Soft on Occupy

It was encouraging to see London Occupy activists symbolically linking up with the workers’ movement by participating in the May 1 demonstration. Their ‘impromptu’ protests targeting high street outlets that participate in the government’s ‘workfare’ scheme on the same day, likewise, were a step up from their calling upon an ill-defined ‘democracy’ to act against the ‘worst’ finance capitalists.

Perhaps it is beginning to dawn on some of these activists that capital and the bourgeois state are necessarily in cahoots. In the United States, Occupy protests seem to have positively breathed some life into the somnambulant labour movement, embarrassing trade union leaders into tailing Occupy to some extent. Again, this is a progress when compared to Democracy Real Ya and the Indignados in 2011, who were known to ask trade unionists to leave their camps.

In the Weekly Worker, a lot has been said about the way Occupy organises. I agree that its structureless ‘horizontalism’ repeats the worst errors of the 1960s-70s ‘countercultural left’ and that its distrust of vaguely defined ‘authority’ and ‘leaders’ leaves it vulnerable to the worst kind of authoritarianism and misleadership. However, the politics of Occupy have been left largely unexplored – possibly because we have been operating under the presumption that its political outlook amounts to no more than a few anti-finance platitudes. I would argue that the latter are an expression of a broader, petty bourgeois anti-capitalist ideology (as opposed to doctrine) that dominates the Occupy movement and that can be traced all the way back to Proudhon. Even if we leave the rather more sinister 20th century manifestations of this ideology aside so as to avoid invoking guilt by association, it is crucial to criticise this and demonstrate why it is entirely insufficient even for its very limited stated purposes.

When investigating last summer’s Occupy prototype, the Spanish Real Democracy movement, I argued that, rather than “grumpily standing on the sidelines”, it is imperative for communists to engage with such spontaneous anti-capitalist movements (‘Tahrir Square comes to Madrid’ Weekly Worker June 2 2011). What communists can offer Real Democracy, Occupy and other such elemental movements, is, as I suggested while invoking the words of Karl Kautsky, to “give voice to their various concerns within the framework of a comprehensive theory”. Indeed, it is up to communists to forcefully argue for the need for the working class to take power in order to overcome capitalism and liberate humanity. In other words, our approach needs to be the exact opposite of that of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, which dreams of attracting a mass movement by lowering its political level to the most backward elements ‘out there’.

A critique of Occupy’s ‘Global Mayday manifesto’ (http://anticapitalists.org/2012/05/11/occupys-global-mayday-manifesto), would be a good place for us to start. In fairness, the list of demands contained in this document is more than the SWP has ever produced in terms of a programme. It also gives an interesting insight into the Occupy ideology. Predictably, the responses from the ex-Workers Power youth in ACI have so far been disgracefully soft.

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