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 worker.
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 voluntary immigration.
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.
 

Nasrin Pourhamrang: 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?

Bob Blauner:
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 system?


BB:
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 question.
 
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?

BB: 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?

BB:
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 view?

BB: 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?


BB:
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 countries.
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?


BB:
I 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?

BB:
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 later.
 

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?

BB:
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 Street.