The ‘Occupy’ movement

June 2024 Forums General discussion The ‘Occupy’ movement

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  • #86525
    robbo203
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    I vaguely recall an old issue of the Socialist Standard  (from the bad old says of 70s?) severely attacking forms of direct action such as the squatters movement in the most trenchant terms. In retrospect, such attitudes have no place in a revolutionary socialist  party. None at all.  I hope and trust things are different today

    Actually, Robin, your memory (or rather folk myths about the Party in the past) has got it the wrong way round. The article you are referring to appeared in the April 1969 Socialist Standard entitled “Squatters and the Housing Problem” actually said:

    Quote:
    The Socialist Party supports the efforts of workers to improve their housing conditions under capitalism — even by squatting. But socialists also point out that there is no solution to the housing problem inside capitalism, and even if the agitation of those who support the squatters succeeds for the families they are now trying to help, future generations will still face the same misery and hardship of homelessness. Only in a society in which production is carried on solely to satisfy human wants, without anyone having to worry about where next week’s rent or next month’s mortgage repayment is coming from, will the housing problem find a solution.(my italics)

    You are right to the extent that some EC and Party members complained about this, but the statement stood.So, it was not a case of the Party saying that socialists did not support squatting and those members who weren’t against it complaining, but of the Party saying it did and those members who were against it (or at least against saying that the Party did) complaining.On the anecdotal level, I remember one party member and his partner who were squatting, but not for any revolutionary end, just to save up money to pay for a mortgage. Later on, there were actually a couple of Party squats (well, squats composed of Party members) in London. I wasn’t one of them but the current Party Treasurer was. The mid-60s to the mid-70s were in fact the good old days !

     Hi Adam No, it wasn’t that particular article I had in mind – which to be honest i cannot even recall – but another one which was, I think, to do with the theme of “direct action”. It could even  have been a special issue on that theme. I vaguely recall the image on the front cover of a copper on a horse confronting some protestors – or something like that  – and i remember  feeling somewhat uncomfortable then with the line of argument being pursued.  Of course this could well have been post mid 1970s when the bad old days set in, as you say.I am delighted to hear that the Party  actually came out with a statement supporting squatting. This is encouraging.  That great problem with the Party is the what-do-we-in-the-meantime (WDWDITM) argument  .  This puts it at a massive disadvantage vis-a-vis reformist organisations – whether these be other political parties or single issue groups that take a cap-in-hand-position of lobbying governments.  Pragmatically speaking, its why most people on encountering the case for socialism say “yeah its a great idea but in the meanwhile we’ve got focus on this or that problem”. Simply saying these problems cannot be solved under capitalism is not going to change their minds, in my opinion.  That may not be rational but people are often not rational about these things. I’m afraid. This is why I think the Party has to come up with something more plausible than saying only socialism is the answer when confronted with the WDWDITM argument.  Explicit support  for “direct action” could actually come to the aid of the Party  here  because it stands in sharp contrast to,  and arguably steers people away from,  the reformist position in so many ways and yet addresses the short term concerns of workers as well.  It by-passes all the crap about capitalist cost accounting and whether we can afford this or that and encourages people to think in naturaI would argue that this is something actually seriously worth investigating if you want to make the Party’s case more relevant and appealing.  Squatting is perhaps one of the best – if not the best – examples around and I venture to suggest  a much more positive and proactive approach could reap dividends.  Like I said , I’m not suggesting the SPGB itself gets involved in a practical sense in the squatters movement but it could certainly beef up its pro squatting position and make that known to all and sundryPerhaps a special issue of the Socialist Standard on the housing situation could serve as a trailblazer in that regard…. CheersRobin      

    #86526
    Anonymous
    Inactive

     Robbo says  “This is why I think the Party has to come up with something more plausible than saying only socialism is the answer when confronted with the WDWDITM argument.” Thank you comrades. This thread has helped me clarify my thoughts upon returning to the party. William Morris answered the question WDWDITM more than 100 years ago:”Therefore, I say, make Socialists. We Socialists can do nothing else that is useful, and preaching and teaching is not out of date for that purpose; but rather for those who, like myself, do not believe in State Socialism, it is the only rational means of attaining to the new Order of Things”Yours for Socialism

    #86527
    DJP
    Participant

    ‘Direct Action’ is such a broad and all encompassing term it seems a folly to declare oneselve either in support or opposition to it.

    #86528
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    I think it matters. During the 1984 miners strike I was putting the case for socialism on the picket line and it would not help if the Standard tells them that socialists don’t support you and your ‘leader’ is a con man etc etc. It is important that the SPGB doesn’t appear to be the enemy of the working class.

    Look, the best people to decide what to do in a strike are the workers involved in it.  The last thing they want are ‘outsiders’, like the SWP for example, muscling in on their dispute.  Why would the “SPGB appear to be the enemy of the working class”?; we are workers ourselves but as a political party we are concerned principally with the political struggle.  However, we need to ‘tell it as we see it’; opinions often hurt, even offend occasionally, but they rarely inflict any permanent damage.Here are links to a pamphlet written by the party at the close of the Miners’ Strike and an article written twenty years later which you may find helpful.http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/strike-weapon-lessons-miners%E2%80%99-strikehttp://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2000s/2004/no-1195-march-2004/miners-strike

    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    Did we support or oppose democracy in Poland or did we just not oppose it?

    My memory is that the Party never expressed support for Solidarity as a political party. Solidarity began as a trade union that also demanded democratic rights. It was entirely right that the Party should express enthusiasm about that.  As the situation developed Solidarity became a reformist political party and when this happened we opposed it.

    #86529
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    ‘Direct Action’ is such a broad and all encompassing term it seems a folly to declare oneself either in support or opposition to it.

     How then do you get round the WDWDITM argument?  This is the problem, see.  If you are going to sit on the fence with regard to direct action you don’t really have anything to counter reformist claims to be doing something now.  Whether we like it or not, whether it is justified or not, socialism is then relegated an ever receding distant future – just a nice idea and nothing more — while people look to reformism as the way to deal with their problems in the here and now/  Telling them that reformism is futile is simply not going to work because the issue is precisely what to do with the here and now which at least reformism presumes to address but which for all practical purposes socialism cannot address I don t think you can be neutral about this matter if direct action a means by which one might effectively counter the massive pull effect of reformism.  Direct action may well be very broad and all encompassing but that does not mean one cannot support it in principle.  Trade Unionism too can be very broad and all encompassing too and indeed some forms of trade union activity can be highly detrimental to the interests of the working class. One example is strike action motivated by racist or nationalist concerns. Nevertheless;less the SPGB supports trade unionism in principle and I see no reason why it should not support direct action in principle too . Accordingt to Adam it has already declared its support for squatting.  And a damn good thing too!  You are surely not suggesting that it should not have done this? By all means be discriminating . Don’t just support direct action for its own sake.  But in the case of squatting  I think the situation is absolutely clear cut. Given the obscenity of millions of empty homes existing alongside homeless people I find it difficult to imagine how any socialist would not rejoice in the fact that some of the latter have taken it into their their hands to bypass the capitalist market and ignore its callous imperative that demands needs be backed up by purchasing power in order to be satisfied at all 

    #86530
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    We have to take into account the difference between  individual and collective action. We have an understanding that the private property system creates poverty and deprivation where many seek their own solutions such as from engaging in personal appropriation – shop-lifting and stealing. We recognise that for some, it is a necessity or even just simply the preferred alternative to wage slavery.   We previously debated the riots and looting and while some members described those as anti-social (ie anti working class) acts by a lumpen-proletariat , other members  would not issue a general condemnation of what took place.  But we ALL agreed that it was not a policy to be recommended to promote the case for socialism. The Party seeks CLASS solutions to capitalism’s problems. While we DO recognise the merits of individual or sectional responses such as co-operatives etc, and may personally participate in them,  our task is to emphasise what should be done by our class as a whole for permanent change, not temporary respite for a few. The answer to Robbo’s question WDWDITM if it is aimed at the working class is that it is not for us as a Party to offer answers since WDWDITM is already taking place in all manners of ways , legal and illegal and doesn’t require the approval or sanction or encouragement of the Party. It takes place just as the class struggle does on a daily basis whether the idea of socialism or a workers  party exists or not. What is needed is to demonstrate the causes and the connections with capitalist exploitation even if this is already vaguely expressed in such commonly held attitudes of that it is all because of “the system”. Our task is to explain that system, build on what Marx believed was the foundation block of our emancipation  – understanding the process of  our exploitation so that we know what has to be lopped off. However,  IMHO what is often overlooked by ourselves,  but not by some well meaning Leftists and reformists,  is presenting a credible alternative future for workers to choose. The party has been reluctant to present the blueprints (note my use of the plural) of socialism and understandably workers are not keen on buying into a pig in a poke.  As the rise in the strength of the trade union movement contributed to the confidence of the working class,  the Occupy Movement  has also presented a positive development in organisational democracy and unifying seemingly previously disparate groups. They performed the function of the umbrella organisation for all resistance groups that the socialist movement should have been and must become.  The Occupy Movement was credible. What we must do in the meantime is to endeavour to give ourselves in the WSM and free access socialism as a society the same credible immediate expectation. In my book,  that does mean suggesting how present institutions can be transformed into socialist cook-shops of the future. I do want to see a menu before sitting down at the table. It was from NON-party sources that i received my vision of what socialism will look like and what the possibilities could be.

    #86531
    robbo203
    Participant
    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    The answer to Robbo’s question WDWDITM if it is aimed at the working class is that it is not for us as a Party to offer answers since WDWDITM is already taking place in all manners of ways , legal and illegal and doesn’t require the approval or sanction or encouragement of the Party. It takes place just as the class struggle does on a daily basis whether the idea of socialism or a workers  party exists or not.

     In other words Alan what you are effectively advocating is the complete sidelining of the Party and committing it to historical  irrelevance by its failure to make, let alone foster, the link  between immediate struggles and the long term goal of socialism. It must surely be obvious to everyone now that this kind of abstentionous approach  is a major reason why the party has not grown and will not grow.  Positive endorsement of forms of direct action – like squatting – does at least give it one foot in the camp of immediate struggles and so better enables it to counter the otherwise massive influence – hegemony – of the reformists in this area

    #86532
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    robbo203 wrote:
    It must surely be obvious to everyone now that this kind of abstentionous approach  is a major reason why the party has not grown and will not grow.  Positive endorsement of forms of direct action – like squatting – does at least give it one foot in the camp of immediate struggles and so better enables it to counter the otherwise massive influence – hegemony – of the reformists in this area

    Not at all obvious actually.  The opposite view is equally plausible…….more so.   Before long “one foot” would become both feet and before long we would become, like so many others, totally consumed with the here and now.  Supporting (oh, how I hate that nebulous word) direct action would soon become our whole life’s work.   

    #86533
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    I simply stated a fact, that in their daily struggle of the class war, the Party, any party, is not necessary requirement. But, Robin, I also wrote “What is needed is to demonstrate the causes and the connections with capitalist exploitation”  In another post,  i said ” We have to make available the right ideas in sufficent depth and breadth, so that they can be picked up and used” In yet an earlier post,  i declared (and recognised a current weakness of the Party ) “Yet that socialist consciousness cannot  be achieved solely by ideological persuasion and propaganda. It has to link up with the practical struggle. That is the dilemma. The SPGB role is a limited one. When conditions are ripe the working class will acquire their power of self-determination.” That all requires engaging with and communicating directly in whatever means the working class seek to take and it isn’t abstentionalist. So i fail to see your conclusion that i do not argue that our role is to create  links with immediate struggles and our goal of socialism. There are no shortage of organisations who try to co-opt direct action and reform movements and  I witnessed in the 70s the IS using the Claimants Unions as a recruiting ground.  We all are aware of the way unions and strikes suffer from  manipulation  by assorted Left groups to the detriment of  those actually involved. Someone has pointed out on this thread , forget who or where, that the last thing strikers  need is newspaper-sellers pushing a line and from direct personal experience i know this to be fact. ( As an aside, the last picket line i visited , i never handed out a leaflet or Standard, i gave a case of beer!) But those groups who do attach themselves to direct action/reform struggles, has it resulted in the growth you suggest would be the result?  I hazard from anecdotal evidence that they too have all been suffering from declining membership.  This is why the Occupy Movement was so  important and i fully understand your and Stuart’s sympathies and support for it. It was different. It involved new ways of organising and new tactics and some new fresh demands. It challenged everybodys previous positions and demanded re-evaluation of them. Without the intervention of political parties workers have developed new strategies for new conditions. 19th C – New Unionism, beginning of the 20th – Syndicalism, the 30s sit-in strikes, in the post-war – wildcat unofficial strikes , 60s/70s – rank and file movements. From the tokenism of mass protest marches, we now have near permanent occupations of public spaces. The SPGB has written  “The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle whilst capitalism lasts.” As socialists we do not impose our position upon the working class,so thankfully if we as a group are  wrong, the consequences are not transferred to others of our class by a leadership or party vanguard. However, we can put forard our preferences for what we consider “sound lines” and IMHO the Indian companion party explained our position in trade unions well enough for it to apply equally to other movements. “In countries like India workers have the legal right to form trade unions. But there, too, unlike Europe and America, most of the big trade unions have been organised from above as fund-raising, vote-catching political subsidiaries of self-seeking “leaders” than as spontaneous, grass-root, independent and autonomous organisations of the working class to defend their economic interests. Moreover in the absence of factory-wide free election of trade union functionaries, there are as many unions as there are political parties, most of them operating with their hired gangsters and peculiar flags having very little regard to class-unity.  Actually these trade unions are not genuine trade unions. Still workers’ organised resistance against exploitation is a must; and for that matter, their resistance struggles must have to be freed from the infamy of remaining divided and subservient to various capitalist political parties. This they can achieve by organising themselves in fully integrated and independent trade unions of their own, by throwing away all kinds of blind faith and submissiveness regarding the wretched hierarchy of subscription-squeezer and flag-hoister “leaders”. The working class movement is a movement of equals-organised by the workers and in the interest of the workers.  No “leader”, supposedly having some unknown “god”-given or “intrinsic” trick-finding qualities given is necessary to lead the working-class movement. For a “trick” cannot throw profit overboard. Simply because private property lives to levy its tribute on labour. All workers are able, rather abler than the “leaders”, to understand their own class-interests only if they are fully informed of their circumstances from local to global. And to be informed of what is happening around, and what has happened earlier, what they require is to meet in regular general assemblies, discuss and debate all that matters keeping ears and minds open and decide to take such steps as deemed useful. In case a strike is to be declared, they would need a strike committee to be formed of recallable delegates elected and mandated in the general assembly-thus retaining the ultimate control in their own hands. Where there are many rival trade union shops in a single factory or workplace operated by many capitalist political parties, a socialist worker can neither keep on supporting the one he is in, nor go on seeking membership of one after another or all at the same time, nor can he open his own “socialist” trade union instead. What he can, and should, do as an immediate perspective, is to try to form a “political group” with like-minded fellow workers and campaign for a class-wide democratic unity as stated above. Whenever an opportunity arrives the group must use the assemblies as a forum for political propaganda to expose the uselessness of “leaders” and show that the trade union movement is unable to solve the problems of crises, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, hunger and wars” [my emphasis] Manifesto of the World Socialist Party (India), March 1995.    

    #86534
    ALB
    Keymaster
    robbo203 wrote:
    Nevertheless the SPGB supports trade unionism in principle and I see no reason why it should not support direct action in principle too . Accordingt to Adam it has already declared its support for squatting.

    That’s not quite what I said. Nor what the quote from the 1969 Socialist Standard did. It said:

    Quote:
    The Socialist Party supports the efforts of workers to improve their housing conditions under capitalism — even by squatting.

    What this says is that we support the principle of workers struggling to improve their housing (as other) conditions under capitalism and that we consider squatting to be an example of this. Another example would be tenants association, which some members have been and are still active in in the same way that we are in trade unions.You yourself have often made the valid point that there are not just two possible working class activities — reformism and revolution — but three, the third being working class activity to survive under capitalism which is neither one nor the other and which we don’t denounce as reformism. Reformism is political, but these other activities are what might be called “sub-political” (a better term than “ditrect action”, which is often “reformism by blows”). You can’t oppose them without incurring Stuart’s criticism of not being an ordinary decent human being. Anyway, who are we to be judgemental in such matters and tell people not to squat, shoplift, grow their own vegetables, etc. or to do these things, for that matter?Another anecdote: two party members were once on the platform at Clapham North tube station after a meeting at Head Office when they saw somebody getting ready to commit suicide by jumping in front of the train. One comrade rushed to try and stop him. The other comrade said he shouldn’t have as this was reformist. I don’t know if this tale is true but the other comrade was in the old North West London branch.

    #86535
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Adam,I love that last paragraph, I think it reveals the essence of the argument. Was the comrade who took the non socialist action expelled and did NW London branch congratulate their member for sticking to the case. And as gnome has pointed out the word ‘support’ seems to be a big problem.

    #86536
    ALB
    Keymaster
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    the word ‘support’ seems to be a big problem.

    I think that’s right, because of its ambiguity. It can mean anything from “good luck to you” to giving financial and political aid.In 1969 the EC drew up a Policy Statement on Reforms which was later endorsed by Conference. The last part of it read:

    Quote:
    the EC holds that while declaring our sympathy with the exploited in their resistance to the exploiters it is essential, in order to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, and in the light of the Party’s attitude of not advocating reforms that we should avoid using the word ‘support’ in relation to actions of reformist parties, groups and individuals.

    In other words, although we do support  “the exploited in their resistance to the exploiters” we should not actually say so in case we are misunderstood as offering support in the strong sense !I’m not sure this really solved the dilemma in that the actions referred to in relation to which the word “support” should not be used are those of “reformist, parties, groups and individuals”. This leaves out actions by “groups and individuals”, eg ordinary non-political workers trying to survive under capitalism, who might not fall into the category of reformist.In any event, everyone has always been agreed on the key principle that “we do not advocate reforms”.

    #86537
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    “Social change is much like ecology: every once in a great while, we experience a massive breakthrough, an evolutionary leap, in how the world around us is defined. Occupy did that. The rest of the time, change is the unglamorous, slow plodding of organizers trying to adapt and push forward in an ever challenging environment. These evolutionary leaps reignite movements with imagination and energy, but sustaining that pitch is an often impossible task. The challenge is to use the fertile ground left by the transformed earth to foster a multitude of new growth.” http://www.thenation.com/article/166826/occupy-dead-long-live-occupy

    #86538
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Another article that may be useful reading. http://rabble.ca/news/2012/03/re-occupy-or-not-re-occupy ” Zizek tells “an old joke from communist times.” Someone banished to Siberia, knowing the censors would read his mail, establishes a code with his correspondents: blue ink will be for falsehoods that appease the censors, red ink for the truth. His first letter from Siberia is entirely in blue ink, and sings the praises of the life of exile. It’s final sentence notes (ironically!) that the only thing he is missing is red ink. “This is how we live,” Zizek notes. “We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom”-“this is what you are doing here,” he tells the occupiers, “You are giving all of us red ink.”To provide red ink is to provide a language for critique, as well as a language in which new alternatives to the capitalist system can be envisioned and experimented with. This is to say that the occupy movement has much work to do in extending what it has already begun: active experimentation in directly democratic practices and social “commoning,” as well as an ongoing practice of cultural production (websites, journals, books and educational programs extending and shaping the movement’s central ideas). If Occupy is indeed to transition from indignation to movement, such a transition will require a good deal of red ink…….our environmental, economic, and political crisis is one crisis, capitalism’s failure to deliver a sustainable, just and equitable life for all. Thus we can address the entire problematic, but do so in a productively concrete way that is at once specific and general, local and global……conservatives who fear that environmental concerns mask a deeper critique of capitalism are in part bang on. A sustainable economy — one designed to be in harmony with broad ecological concerns — will inevitably be a very different economy from the one we currently live under. And it will take a new political system — a new organization of society — to bring our economic efforts into line with ecological necessity. Such a broad program of social renewal is exactly what the Occupy movement has put on the table…”

    #86539
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Just to add to the discussion of tax avoidance and Occupy’s protests about it , todays Observer exposes the private health care industry’s various uses of off-shore subsidaries to escape UK taxation http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/mar/17/nhs-shakeup-health-firms-tax-havens Full report  of how it is done here http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=4251 But  don’t think it is the task of socialists to tell capitalism how to run its economy. After all,  whatever  tax is re-couped from legal changes, workers still do not have any effective say on how they are spent. And as seen in the current government debate , re-distribution of the tax is all about lifting it from the shoulders of the rich and not the poor. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/mar/17/budget-2012-nick-clegg 

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