The year 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Over this past decade, we have seen the reemergence of genuinely progressive demands in the political sphere and even the normalization of socialist discourse. It is very uneven, and, as one might expect, it has often felt like one step forward and two steps back. What is beyond doubt is that the Occupy moment was something of a watershed, and that Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns galvanized progressive forces like nothing we have seen in decades. What was the connection between these two events? Did the first give rise to the second, as many have claimed, or was the Sanders phenomenon sui generis? In this issue, Benjamin Fong and Christie Offenbacher make a compelling argument that the ethos and strategic perspective of Occupy Wall Street made it less a forerunner of the Sanders moment and more a direct expression of the amorphous lifestyle politics of the neoliberal era. In this respect, Sanders revitalized a style of politics and a strategic perspective quite distinct from those of Occupy.
If socialist politics are ever to gain traction politically, it will have to come through a reinvigorated working-class movement. Two questions immediately arise: Are there any signs of its reappearance, and in the event that it gathers steam, how might it navigate the current regime of accumulation? Chris Maisano examines the strike activity data for 2021 and notes that, while there was an uptick in labor actions, they fell short of those in 2018. Even more worrying, union density in the private sector actually declined during the year, in spite of the very visible strikes. And Matt Vidal makes a bold argument, based on extensive fieldwork, that there are avenues for the labor movement to turn the apparatus of lean production to its own ends. For years, labor organizers and scholars have associated lean production with harsh managerial control and a remorseless speedup on the shop floor. Vidal agrees that this has been the case in some sectors. But he argues that, under the right conditions, lean production’s promise of worker participation can be turned into a reality.
Continuing with the labor theme, Matías Vernengo contends that much of the public discourse around inflation is misguided. He shows that current price increases are not the product of excessive wage gains, nor of an overly aggressive fiscal stance. Instead, they are a supply-driven phenomenon brought on by breakdowns in the supply chain. Indeed, he forcefully argues, the bigger danger is not runaway inflation but the threat of ongoing economic stagnation if the administration scales back its expansionary stance.
We round out the issue with a conversation with Doug McAdam on the civil rights movement and the evolution of the scholarship around it. McAdam wrote what is probably the most widely cited study of the movement, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970. One of the most noteworthy facts about the book is its reliance on a political economy framework, which has largely disappeared from the study of movements today, having been overtaken by discourse and cultural approaches. McAdam discusses the change in scholarly culture since his book was published in 1982, and how the turn away from political economy has affected the field.
Finally, we publish Aasim Sajjad Akhtar’s terse but effective diagnosis of the United States’ defeat in and retreat from Afghanistan. Akhtar goes beyond the usual explanation for the failure, which typically centers on corruption and graft, and shows how the American presence triggered a process of class formation in the countryside that the imperial power had no way of managing. Now, in the wake of its withdrawal, the imperial state has responded by imposing a brutal sanctions regime on the Afghans, thus opening a new phase of its war against them that is less visible but no less devastating. Any Left worth its name has an obligation to keep this atrocity front and center.