The political adulthood of the Occupy generation

In their Corbynism: A Critical Approach, Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton offer this account of the change that has taken place within the British left, as transformative projects and political power came to displace the concerns of horizontals. From loc 2491-2507:

a politically ambivalent ‘left’ populism whose contemporary origins are to be found in the post-Occupy trajectory of a politics based on the rhetorical division between the ‘99%’ and the ‘1%,’ the ‘people’ and the ‘elite.’ In his appeal to ‘the people,’ Corbyn is a man of his time. For the idea of the people is now as pervasive on the left as the idea of class once was. Its omnipresence owes to a surge in left populism in the wake of the 2008 crisis, the roots of which could be seen first in the Occupy movement, and then, in a more mature political form, the struggles against austerity in southern Europe. With Corbynism the UK caught in short-form what swept Europe post-crisis. It shows how, pinning their hopes upon a succession of popular subjects, of late the left has wended a strange trajectory. Post-crisis, horizontalism sought to ‘change the world without taking power’.

Then things started getting serious. Shrugging off disdain for the state, winning elections and wielding power became the aim. This is reflected in the new vogue for big thinking on the UK left. There has been a rediscovery of the concept of populist hegemony and how to build it. Dreams abound of seizing state power to implement postcapitalism or so-called ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’. The radical left accommodation of statist solutions would have been unthinkable as tents sprung up outside St Pauls in 2011. In some ways, it shows the adulthood of the Occupy generation, and a welcome and possibly transformative spirit of compromise with the world as it is. In others, it is not entirely without illusions, as these compromises lapse into complicity with that world. A reflex against Occupy’s failure, the new verticalism still bears its foreshortened class critique. Against the ‘elite’, the ‘people’ stands in as the alibi for a state politics that lacks a social basis.

This Current Affairs piece makes a similar point, though frame it as an issue of hope:

I remember during Occupy Wall Street, everything felt so hopeless. People literally could not conceive of any kind of meaningful change, out of desperation they just planted themselves in the middle of the financial district and tried to hang on as long as possible. Now we have clear goals in sight: cancel student debt, free college for all, free child care, single-payer healthcare, no more wars, net-zero emissions. There are people committed to making them happen. And by God, I feel like they’re going to do it. Conservatives are out of ideas. They know they can’t win a debate with the left—just look how Bernie bowled over the FOX hosts. The socialists are on the march, and we’re gonna win.

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