Monday, November 7, 2011

What is Wall Street?

[The following text has been distributed in pamphlet form at Occupy Wall Street, among other places.]

The question is both simple and complex. On every continent, in every city, even in the most remote rural villages, the power and influence of Wall Street are known and felt. But what is it exactly? Wall Street is a symbol and a system. But to fully understand what it is and what it represents, we have to learn its history...

Wall Street was originally a wall, built by the first colony of European settlers on the island of Manhattan. 3040 feet long and 12 feet high, it was one of the first enclosures of the commons on this continent, and the beginning of the conquest of North America. Built in 1653 to keep the Lenape people of the Algonquin civilization out, the wall defined a frontier and a fortress of settler colonialism. It was the cutting edge of a genocide which in the next 300 years would exterminate millions of native Americans.

Wall Street was also the beginning of the slave trade in North America. The wall was built by Africans enslaved by the colonists. Later, Wall Street became the first major slave market in North America. The genocide of millions of Africans, both through enslavement and the horrors of the middle passage in slave ships, has its origins here as well.

This double genocide, forged on Wall Street, was pioneered by the Dutch West India Company, which used the colony on Manhattan as its headquarters to oversee its pillaging of Asia. Thus Wall Street was also the beginning of transnational corporate rule.

From this corporate crucible was born the United States of America. George Washington, freedom fighter for colonists, master for slaves, and town destroyer for native Americans, was inaugurated as the first US president on Wall Street in 1789. The Bill of Rights was also ratified on Wall Street. This country's freedoms and atrocities thus share this birthplace. Wall Street embodies the central paradox of US culture and economy, the original sin we have yet to understand or overcome.

The enclosure of the commons, the conquest, expanded to new frontiers. The wall came down, was paved over, and became Wall Street. But Wall Street has always remained on the front lines. In
1792, the New York Stock Exchange was founded on Wall Street. It was the birth of what was to become finance capital, which in short time would rise to rule the world. Wall Street is the capital of capitalism. It is a symbol and a system of money. The same money that funded and facilitated genocide, slavery, and corporate rule in the 17th century is still at large today, running wild all over the globe. The history of Wall Street stretches in an unbroken line from the Dutch West India Company to the Bank of America, BP and Halliburton.

As the roads of empire are paved in money, they all lead to banks. The war machine and Wall Street are one. The bloody footprints of every US military action, from the Indian Removal Policy to the War on Terror, can be tracked to Wall Street, where bankers devised a thousand and one ways to turn blood into money, and that money into more money, to be invested into the spilling of more blood...

Wall Street is at the center of everything that threatens our lives and our planet. Those who profit from economic crisis, war, and environmental destruction all have a common headquarters here. We cannot fight them each in separate trenches. All of these crises converge around the capitalist system, for which Wall Street was and remains Ground Zero.

One of the busiest places in the world on days when there's money to be made, when the stock exchanges close, Wall Street is suddenly deserted. For hundreds of years, it has been a capital without community. Capitalism cannot hide that underneath all its wealth there is profound emptiness. See for yourself. The old order is dying and the new is struggling to be born.

“Now one of two things must take place. Either you must do something, or something must be done to you... Then something severe, something unusual must be done. What!
-Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street

Wall Street is a symbol of everything that is wrong with our world, and it is the headquarters of a system which will continue to destroy everything in its cancerous need for limitless profit and endless growth. Capitalism cannot be reformed any more than the leopard can change its spots. We need a path and a destination which can guide us out of this system that is suicide for humanity and for the environment. We need the shared goal of a post-capitalist society freed from exploitation, and in harmony with nature. One name for such a society is ecosocialism.

Ecosocialism is more a path than a destination, though it is a destination as well, which is prefigured in the walking of the path. Both path and destination reject the false comfort that by merely mentioning capitalism as the problem, and airbrushing it with warm and fuzzy words like sharing and cooperation, we have embarked upon a transformative and radical journey. Capitalism must be uprooted – torn from its points of invasion, from the soil under our feet and from the soul inside of us.

For this reason the ecosocialist alternative must be socialist, which entails a radical and final departure from capitalism. There are many definitions of socialism, and any magic in this name has been rather beaten up by history. Ecosocialism is a transformation of the original socialist project. It is the next evolutionary stage of socialism, reflecting the unprecedented ecological crisis, alongside the equally unprecedented economic crisis. Ecosocialism is a world-wide movement that calls for a socialism fully realized in society and nature, together.

Ecosocialism is a revolutionary response to a new turning point in history, though one with ancient roots. Ecosocialists honor the life-ways of the indigenous peoples of every continent, whose economies and cultures are guided by an understanding and practice of fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science. Ecosocialism is not a new kind of economy, but a new mode of production, and a new way of being. It is a visionary turn that calls for a spiritual as well as a material transformation, proceeding through prefiguration.

The praxis – a word bringing together the unity of theory and practice – of prefiguration is the capacity to think and act through the veil of our desperate times: to understand the present in terms of the possible future as well as the inescapable past. For while the future can only be imagined and the past can never be reclaimed, yet the past can be learned from, in both its errors and glories, so that a worthy future can be built now, in the light of possibility that this future casts on the horizon of today.

The general formula for this is simple enough in principle; it consists of a twofold movement: first, organize freely associated and ecocentric labor, and second, extend and interconnect the sites of ecosocialist transformation into larger wholes. Ecosocialism therefore encompasses the practical organizing of basic reforms such as free health care and public transportation, renewable energy, etc. It also requires that we organize worldwide networks, unifying the global South and North in great campaigns for economic and environmental justice, and in struggle against transnational corporations and the capitalist state. Wall Street is the cancer. Ecosocialism is the cure.

An inter-generational and multinational group is working as you read to build an ecosocialist organization and movement here in New York and internationally. It calls itself Ecosocialist Horizons. If you would like to get involved, send us an email at

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