Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Are Not Political Groups


The Occupy movement and the Tea Party are ostensibly on opposite sides of the political debate. One organization calls for the reduction in the size of government and lower taxes while the other argues for increased taxation and greater government oversight of the economy. Yet neither of these groups represents a political position, nor can they be said to represent the irreconcilable division of our social space. At best this false dialectic represents a debate over the best approach to public policy; neither can be described as a political movement.

This argument really rests on how you define "political" so that is where I’ll begin. The term :politics" refers to the distribution and use of power in our society. "Power" is the ability to get an individual or a group to do something they would not otherwise have done.  

At first glance then, it may seem that Occupy and the Tea Party directly meet this definition of "political"; they are both concerned with the role of government and its ability to exercise power. Both groups have very clear positions on the ownership and use of personal wealth and it must be acknowledged that wealth is the commodification of power (Would you go to work if you weren’t paid?).

So, what’s the problem? The issue that arises is that neither group is concerned with the system which produces these power relationships, only how those relationships are managed. Capitalism is a system which distributes power within our society. A political movement must challenge this ideology of power allocation in order to transcend the realm of public policy and enter the political realm. While the positions of Occupy and the Tea Party both address the ownership of wealth to a certain degree, neither is prepared to challenge the system by which wealth is generated or ownership decided. This pseudo-conflict only addresses the power relationships within the existing power structure; neither attacks the structure itself. Thus, neither of these groups can be said to be "political" in that neither approaches criticism of the political system: capitalism. The ideological hegemony of liberalism remains unmolested by the public policy debate masquerading as a societal dialectic.

This erroneous struggle can be seen throughout our contemporary public discourse. Our two "political" parties claim to be ideologically opposed but viewed from the distance of outside the liberal-capitalist structure, they agree on most points. Identity politics suffers from the same problem; infinitely divisible groups struggle to achieve representation within a system of power distribution which will ultimately treat all groups identically (i.e. deny them any power).

I am sure there are those in the Tea Party who wish to overthrow the government and there are those in the Occupy movement who oppose capitalism but these are not the dominant voices. Both these organizations are primarily involved over a dispute on fiscal and monetary policy which the commentariat attempt to portray as an ideological conflict. The system in which we live continues unabated while we egregiously ignore the true dimensions of the political space.