Perspectives on the Occupy Movement from September – F. 29
Boom and Bust. It’s Class Struggle on Crack. One minute you’re at the top. Next minute you’re passed out on the floor.
The Occupy Wall Street movement had its origin in the reactionary tactics of the ruling class: the suppression of unions in Wisconsin, the burdening of the working class with the debts of the ruling class, the expanding war machine in the face economic austerity and suppression of civil rights, the amping up of the Police State parallel to the rise of social movements – all this in an attempt to reverse the fall in the rate of profit, to facilitate continued overproduction of consumer products in a hope that the oppressed remains subdued. Internationally it belongs to the same continuum of struggles such as Greek, Egyptian, Spanish and French — i.e. what holds these struggles in common is there affinity to the tactics of Occupation and General Assembly against the traditional means of class struggle: Unions, Workers’ Councils, etc. The source of which is in the reconstitution of the working class in all Western countries post 1980 – the rise of neoliberalism which burdened the East and South with hard manufacturing labor and reduced the Western proletariat to mostly precarious and casualized work – which eliminated point of production class struggle almost entirely in the Western World. To speak in the same fashion about China, India or much of the east for that matter would be ignorance and revolutionary dogma; there Unions, Mass Associations with similar formations if not identical to Workers’ Councils are arising and taking the forefront of the struggle.
Beginning in September, Occupy boomed rapidly across the Americas and abroad in only a number of weeks, showing that it was not some unreal formulation concocted in the lab of professional activism but represented popular anger against the “one sided- class war”. To the working class, it seemed therefor legitimate as it refused to affiliate with any political formulation – Left, Right or Radical – rather it was simply populist and therefor moldable, spontaneous and truly in its interests.
To radicals, a similar while cynical view was held. Its class based perspective was almost spot on – albeit reactionary for including small business owners – it pertained to many liberal sensibilities – a respect for police, small business and namely, the equality of classes rather than its abolition.
While in the immediate sense of its inception, it presented no threat to the Capitalist State, it provided a medium of class wide anger and organization which could, if conditions continued to worsen be used or superseded into larger forms of class struggle which could potentially challenge the State.
The initial boom of the movement when proven it could both stand its ground against the subtle attempts to marginalize or physically crush it and to expand its horizon’s and include in its ranks radical agitators, was challenged by greater strengths of the Capitalist state. In the later October the state tested its grounds and successfully evicted smaller occupations and in their peak, successfully evicted the more radical Occupy Oakland.
This initial boom peaked when Scott Olson was shot prompting class wide action in the face of popular anger culminating into the General Strike of November 6th calling out 100,000 workers and a spontaneous march on the port of Oakland shutting down key industries and disrupting others. It opened a window of real revolutionary potential and threw into question the legitimacy of the State and with it the bulwark of Capitalist relations. Nationally there were solidarity actions everywhere; in Portland we screamed “3,000 in Portland, 30,000 in Oakland” with the rallying call “We are the Working Class” from a seemingly interesting crowd: Veterans.
But the General Strike failed. Its romantic intentions could not be actualized. What’s the saying? “The people united, will never be defeated” – once again, it’s been proven a farce. The highest and tallest weapon of the Working Class is merely defense unless it leads to actually occupying and facilitating work without the employer. The failure of the Strike represented the first bust in the Occupy movement. But it wasn’t a complete loss. Out of every boom and bust, the conditions for new expansion are created. The invigoration of March on the port of Oakland had a retroactive effect on Occupiers everywhere and out of it the West Coast Shutdown of the Ports began.
The bust of Occupy Oakland centralized Capitalist forces and everywhere a wave of evictions happened: from West to East the strongest Occupations were crushed. Like the General Strike, it didn’t resolve anything. You can’t evict what is true in the soul of so many. Between the later part of November to the middle of December International struggle accelerated. N.17 represented earlier contentions to shut down the banking institutions. While seeing it as an industry unconnected to the wider capitalist hegemony of control, the window of struggle it opened continues to fascinate. In Portland the police invigorated by their successful eviction had a field day against protestors ultimately doing more damage to the State then the protestors. In New York there were student occupations and mass marches/shutdowns all around the city. Following N.17 we saw massive resurgence of struggle in Spain, Greece and most strongly in Britain where millions went on strike.
To the working class, the shooting of Scott Olson vindicated so much of the radical left’s contentions and this was mirrored in the directional change of Occupy toward more militant and anti – police mentalities. As things everywhere escalated the media pimped all its tactics as to reverse this narrative depicting the movement’s accounts of rape, drug abuse, immaturity and the so called “heinous crime” of property destruction. Preluding D.12 the right-wing jumped to the Unions defense as to attack the Occupy movement depicting the tall tale that the “working class doesn’t needed Occupies help, just look at what the Union leaders are saying” and that “this is hurting the working class” by slowing the flow commodities in the Christmas season.
D.12 closed the window of struggle that was opened in the bust of the General Strike and the subsequent wave of evictions. It was the peak of 2nd boom that was in America a response to eviction, both in Camps and in the Homes of the Proletariat. In Europe to Austerity which similarly displaced so many in unemployment, precarious working conditions or debt. Reliving the Ghost of the General Strike it suffered the same fatalistic approach. To some it won the battle of Longview. Yes, but do the workers remain just as oppressed, just as exploited? Will we not in a few years be returning to Longview to save their asses again? Longview neither revitalized the American Labor movement nor gave any brownie points to the Occupy movement in the eyes of the broader working class. It was a bust, a failure, a farce struggle in the face of the tragedy of Scott Olson and the General Strike.
January was quiet, relatively. It’s one of the coldest months particularly in Portland. Class Struggle or not, I’m still cold. The movement against the NDAA and the subsequent shutting down of the courts and the occupation of Washington were interesting developments. The cause of which were obviously the reactionary nature of the Ruling Class to anonymous and the use of Social Media as a medium for the Occupy movement.
This relative quietness of the movement began to show that Occupy “could not survive the winter” nor the eviction of the camps, that an “idea” could be crushed. Leading up to February – while I can only speak for Portland, but I suspect similar developments in other large Occupations – the movement took an internal change. Rather than being the movement of the 99%, it became a movement representing the 99%: with its own leaders and its own frequenters. It became something apart from the working class, trying to represent its historical interests.
February saw a real resurgence of International Class Struggle. In Spain the beginnings of a Social War began. The Liberal – Progressive (by American standards) “People’s Party” initiated Labor Reforms creating a situation mirroring in many ways, as of right now, the situation in Wisconsin Last Spring. The government attacks organized labor, the employed, pensions/welfare, etc. in an act of what we call “Social Austerity” as a means to accumulate more profit as to negate the fall in the rate of profit. The working class mobilizes in the form of simple protest and outrage. Students and Teachers take a key position. Unions shy away from General Strikes and other mediums of Direct Action in favor or utilizing reformist methods. The radicals, the CNT-AIT, CGT and a number of small radical Marxist groups urge Direct Action and General Strikes. As the CNT said recently “fight in the street… the true strength of workers lies in the awareness of themselves and their organization from the grassroots.”
In the rest of the EU we see the prepping by Unions for a “Day of Action” to happen on February 29th Internationally against Austerity. In Russia people return to the streets, refuse to vote and fight against the Corruption of the State.
In Asia we saw the Largest General Strike in Human history and repeated efforts of workers in Southeast Asia to Unionize as a wave of Mass Strikes hit the regions of Indonesia, Burma and Bangladesh. China also faced similar strikes in key industrial districts.
Interestingly enough, the accounts of these struggles all happen to fall in the sphere of late February; in the period between Feb. 20th – 29th, but most intensely between the 27th and 29th-the same time as a National Protest in America happened. February was a rolling snowball which crashed in that period.
Booms are reactions to Oppression. Occupy serves as a medium of reaction to Oppression, a unifying point for the working class to act. Building to the peak of a boom are these small struggles, which are essential in garnishing the correct tactics and experience. Building to the peak of the General Strike was the initial attempt at Occupation and the smaller attempts at eviction on the part of the ruling class. The General Strike created the conditions for the wave of evictions which in turned facilitated D.12 as an act to relive the march on the port and as a parallel act in response to the wave of evictions. Occupation is a response to Foreclosure, Shutdown a response to Eviction. The number of simple marches against the banking institutions, the movement of millions of dollars out of corporate banks into community banks obviously culminated into the peak on N.17 lending to the general international peak with N.30 as its most impressive piece. The reaction to D.12 and Anonymous was obviously the NDAA and similar acts to suppress freedom of speech and assembly. As a response there was a national movement against this reaction and against persecution of activists which culminated in the peak of the Occupation of the Courts and the subsequent bust when the State disregarded everything, shutdown Megaupload, subpoenaed twitter accounts and did the duty of NDAA without ever passing it. To the ALEC protests there was the previous Occupy the Courts, the obvious International movement against Capital, the continuing persecution by Police against Protestors which exposed naked the nature of the Economic – Political connection of Capital – that our masters are both the rulers of the workplace and of the congress. Internationally there were weak movements in Russia, India, Burma and China which preluded their peak in the same time as Western Struggles were peaking.
It’s in the peak that the window for revolutionary potential is open where we have two options: Revolution or crash and burn.
It’s the summit hooping which has been testament of the left for the last 20 years. We lay low waiting for an attack at which point we spring into action dump our resources and produce nothing lasting but experience and consciousness – which are vital yes, but at what point do we produce something lasting, an alternative to the existing system of exploitation? Such is a true offensive of the working class. As Protest and General Strikes stand right now, they are Direct Actions of Defense, not Offense. While Greece is the source of most inspiration, we are recreating their struggles. Notice the movement stands at a standstill till an Austerity Measure comes into question; the people are roused with the spirit of struggle, the union’s strike and the buildings burn then it’s back to square one – laying low till the next situation comes around where a moment of struggle is realizable.
It’s all the same boom and bust cycle.
Whilst our view may be cynical, some struggle is better than no struggle and no struggle is perfect. It is not without failure, defeat and despair that we find the ultimate methods of struggle. In light of this commentary, to radical “activists” it seems appropriate to quote:
[That] being aware of the actual trends of historical development by no means absolves us from involvement in our own social history, or allows us to fold our arms fatalistically across our breasts and like an Indian fakir wait to see what the future will bring. “Men make their own history, but they do so not as free individuals,” says Marx. One could, with full justification, state the converse: men do not make history as free individuals, but they make their own history. Far from blunting or sapping our revolutionary fervor, a sensitivity to the objective movement of history tempers the will and pushes us to action by showing us ways to drive the wheel of social progress effectively forward and by sparing us from impotently and fruitlessly knocking our heads against the wall, which sooner or later inevitably brings disappointment, despair, and quietism; through this knowledge we are protected as well from mistaking, as revolutionary activity, aspirations that have long since been transformed by the forces of social evolution into their reactionary opposites.