Occupy Wall Street
is the American version of the Arab Spring
Interview with Prof. Bob Blauner
By Nasrin Pourhamrang
(Iran-Rasht): Bob Blauner is
Professor Emeritus of the Department of Sociology, University of
California, Berkeley, and author.
During his twenties, in the early 1950s (McCarty Era), he was
a member of the communist party. He quit the party in 1956, but was
re-radicalized in the fifties as a result of the Civil Rights
Movement, and then the student movement of the 1960s, ESP.
Berkeley's Free Speech Movement. He became a member of Berkeley's
sociology department as an assistant professor in 1963.
His works on class, race and men are based on his years as a factory
The well-known "Blauner Hypothesis" states that minority groups are
created by colonization, because it is forced on them, experience a
greater degree of racism and discrimination than those created by
In his studies, Blauner contrasts the assimilation experiences of
Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans.
What follows is the text of my interview with Prof. Bob Blauner,
American sociologist and author.
If we consider the University of Berkeley
as a "structure" and the professors who have taught there as the
"agencies", how do you, as a professor of Berkeley, assess the
connection between them?
That question may be too theoretical for me. Believe it or not, I
don’t like theory. But I could say that the faculty had a lot of
autonomy, much free range to shape the department. A “proof” of this
is the way the faculty changed, from fairly conservative or middle
of the road in the 50s and early 60s to very radical by the late
60s. This happened because our very small leftwing caucus (“The Gang
of four” worked hard to bring in more left-liberal people.
NP: Did the prevalent ideas in the early 1950s (McCarthy Eras) and
1960s have an impact on the University of Berkeley's education
You should know that in 2009 I published a book on the very topic,
called Resisting McCarthyism, how Berkeley (and UCLAs) faculty was
practically the only one in the nation that successfully resisted
the “Loyalty Oath” that had been imposed on us by the board of
regents. The concluding chapter particularly addresses your
NP: It seems that the pervasive individualism in the West and the
industrial economy has influenced the academic structure and its
intellectual functions. The Western universities aren't intellectual
environments like the 1950s and 1960s anymore, but they have changed
into environments for competing and gaining the vocational
advantages. What's your take on that?
I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Still I would not
underestimate the fact that the universities remain the premier
intellectual institutions in the USA.
NP: The academic system ruling the social sciences in the Western
universities is a liberalist system. Hasn't this caused the
sociologists to face problems in understanding social movements and
lag behind the society?
Don’t understand this. Please define “liberalist” for me. I think of
liberal to mean the opposite of conservative and would say that the
liberalism (leftism) of the social sciences has helped us understand
social movements. Maybe you have taken Smelser’s writing on social
movement as indicative of the larger field. His book is so
conservative—it doesn’t at all reflect the predominantly leftist
thinking in the sociology of social movements.
NP: What are the challenges facing the capitalist system, in your
Well, as the occupy Wall Street
movement suggests a big challenge is the growing inequality of
income and wealth. But don’t be too optimistic that American
capitalism will change much. It has always had an amazing ability to
withstand challenges. In the past often through repression, the last
50 years or so often through cooptation.
NP: As someone who has been a member of communist movements in
the past, how do you evaluate it?
Evaluate what? Communist movements. Most of its members were like
quite idealistic. But also naïve, as we really believed that the
USSR was a “workers paradise.”
Stalin of course was the major guilty party, there were glimmers of
hope later, the 1968 “Prague Spring,” the reforms of Gorbachev, but
today the communist movement is mostly nonexistent, extant only in
Cuba, and perhaps in a few Asian
By the way I’ve known and still know some Iranian communists
living in the US.
NP: Given the challenges facing the capitalist systems, are you
hopeful that the communist movements may be revived once more?
think it is very, very unlikely.
NP: An important point which can be seen in the street protests of
the people in Europe or the
Middle East is that these movements
don't have prominent intellectual leaders. What do you think about
This is also true of the occupy Wall Street and related movements in
the US and elsewhere.
What do I think of this? Perhaps it reflects the “Decline of
Ideology.” A very good book by Daniel Bell, but it happened 50 years
NP: would you please
tell me a bout your viewpoint on the Occupy Wall Street movement and
its origins? What this movement exactly is and what's the role of
the middle class in forming it?
The west repeatedly claims a bout its commitment to human rights and
the western organizations and media pretend to be the advocates of
human rights, but they call the protesters hooligans. Why?
Occupy Wall Street is a growing mass
movement which cuts across all classes and the occupiers are anybody
but hooligans. Is that what you are reading? The movement has
arisen out of a growing anger with the increasing disparities in
wealth and income in which the very rich are getting practically all
of the economic gains and the average person’s income has actually
decline in the last 20 years or so.
I think it is the American version of the Arab Spring, where our
rulers are not corrupt dictators, but the corrupt leaders of Wall