, he writes, "Here, finally, is what labor and the activist left have been waiting for."
Gitlin is anxious to ensure that this movement is directed not along socialist lines in a struggle against capitalism, but rather back into the fold of the Democratic Party and its supposed "reform" agenda.
"By allying itself with the protest, the left at large is telling the president that a campaign slogan that essentially says "We're better than Eric Cantor' won't cut it in 2012," Gitlin writes. ""We are the 99 percent' would be more like it. If President Obama takes this direction, the movement's energy may be able to power a motor of significant reform."
Like no small number of similar veterans of the "New Left" and the protest movement of the 1960s, Gitlin has proven wrong the old adage "you can't go home again." He could and he did. From opposing US military aggression in the 1960s and early 1970s, he became a defender of imperialism beginning in the 1990s.
As with many in this social and political milieu, Gitlin's political evolution ever further to the right coincided with his entry into the increasingly comfortable layers of the upper middle class, whose own fortunes were bound up with Wall Street and the financial speculation of the 1990s and beyond.
Also like many of them, he made his crossover into the camp of imperialism during the US-NATO interventions in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s, enthusiastically embracing military intervention and uncritically regurgitating the government and media propaganda that these wars were moral crusades for "human rights" and against "ethnic cleansing."
What characterized Gitlin and this entire layer was their refusal to make any analysis of the strategic and economic interests being pursued by Washington and the other imperialist powers in these wars or, for that matter, the role that they had played in bringing about the economic and political disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the ethnic and nationalist tensions that exploded as a result.
Gitlin backed the US attack on Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" and, in the Iraq war, opposed the invasion launched by the Bush administration only on tactical grounds. In 2003, he upbraided antiwar protesters for carrying placards condemning US sanctions and bombings of the country. Gitlin scolded the protesters, insisting that such slogans were "emblematic of a refusal to face a grotesque world" and constituted a "rejection of any conceivable rationale for using force." It wasn't that Gitlin opposed war against Iraq, he just didn't like the way Bush was going about it.
More recently, Gitlin drafted an obituary for the antiwar movement for the online magazine Salon last July entitled "Where have all the war protesters gone?"