- Searching for Marx in the Occupy Movement by John Leveille
By John Leveille.
Rowan & Littlefield. 2017. 334 pages. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498548427/Searching-for-Marx-in-the-Occupy-Movement
On September 17, 2011, protesters occupied Zuccoti Park in Manhattan's financial district, renamed it "Liberty Square," and launched the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Just one year later, to the day, the New York Times described the movement as "A Frenzy That Fizzled." John Leveille's Searching for Marx in the Occupy Movement draws on nine months of participant-observer research with Occupy Philadelphia and OWS literature, social media, and other sources to describe and interpret OWS and introduce a theoretical framework that integrates revisionist Marxism, critical theory, and social movement theory.
The book's agenda is highly ambitious: critique dominant paradigms in social movement theory; integrate a "rebooted Marxism" with social movement themes relating to culture, identity, relationships, process, and networks; demonstrate the importance of participant-observer, reflexive methodology to social movement studies; describe the activists, ideologies, and actions of Occupy Philadelphia (OP); and explain the emergence, dynamics, swift decline, and outcomes of the OWS movement. Leveille's description of movement meetings, personal conversations, tensions and conflicts, and recorded impressions from participants will interest social movement scholars who are likely to recognize many dynamics within OP. While the book's theoretical arguments are sometimes superficial or unclear, Leveille's analysis raises interesting questions about the forces influencing contemporary global justice movements.
The book's structure reflects its ambitious agenda. The first two chapters review Marxist and social movement theory and argue that they "can be fused to produce a mode of explanation that can help us understand the Occupy Movement" (19). Chapter three provides an overview of how OWS and Occupy Philadelphia, Leveille's case study within OWS, unfolded between the fall of 2011 and 2012. In chapters four and five, the author reviews a wide range of broad and proximate contextual factors that, he argues, explain the emergence of OWS and OP. Chapters six through nine focus on movement dynamics. They describe ways in which ideology, language, race, movement values and objectives, and organizational structures influenced the schisms that developed within OP. Chapter ten examines "relations with the outside," including city government, police, labor unions, faith groups, and members of area university communities. Leveille argues "the movement had ineffective, bad, or nonexistent relationships with these groups, and these failed relations contributed to Occupy's inability to sustain itself as a potent protest force..." (187). Chapter eleven seeks to explain how Occupy's morally based challenge to capitalism and its focus on authenticity resulted in frames that were often "inchoate" and difficult for the public to interpret. Chapter twelve puzzles over the "emergent craziness" of OP, including its chaotic nature, contradictions in membership and loyalties, and adoption of messaging and tactics that seemed to undermine the movement. The concluding chapter returns to Leveille's proposed theoretical framework that centers on a Marxist interpretation of the causes, meanings, and culture of contemporary global justice movements.
The book's greatest strength lies in its contribution to our understanding of the dynamics within the Occupy Movement, illustrated through Leveille's participant-observer research with Occupy Philly. Passages from speeches, leaflets, and interviews illustrate the motivations and beliefs of participants and sources of tension within the movement. Leveille's descriptions based on direct experience also paint a picture of the sense of chaos described by some participants. Using these observations and interview data, Leveille introduces the reader to two "camps" within OP: the "dissenters" and the "pragmatists."
In Leveille's description of "dissenters" and "pragmatists," and throughout Searching for Marx, I was reminded of similar dynamics in other social movements. For example, many social movement scholars have uncovered challenges associated with "antihierarchical" organizational forms, and how conflicts between groups favoring "radical" or transformative objectives, tactics, and frames and those who feel an incremental approach makes more sense create schisms that can undermine movement strength. Similarly, Leveille describes how these kinds of schisms undermined cohesion and commitment, and how the organizational structure of the movement contributed to Occupy's breakdown. And...