The Class Struggle – Occupy?

April 2024 Forums General discussion The Class Struggle – Occupy?

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    I just read an article at Dissent magazine and thought I would share the following quote about Occupy

    “A long-term political strategy will be more important as well. It’s on this count that part of Hedges’s message resonates. But we don’t need to excise people from Occupy, we just need to grow it. And I remain unconvinced that anarchists are in any significant way preventing this growth, though they are a convenient scapegoat for more fundamental failings.

    It is this tendency to scapegoat that makes some paint segments of Occupy as having undergone some sort of sudden ultra-leftist infiltration. I would have loved it if the protests were sparked by a coalition of Trotskyist sects, social democrats, and left-wing unions. They weren’t. The initial spark behind the movement and much of its form and character are owed to its anarchist roots. There can be no denying this fact. The anarchists have been very successful—when they have organized clad in vibrant colors. We have a more confident Left to thank them for.

    But the potential of Occupy Wall Street went far beyond those active in it day-to-day, much less the minuscule core that laid its foundation. It lay in the millions of Americans who saw in it their discontent with austerity regimes, wage cuts, unemployment, and financial abuse. If it’s acknowledged that the movement could be more successful at engaging these people at present, the question then becomes, “What kind of change will be needed?”

    These questions will need to be resolved democratically, but they can’t be if socialists refuse to be confident partners in the discussion. The tendency thus far has been for socialists to table intra-movement conflicts and uncritically accept notions concerning the “diversity of tactics” and consensus, as opposed to majoritarian-based, decision making. The willingness to at least discuss the relevance of more traditional forms of left-wing organization has also been lost behind the glossy allure of “spontaneity.””

    That Window at Starbucks


    The observation about Occupy reflected much of my view and felt for some within the party, criticism of it was treated as being outside it. That our D of P was somehow inferior in regards to Occupy’s fluidity of principles and practice. Indeed, we should have more confidence in ourselves as a legitimate element of the working class and its class struggle. I found this article concerning the Irish anarchist group Workers Solidarity Movement of interest. In many cases the author vindicates positions held by the SPGB  for many years. Some people recently, in particular one ex-member believes that in regards to the Occupy Movement we should not be blowing our own horn but instead learning from those active within it. Those involved in Occupy are apparently more socialist and possess more consciousness than those of us within the SPGB. first criticism he has of the many umbrella groups, and one some of us has made of the Occupy Movement, is the unstructured means of decision making, the prevalance of concensus agreement, empowering minorities over the majority.”…the WSM was in the midst of a long-term turn towards an alternative libertarian movement. This is a rather vague term for working with people who were radical opponents of the status quo but who had an instinctive – and sometimes well reasoned – dislike of Leninism. Its institutional manifestation was the Grassroots Gathering which was organised to explicitly exclude Leninists. It provided a forum for left-libertarians to discuss and socialise…it did provide the impetus for ongoing co-operation between the WSM and the diverse range of individuals who made it up…Anarchism is just a variant of Socialism, it is alienating to mix with political activists who are, at best, deeply uninterested in Socialism and whose primary political expression is through stunts that masquerade as direct action, not to mention their tendency to display the traits of that classic label, lifestylism, especially if your lifestyle is pretty conventional and not given to veganism, poor clothes, organic farming and the like. Obviously, this somewhat facetious description of the cultural divergence between the old and the new is yet another simplification: the dreadlocks versus the cloth cap so to speak. But as usual, the simplification contains a truth and one which, over time, assumed a degree of importance… But they [ Radical activists ] were fundamentally uninterested in winning over the population to radical left-wing ideas; hence the complete lack of interest in how they presented themselves in public or in how their actions would be perceived. Political activism was an expression of moral outrage, not an attempt to effect structural change. The WSM’s ambition was to harness that moral outrage, which, after all, it shared, towards the pursuit of a more a political strategy. To accomplish that it had to ally itself with the fairly amorphous self-described libertarians…We needed to recruit. The sentiment was widespread and the anti-globablisation movement and the colleges provided fertile territory…The magnetic attraction to networking with fellow libertarians was coupled with an insatiable desire for stunts. Direct Action is one of the holy tenets of Anarchism…Anarchists have traditionally been contemptuous of electoralism, the conventional measure of public opinion because the spirited minority is of more importance than the passive majority…In general, the State completely had the measure of the direct actionists and their isolation from the population rendered them impotent…What was notably absent from our aims in of these campaigns was the desire to win over large numbers of people, or at least the willingness to do the type types of things that might make such an aim remotely likely. There was an undercurrent of subsitutionism…”[Within Grassroot Network] Quaker consensus decision making was the default mode; disciplined agenda setting and speaking were rare; the capacity to disagree strongly was inherently limited because it would lead to people getting offended, wandering off and never being seen again…[Irish] Indymedia had a certain glorious chaos about it at that point and the constant encroachment of structure was viewed by some as incipient bureaucratization…The Quaker consensus method is a boon to the status quo, transmuting every attempt at change into a trial by torture. But more than that, the toleration for low quality, hysterical ranting, not to mention the facilitation of the ill-intentioned and the genuinely mentally ill ensured that the site soon plateaued. Amongst the libertarian-left, such toleration was by no means confined to Indymedia. What is striking in retrospect is the degree to which many radicals are happy to be protesters and outsiders rather than part of a long-term counter-project. It is as if the image of radicalism outweighs the substance of socialism in terms of personal allegiance.” He continues to say that “Networks are not well suited to achieving medium-term political aims. They are okay for organising a protest against the G8 or for ad hoc activity on a fairly constrained issue. Their capacity for political discussion tends to be low, their level of organisational structure even lower and their ability to have a sustained impact barely exists. Without an institutional basis the network has no staying power but if it has an institutional basis it is no longer a network but is instead an organisation and one which has to face all the problems that any organisation faces (the basis of unity, policy, accountability, decision making etc).” Further on, he writes “One of the distinguishing features of libertarian style networks is that anybody can turn up to a meeting and have an equal say in the decisions made. This is made possible by the deliberate absence of having a definite membership list. Indymedia, Grassroots, and Seomra Spraoi all persisted for a long time in accepting anyone who might turn up at their meetings as being entitled to partake in decision making, although over time, tighter policies did arise. Such a model makes longer-term planning very difficult as policy can swing depending on who shows up for a given meeting, which is a major reason why such organisations are unable to grow beyond a very small size.”The author also makes this point “For an organisation to be capable of recruiting a mass membership the recruitment bar has to be set very low with respect to ideological unity, a centralised administrative and policy making apparatus is necessary and so forth. Marketing and branding are also important to a mass organisation in a way that it isn’t to a small group of militants. As long as the WSM was Platformist its branding as Anarchist didn’t really matter because it wasn’t geared towards attaining mass popularity for itself.  But once it became an activist organisation that attempted to replicate the function of mass organisations, albeit in a very distorted form, the branding was always going to be unhelpful, even fatal.”He concludes that ” the membership as a whole weren’t particularly interested in thinking about policy and its political consequences. Most members wanted to do things. They were very much radical activists and would have been satisfied with almost any policy that didn’t disrupt that activity or offend their sensibilities.”Some in the SPGB (along with others) offered the same critique of jazz hand decision-making and the frustration of the will of the majority by a minority. Later in the article it is stated that “There had already been mutterings about the spectre of Bolshevism during the membership debate and over various tweaks to the Delegate Council structure; the prospect of centralist organisation is one of the reliable Anarchist bogeymen that is liable to cripple any initiative.”Secondly, he discusses the flaws in the recruitment process for his organisation. The SPGB’s knowledge test is constantly the butt of many jibes from anarchists and the the Left but it seems when compared with the alternatives an efficient means of guaging understanding and agreement with our aims “It is doubtful that a single member who joined after 2004 was assessed on their knowledge of Anarchism and of the WSM in particular… it also gained many members, who however hard-working and good-hearted they undoubtedly were, were not Platformist, perhaps not even socialist: one member notoriously snorted “We’re socialists?” at a branch meeting. The constant round of political activism (protests, leafletting, attendance at libertarian meetings) and the culture of not discussing political fundamentals – hardly necessary since everyone was assumed to be an Anarchist! – hid the reality for a time…2010 was a crux year in which three major debates clarified the long developing fault lines. The first revolved around the recruitment process. It was clear from some members’ surprise at the notion that we were socialists and supportive of the labour movement that there was an issue. The lack of rigour in recruitment was also evident in the establishment of a Belfast branch that had more or less no understanding of our ostensible Platformist basis. Our recruitment process had lost its political content and had become a formulaic fulfilment of the requirement to attend three meetings and agreeing to pay subscriptions. If you agreed to do that it was assumed you agreed with our politics, but that was not actually checked. In fact, I suspect having such a discussion with some members would have led to embarrassment in that they would have been perceived it as a hierarchical move…I proposed to national conference that the secretary and two other members would be responsible for assessing whether prospective members met the criteria for joining. This provoked a lot of controversy, the crux of which revolved around the idea that Anarchists could sit in judgment over another person’s politics and refuse them membership. The opponents of the policy were unhappy with it for a number of reasons: they thought the recruitment process was more or less fine and that any difficulties could be rectified by educational meetings afterwards. They favoured a process which didn’t rely on the subjective judgments of a few or even one individual. They were concerned it would frighten off people from libertarian circles who would see it as anti-Anarchist and bureaucratic to have someone being able to sit in judgment on their politics…There was no systematic inculcation of basic anarchist doctrine; again the assumption was that the membership was familiar with that and indeed in any new group of recruits there were always some who were extremely well versed. But there were others who were not and there wasn’t any expectation that they would become so. It was left entirely up to them to whether that occurred or not… I saw Anarchism as an anti-state version of socialism that emphasised economic rather than political struggle, not as an all-encompassing anti-hierarchical philosophy.  Previously I has assumed that such views were the provenance of liberal rather than socialist Anarchists but the vehemence with which that view was advanced raised doubts not only about the level of commonality of our understanding of Anarchism but also about the utility of Anarchism as a political ideology itself. Clearly Anarchism throughout its history has been prone to an individualist strain and it began to seem that the WSM’s history and nominal adherence to socialism meant less in reality than it did on paper.” Then he moves on to the problems of social activism substituting for  fundamental objectives , and becoming the priority”One of the key problems, as the minority saw it, was the pressure to constantly be doing something. There was always a demonstration around the corner… That desire for action was not without reason however. As an organisation, the WSM depended on it for its profile. We didn’t have any significant intellectual accomplishments that we could point to. We didn’t have any electoral profile that would put us on the map. If we weren’t to lose out to other radical strands there had to be some way of alerting the public to our existence and the occasional bout of handbags filled that gap.” The author later writes “that we were completely unable to capitalise on any work done in campaigns. We had no ratcheting effect, no cumulative benefit from the hours poured into protesting against Shell, racism, war, the banks, or even on foot of our small but solid work in the Bin Tax campaign because there was no institutional basis with which we could organise whatever level of goodwill we had engendered along the way.”As well as partly sharing our analysis of trade unionism that the  leadership reflects the membership.”We felt that criticising the union leadership or putting up posters calling for a general strike, which had been the pattern of our organisational intervention in the trade unions was pointless in and of itself. Radicalism only becomes meaningful if it reflects a real-world tendency beyond the rarefied numbers of the libertarian left. Following Alan MacSimoin, we certainly didn’t think that the union base was radical nor that the union leadership were selling them out. A union leadership reflects, in a general way, the opinions of the base, most of whom are, after all, voters for right-wing political parties. If anything, the leadership is substantially to the left of the base and if by some miracle they adopted Anarchist policies they would soon find themselves out of a job. While criticism of the leadership is fair enough, it’s very much a secondary consideration to influencing that base.”We would be more associated with the “go-slowers” of the the three factions in the WSM, that historically we criticised the “radicals” and “bolshevics” of over-estimating the consciousness of the working class and being overly optimistic on the potential for revolution post -WW1″…there was a further theoretical reason that underlay the differing strategic directions. The minority of go-slowers did not think there was the remotest possibility of socialist revolution in the short-term. Insofar as there could be a breakdown in capitalism and the authority of the state, the likely result would be chaos followed by right-wing nationalist reaction. Socialist ideas just did not have a grip on much of the population.”This i believe would reflect the SPGB position of the necessity of education an socialist consciousness as pre-requisites of the socialist revolution.The other opinions within the WSM existed of a majority that “held that there was the possibility of rupturing with capitalism and the state and a libertarian socialist society emerging, Durruti-like, from the ashes.” And if “Because if revolution is immediately possible, then any event could kick it off and if you miss that event you could have missed a very brief and rare window of opportunity. The example of May 1968 and how it caught the left by surprise was invoked. This was the underlying reason for the interest in the anti-capitalist demonstrations of May 2010; what if they were the start of something big? On the other hand, if you think that not only is the prospect of socialist revolution remote but that it would actually be counter-productive for socialism if a collapse occurred, you couldn’t help but see those same demonstrations as, at best, a bit of a waste of time.”The writer also explains that “For an organisation to be capable of recruiting a mass membership the recruitment bar has to be set very low with respect to ideological unity, a centralised administrative and policy making apparatus is necessary and so forth. Marketing and branding are also important to a mass organisation in a way that it isn’t to a small group of militants. As long as the WSM was Platformist its branding as Anarchist didn’t really matter because it wasn’t geared towards attaining mass popularity for itself.  But once it became an activist organisation that attempted to replicate the function of mass organisations, albeit in a very distorted form, the branding was always going to be unhelpful, even fatal.”The third position within the WSM was those who propose “creating a mass, non-electoral party that would be set up and initially run by the WSM. A major part of it was the modernisation of the use of language (e.g. not to bother mentioning communism), but the basic politics of democracy and equality would remain. The other major facet was a complete rejection of orienting towards the anti-globablisation milieu. He aimed it at regular Joes and thought that it was important not to increase the already considerable distance between us and them by imposing unnecessary cultural barriers between us.”This criticism of the way we appear and the way we communicate such as jettisoning the red and left-wingism and the vocabulary of socialism of course has been voiced within the SPGB at various times by various people. James Connolly during the IWW anti-political constitutional amendment threw cold water over the idea that the “regular Joes” would somehow countenance the weapon of the ballot box being dismissed, and declaring that the workers would in fact use their vote regardless. The article ends with  “One cannot blame lack of dedication for the sheer unpopularity of Anarchism. The causes go deeper, down to the root of the ideology itself. Decent, hardworking people are constrained by a framework that, due its tendency to embrace inward-looking radicalism, an inability to come to terms with non-revolutionary times and an incapacity to adjust itself to the enormous development in capitalism since 1872, condemns its adherents to forever pushing the rock of revolution up an increasingly steep and slippery slope.”Something that many members of the SPGB can sympathise with when they get despondent  


    Any chance of a Readers Digest summary of the above very lengthy post (2,900 words)? It might encourage those interested to read the linked article (which is itself 14,000 words long) even though the organisation  it refers to as WSM is not the World Socialist Movement…

    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    I found this article concerning the Irish anarchist group Workers Solidarity Movement of interest. In many cases the author vindicates positions held by the SPGB  for many years. Some people recently, in particular one ex-member believes that in regards to the Occupy Movement we should not be blowing our own horn but instead learning from those active within it. Those involved in Occupy are apparently more socialist and possess more consciousness than those of us within the SPGB.

    Yes, and this reluctance to “blow our own horn” seems to be shared by some still within the SPGB.  Only quite recently on another party list I spoke of “the not inconsiderable respect and esteem that is held for the party’s long history of largely correct analysis of various political and social issues” only for the observation to be greeted with howls of derision from the usual, and not so usual, suspects.


    The socialist measures working-class progress in terms of the development and growth of its awareness of its collective needs and aspirations. Class consciousness, in short. Do they exercise hard won electoral rights along with the right to dissent and protest? Do workers realise the necessity of building class-struggle organisations that are independent of the ruling class? Do they know the value of the strike weapon — but also understand its limitations? Economic power has no meaning when it is confined to just withholding labour power from production, economic power flows from having political control of the state machinery. Are they more and more convinced for the need for a change to the very basis of present society if humanity is to survive? These are our criteria. Socialist activity is to provide a catalyst, to increase and spur on understanding through sharing our acquired knowledge for the self-emancipation of our class. Socialists seek to take advantage of the potential for a struggle to overthrow of the system. And without a core acceptance of a libertarian socialist consciousness there always exists the threat of a movement being hijacked by reformist and gradualist leaders and diverted into a variety of pro-capitalist directions.Although, I have my differences with StuartW, i do agree with his view that people will not suddenly get out of bed one morning and find themselves convinced socialists or that it will be the result of reading the Socialist Standard, no matter how attractive and articulate it is. It will be because of struggles. Our propaganda alone will not suffice since, as often explained, the power of the prevailing ideology through dominance of education and popular culture handicaps our class in the battle of the intellect and ideas. This is not to say that socialist ideas are arrived at automatically solely through practice and it is not to say we should desist from propaganda and educational efforts. Our propaganda is vital to give expression to working class action and to validate workers’ own experiences. The more socialism is discussed and debated, the more likely that protests escalate and intensify into a decisive mass movement against capitalism and its failure as a system to satisfy and fulfil real human needs and wants. We need to relate socialism to the present and demonstrate its practicability. We need to connect struggles such as Occupy with the attainment of socialism. Unlike others who present themselves as revolutionaries we do not project socialism as a remote ideal system of the future but something to aspire for to-day. Occupy’s attempt at non-violent leaderless self-organisation was to be applauded and should have served as a bridge to the structure of socialist administration. Rather than abstaining from participation, I suggest we should have engaged more directly and intervened by means of sympathetic propaganda material aimed at facilitating the growth of socialist consciousness and which relates to current workers’ struggle and demonstrate that a viable alternative to global capitalism does exist. The real future socialist party [NB not capitalised] cannot be apart and distinct from the working class, it has to comprise the whole human community. An aroused class-conscious workers will use their party [again smaller case p] as an agent of emancipation. Our Socialist Party propaganda concentrates upon the educational and teachers are no more leaders than writers or speakers are leaders. Their function is to spread knowledge and understanding so that the workers may emancipate themselves. Our purpose as a Party is to help bring forth the latent strength of the movement.”There are but three ways for the populace to escape its wretched lot. The first two are by the routes of the wine-shop or the church; the third is by that of the social revolution.”  – Bakunin

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