Workers Party in America
Lessons of November 17
Mark Forums Read
Lessons of November 17
12th December 2011
Lessons of November 17
The State of the #Occupy Movement and the
Time for Revolutionary Political Leadership
Working People's Advocate
, December 1, 2011
The following is a discussion document being circulated by the Central Committee among members, supporters and friends of the Workers Party in America to initiate a discussion about where the #Occupy movement goes from here. Thoughts, comments and constructive criticism from all corners are welcome.
WITH THE TWO-MONTH
anniversary of the #Occupy movement having come and gone, the current period has become a time for reflection and discussion. From Liberty Park in New York City to Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland, California, to nearly a thousand places in between (and hundreds more around the world), the events leading up to November 17 have given participants an opportunity to assess the state of the #Occupy movement and begin to look for solutions to outstanding problems.
In many respects, the timing for this period of reflection was not of the #Occupy movement’s choosing. Rather, it was thrust upon the movement by the coordinated and systematic suppression of the physical occupations in most major American cities (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York City, Portland, Seattle, etc.) by the armed enforcers of capitalist rule — i.e., the rule of the owners and managers; the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie; the “1 percent,” plus their exploiting and oppressing allies, who together make up the top one-third of society.
This low point in the #Occupy movement comes just over two weeks after its high-water mark, which was the one-day “general strike” and day of protest in Oakland, Calif., which saw tens of thousands march from Oscar Grant Plaza to the Port of Oakland and shut it down. The Nov. 2 action on the west coast may not have been a general strike in the strict sense of the term (that is, it was not a mass labor stoppage organized at the point of production), but it did close the fifth busiest port in the U.S. and sent not so much a warning to the ruling classes about the power of the #Occupy movement itself, but
a reminder of the power the working class has when it begins to organize and fight for its interests
Occupy Oakland has once again returned to Grant Plaza, and is now calling for a west coast shutdown of all ports on December 12. It remains to be seen if this call will bear fruit. Similarly, Occupy Dallas has called for an Oakland-like “general strike” and day of action on Nov. 30. Again, it remains to be seen if this action, or others like it, will actually occur.
But while these and other #Occupy protests continue across the country and around the world, there is a need to focus on the events that have occurred in New York City on the two-month anniversary of the initial occupation of Zuccotti Park, in order to better see and understand the lessons of the movement so far.
FROM THE BEGINNING,
Occupy Wall Street has been the epicenter of the entire movement. It served as a model for #Occupy groups across the country; its Declaration of Occupation was adopted by numerous local organizations, becoming a national statement of “the 99 percent.”
Because of this, it made sense that the #Occupy movement would find its hopes and fate tied to the developments in and around Liberty Park. Every success and advance made by Occupy Wall Street bolstered and strengthened the movement nationally. Conversely, every defeat and retreat would sap #Occupy of its power and momentum. Even when the focus of #Occupy had shifted to Oakland in late October and early November, it was still the Wall Street encampment that was the linchpin of the movement.
The exploiting and oppressing classes knew this as well. They saw the occupation of Zuccotti Park as not merely an impotent protest, but as a direct threat to their rule. Occupiers routinely ignored orders issued by the local government and its state, successfully faced down the armed police, and disrupted the daily activity of finance capital’s drive for maximized profits.
At first, the response of the ruling classes was to ignore the encampment in Zuccotti Park. That quickly gave way to mockery and ridicule, best captured when Wall Street executives stood on a balcony and drank expensive champagne while OWS protesters marched past them. However, as the #Occupy movement began to grow, both nationally and internationally, the mockery and laughter turned into anger and fear, as the movement was cast as a bunch of “revolutionary communists” (we wish!), “terrorists,” “drug addicts,” “hippies” and every other slur of which the media could think.
Across the country, the media meme of #Occupy being a bunch of dirty (literally and figuratively) radicals fueled “public opinion” against the movement and provided an excuse for local governments, both Republican and Democratic, to attack #Occupy encampments. Each of these raids and attacks only heightened tensions between the movement and the state.
In New York City, tensions finally came to a breaking point on Nov. 15, when the cops raided Occupy Wall Street in large numbers, completely destroying and trashing the entire encampment, including the large library, which had 5,000 books. When occupiers tried to re-establish OWS the next day, the cops once again demolished and tore apart the camp. Without question, the armed enforcers of capitalist rule were determined to permanently shut down the heart of the national movement.
THE MORNING OF NOV. 17,
the two-month anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street, was at first meant to be a celebration. However, with the police raids of the previous two nights, it had suddenly become a “day of action” and resistance against the corporatist regime, its ruling classes and the armed enforcers of the state.
Several hundred (if not a thousand) gathered at Foley Square that morning for a march back to Liberty Park, many with an eye toward taking the park a third time. However, they were for the most part stopped by the cops. Some made it through, but many of them were arrested. Throughout the day, other small-scale occupations took place, including at a vacant, fenced-in lot near the New School. For the most part, though, the radical direct-action efforts were too small and disorganized to hold their ground against the thugs of the NYPD.
The ruling classes and their agents smelled the blood in the water and began to circle closer. It was at this point when the capitalists and their “middle class” managers turned to their loyal labor lieutenants — the officials and staffers of the various business unions — and called them into service. As the day turned to evening, the union officials, sensing disorganization and a vacuum of leadership among #Occupy, began to marshal their forces and prepared to “intervene.”
That evening, Foley Square was once again the gathering site for supporters of OWS. However, unlike the morning and mid-day events, which were more in line with the spirit and actions of the #Occupy movement, the evening protest was noticeably different almost immediately. Instead of the relatively crude, hand-made signs that had become the norm at #Occupy events, more and more professionally-made signs were present. While some of them used the “99 percent” mantra, most were oriented specifically toward either American capitalism’s electoral contests taking place next year or legislation making way through Congress.
Pre-printed signs reading, “Pass Obama’s Jobs Bill,” and, “Stop the War on the Middle Class,” became increasingly visible as the time for the march drew closer. As one eyewitness reported: “It was one of the fastest crowd growths I’ve ever seen. Contingents came in from all sides, and also surrounded the Square. In a matter of minutes, there were thousands upon thousands. Most of the unions were there. The SEIU and Co. had their peace marshals out. All the professional activists, NGOs and the like (e.g. Make the Road by Walking) were there, and they took control as they always do, via their permits, bused-in supporters, stages, sound systems, marshals, pre-made signs, screeching speakers screaming tired old slogans, etc.”
The evening march was less of an attempt to return to Zuccotti Park and more of a traditional protest, with the SEIU and its front groups (e.g., UnitedNY) in firm control. One Party supporter who witnessed the march commented on a public Internet forum, “It was quite funny to hear a woman who was obviously with one of the unions/liberal groups try to do a ‘mic check’ through a loud speaker.” This seemed to be a common sentiment among #Occupy supporters; the union officials and their paid “activists” looked out of place among occupiers.
Many of those who had been evicted from Liberty Park and had spent the two previous days attempting to take it back, checked out of the union officials’ march before it even began.
The shift from an #Occupy march to a traditional protest was also visible in the manner by which the police interacted with the crowd. “Open hostility existed from the morning to the afternoon,” wrote our eyewitness, “even early on at Foley (cops were on their toes; early attendees were saying things like, ‘I don’t like being boxed in by them,’ etc.). After the loud speakers came on and the stage show began, the cops were noticeably relaxed, saying stuff like ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ talking to people, giving directions, laughing and joking around.”
element to note here relates to the presence of the self-described socialist and communist organizations. For the most part, these organizations had been virtually invisible during the daily events in Liberty Park, only showing up occasionally, such as when a large march or other event took place.
But on Nov. 17, these groups were out “in force,” selling their newspapers, setting up literature tables and “intervening” in the march. Prior to this day, their actual presence was negligible in Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, their presence seemed to directly coincide with that of the union officials, their front groups, the NGOs, etc. This, too, was not lost on the occupiers.
In this sense, once again, the self-described socialists and communists brought discredit to their ostensible political perspectives. They appeared to many as little more than a “left” flank and appendage of the corporatist union officials, appearing when they appear and disappearing similarly. If any members of these organizations wonder why they received a lukewarm reception from participants in the #Occupy movement, they should take a close look at the visible relationship between their groups, and the appearance of these officials and “activists.”
For that matter, many of them may want to also take a look at the concrete platforms and slogans they are raising to better understand why they appeared to many to be hangers-on of the union bureaucracy. Many organizations raised slogans and demands that could easily have been raised by the officials themselves, such as demanding “jobs for all” or “public works programs” or calling for an end to student loan debts. For all of their “radical” posturing, most of these organizations simply echoed the political slogans and demands of the union officials, which were written in such a way as to not ruffle the feathers of Democratic politicians.
these events offer many valuable lessons for communists and class-conscious workers. They demonstrate the current balance and relationship of forces both inside and outside of the #Occupy movement, as well as who are the enemies and false friends of this movement. Most importantly, though, they offer insight into where the movement needs to go, how it is to reorganize itself and on what basis.
By far, the most obvious and important lesson learned is what makes the #Occupy movement different from traditional protest coalitions and groups. To put it simply, it is the occupation that makes it different. A protest march or movement, in and of itself, is more or less a body without a head. The “head” is a product of aggregated presence and power within the movement. Or, to put it more bluntly, whomever has the permits, the most professional and numerous signs, the most supporters, the loudest sound system, the largest stage, the biggest bank account, etc., becomes the leadership. The #Occupy movement, on the other hand, developed with head and body together — the “head” being the occupation itself.
The occupation was the focal point for each local movement, and, in a broader sense, for the movement as a whole. It was the body around which all others revolved, and it had the
needed to hold the entire movement together. Its absence created a vacuum that other forces could quickly fill, but only through spending large quantities of cash, time and resources.
In order for the #Occupy movement to regain its independent and radical power, it must
its movement and
spaces. This means not only returning to public spaces like parks and plazas, but expanding the occupation principle to other areas, such as abandoned buildings, schools and houses, until virtually every neighborhood, town, city and county has ongoing occupations.
More importantly, though, is the extension and expansion of the occupation principle into the economy as a whole. The development of the #Occupy movement at workplaces, be they manufacturing, service, office or agricultural is perhaps the most important step that can be taken at this time. A workplace occupation movement would not only strengthen the basis of #Occupy by increasing the numbers of workers in the movement, but it would also begin to transform the movement. It would do this by shifting the balance of power more in the direction of the working class — the 67 of the 99 percent; the two-thirds majority of this society.
For now, the main avenue of work for such an expansion would necessarily be educational. Workplace occupations cannot be successfully carried out by small, determined minorities on the job without running the risk of mass firings. It will take serious education about the role of workplace organizing and occupation, about how workplace occupation can be a step toward the extension of real democratic functioning in the economy, and about how workplace occupation can develop into workplace control and administration by workers themselves.
This would also mean an expanded role for the neighborhood, town, city and county General Assemblies. These bodies could become the “spokes council” for all those occupations in a given area — “spokes,” not in the sense of being a spokesperson, but in the sense of spokes in a wheel. Elected representatives from workplace, neighborhood and other occupations would be able to meet and make decisions in their own names, including decisions to take control of local services, schools and public safety.
The workplace occupation groups would naturally form a backbone for the development of a revolutionary industrial union movement, which can coordinate and plan the activity of all industries, trades and services on a local, regional, national and even an international level.
WHILE THE EVENTS
of Nov. 17 taught new and important lessons for the #Occupy movement, it also reaffirmed the correctness of the positions advocated by the Workers Party since it began its national involvement.
The ferocity and brutality of the police has time and again reaffirmed the importance of advocating for workers’ self-defense against police violence. From Oakland to Wall Street, the capitalist state has systematically and ruthlessly raided occupations, arrested and attacked occupiers, and even nearly killed several unarmed participants. Those who think defending local occupations would bring greater police violence only need to look at what the alternative has been so far to see the folly of their position.
The crackdowns on local occupations have also reaffirmed the necessity to advocate for a break with all the institutions and parties of corporatist capitalism, including both the Republican and Democratic parties, and the corporatist officials who control the labor unions in the U.S. As the events of the evening of Nov. 17 have shown, the role of the union officials is to put on a “militant” mask and attempt to lead the #Occupy movement back into “safe” and “respectable” political channels (i.e., lining up the movement to be an electoral vehicle for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012).
The broader attacks on the #Occupy movement — in the media, the pulpit and the chambers of power — have vividly reaffirmed that the problem is not simply “greed” or “corruption” in an otherwise well-functioning capitalist system, but that capitalism itself is the core problem. This is something that most people involved in #Occupy still cling to, foolishly believing that there are “good capitalists” and falling over themselves looking for “small businesses” to support.
Finally, these reaffirmations, by their existence, also reaffirm the political perspectives and leadership presented by the Party. Our calls for democratic accountability and transparency, a workers’ occupation movement, revolutionary industrial unionism, a revolutionary workers’ program, and a workers’ republic have become the only revolutionary alternative at this critical time in the #Occupy movement.
Reorganize! Rebuild! Reoccupy!
Expand Occupations to Workplaces, Schools and Abandoned Buildings!
For City and Regional General Assemblies of Occupation Representatives!
A Platform of Action for #Occupy
THE WORKERS PARTY
in America, in consultation with other revolutionary workers involved in the #Occupy movement, presents the following platform of action for the purposes of organizing our brother and sister workers into a movement that shakes loose from all illusions and falsehoods, from all the chains and straps meant to keep us in our place, from all the misery and pain that capitalism offers us in place of decency and freedom.
Some of these points are immediate in character, meaning that they are the first steps in the development of the movement and that, as these steps are fulfilled, new points and steps will be incorporated into this platform. We invite discussion and debate on these points, and enter into these exchanges with an open mind and desire for building the greatest unity principle will allow.
For workers’ leadership! We are the 67 percent!
Workers do not have the same interests as the other classes in the movement. The working class outnumbers all other classes two-to-one, which means that workers should be the leadership of #Occupy.
For workplace occupations!
It is on the job that workers have their greatest power. Just as we create all the world’s wealth through our labor, so we can bring the world to a halt by occupying and withdrawing our labor power.
No to capitalism’s agents!
Only workers can represent themselves. Break with the parties of corporatism and unionbusting, their labor union officials, media, clergy, “middle class” populist hucksters and small-scale exploiters.
For organized workers’ self-defense!
We must defend our occupations against police terror and provocation, as well as social opportunists.
For accountability and transparency in #Occupy!
No to unofficial or self-appointed “leaders.” All positions to be by democratic election with right of immediate recall, and all activity done “open book.”
For a revolutionary industrial union movement!
Real majority rule means workers’ control based on member-run industrial unions, workplace committees and workers’ councils.
For a revolutionary political program!
“General strikes” and mass protests are not enough. We need a political strategy that can defeat corporatist capitalist rule and its armed state.
The enemy is all of capitalism!
Greed, corruption, profiteering, speculation, corporate welfare, etc., are not mere excesses, but are inherent to the capitalist system itself. Capitalism cannot be reformed into something better. It must be defeated and overthrown, and replaced by a workers’ republic.
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