Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

Reposted from the Peoples Weekly World


The Occupy movement has left a distinct mark on the political landscape. It is hard to overestimate the degree to which it has changed the political discourse, raised the sights of other social movements, and stimulated mass action.

Currently it is in a process of regrouping, hastened by the forced evictions from public spaces in recent months. What direction it will choose to go in is still unclear. 

Many readers of this article have participated in Occupy events, some have helped organize them. Though I have attended some Occupy events I can't claim to be an active participant. But I do have a few general thoughts about the Occupy movement in this country.

First of all, the Occupy movement has an important role going forward. That a section of the young generation has battled Wall Street and inspired others to do the same is to be greatly welcomed. But it is ill advised to try, as some have done, to turn the Occupy movement into a "vanguard" organizing center leading a diverse coalition of political/social forces to "a brave new world." 

In the late 1990s well-meaning people attached that role to young people in the anti-globalization movement, but it never materialized. Young people bring energy, boldness, and imagination to social struggles. He or she who has the youth, it is said, has the future. But it doesn't follow that the young generation is the main, and certainly not the singular, social force in any assault on entrenched power. 

That role lies with the multi-racial multi-ethnic working class and its organized sector, especially in an advanced capitalist society like ours. The working class has changed dramatically in its composition, size and life circumstances over the decades. Not everyone wears a blue collar or carries a lunch bucket to the workplace. But its social power and experience in class and social struggles remain, giving it the potential to be a leading agent for change, and a radical change at that.

Of course, it will fulfill this potential only in close alliance with its main allies - the racially oppressed, women and, not least, young people. Such an alliance is necessary for near-term as well longer-term victories. Go-it-alone strategies in this era by any social grouping are self-defeating. 

It follows that an imperative task of Occupy is to deepen and extend its connections to labor, people of color, youth, and other social forces - connections that are crucial to its mission to construct a more egalitarian society.

Second, many of the occupiers worry about cooptation, that is, subordinating oneself to other social forces such as the Democratic Party, labor, MoveOn, Rebuild the Dream, etc. Concern about maintaining its organizational independence and unique style is legitimate. And yet if taken too far it can be counterproductive. After all, any movement that hopes to influence millions has to rub shoulders with diverse social forces who are not always of like mind, and has to participate in arenas of struggle not always of its own choosing. 

Which brings me to this year's elections. My impression is that some - maybe the majority - in the Occupy movement see the election process in its two-party form as an invitation to cooptation, and therefore they adopt an attitude of electoral abstentionism. 

This is mistaken in my opinion. Such a posture isolates Occupy from the main social forces and organizations in the country whose energies and resources will be focused in the electoral arena of struggle this year.

Moreover, the outcome of the election will set the broad parameters of struggle in the coming period. The defeat of the Republican right will position the people's movement to  address, among other things, the inequality and exploitation that is built into our (capitalist) 1 percent vs. 99 percent society. On the other hand, a victory by the right will set the stage for the right to complete and consolidate a counterrevolution that began with the Reagan presidency three decades ago. 

Third, the fight against racism by the Occupy movement is of utmost importance. As the Republican primaries unmistakeably reveal, racism is alive and well. And if victories are to be won against the 1 percent, the 99 percent have to reject divisions along racial lines. Such divisions have always been the Achilles' heel of the progressive movement.

Finally, the struggle for alternatives to the crisis of capitalism, say a sustainable green economy, by Occupy and other left movements for that matter has to combine with full immersion in the struggle for partial and immediate solutions to crisis conditions. To hang one's hat only on one or the other is wrongheaded and self-defeating.

No doubt Occupy has a future. And like any movement, it will learn lessons from its experience and adjust accordingly. May we hope that it continues to be a thorn in the side of the 1 percent.

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  • The science that Marx/Engels forwarded never disconnected itself from the movements and struggles, trials and tribulations of the modern working class.
    It was never from an ivory citadel that these analyzed, directed, aided, counseled, counciled, the working class, for they ALWAYS made it clear that they WERE the working class-had no other allegiance, interest or goal separate from the workers.
    This is central to the point of the famous, monumental, Communist Manifesto of 1848.
    Movements like occupy, are those of the communists, because they are the movements of the modern working class.
    The struggles for progressive electoral politics, a progressive political climate and racial and sexual equality and progress, go on constantly within the Occupy movement and all movements(and the government)constantly.
    We have to be part and parcel of all of these, we are the workers.
    We have to not only be a "thorn", we have to be health, life, healing for the working class, which signals that "The morning breaks over the hills" from our W.E.B. Du Bois. That the struggles of the workers has been that a systemic solution of partial and full, immediate and long term, "Bill of Rights"socialism- economic and social justice- for the entire working people, with ownership of the world's resources.
    This is the wisdom with which we must view Occupy-we will be respected for it-as all have to respect Proverbs 4: 21-22.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/27/2012 9:33am (12 years ago)

  • Robert424 makes a very good point--that the great social advances of our history came about as the result of struggle by popular movements. He does not, however, carry the story of these successes to their conclusion. In many cases, such as the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed slavery, or the passage of Social Security, or the Civil Roghts Act, these reforms were voted into existence by Democrats (and in some cases by Republicans, too).
    What I am saying is that one can argue all one wants about the two party system and how it is the political embodiment of the US capitalist system, but the fact remains, that at this time in history they are the big players in town. Of course we would like to see a strong unified people's party carry on the struggle to victory, but that will not happen this year. The Occupy movement must use all options to win reform now.

    Posted by David Gurowsky G., 01/26/2012 11:45pm (12 years ago)

  • In this election year, with the smiling media faces, it is good to have the web at our side describe the reality around us. There is, however cause for optimism. Even though the rule of the 1% have brought us:
    A black male life expectancy in Harlem lower than that of Bangladesh, 46 million on food stamps, 4.1 million foreclosures, 15 million children in the United States (21% of all children are below poverty level), 2.3 million in prison. (China has 1.6 million), 700,00 are homeless in US, Deaths from Medical Errors In Hospitals at 195,000 per Year USA.

    The Occupy Movement may well be the means to reverse the situation. A brief look at US history shows that most progressive legislation passed as a result of active movements, independent of EITHER party.. The Eight hour day, the Child labor laws, the withdrawal from Vietnam, Civil rights legislation, Social Security, Gay rights etc. were passed because the 99% made their voices heard in the street, the factory. And other venues. Their influence is not heeded in the voting booth.

    Electoral politics (i.e. The two party system) end up keeping the 1% in control of an electoral system that controls, the three branches of government through their media, lobbyists, courts, police and when necessary armed thugs.

    The Democratic party party is in thrall to the 1% just as the Republican party is. The 1% would really like to have a one party system. That, however, is not democratic. So we have a two party system. Since both parties can not be identical, one party needs to be different from the other. But not so different that it would genuinely challenge the hegemony of the 1%.

    So we end up with a winner take all system. Where third parties are rendered irrelevant. The unfortunate consequence of this is that third parties end up supporting the candidates of the very parties they oppose. Perot elects Clinton and Nader elects Bush.

    It should be obvious that today, all efforts should be directed to building and strengthening the Occupy Movement, and avoid the deadly trap of the two party system.

    Getting involved with caucuses or any of the machinery of the two party system is, in my opinion, a strategic error. These two parties with their enormous resources will poach the Occupy movement for recruits. The task for now, should be to build the Occupy movement and not have it distracted by the chicanery of the two party system.

    Posted by Robert424, 01/26/2012 10:05am (12 years ago)

  • The trouble with these protesters is that they believe in globalization but are protesting about the results of globalization. Little wonder that they cannot quite pin down what is wrong! See <a href=''>The Occupy London Movement</a>

    Posted by john, 01/26/2012 6:47am (12 years ago)

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