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Where Will It End?

The Occupy movement is a sign of spreading unrest.

Just last month ago we asked in our editorial whether we were beginning to see the “red shoots” of recovery in the class struggle. At the time, the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had just called for joint industrial action, street protests and a campaign of civil disobedience, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned that America and Europe were facing the worst jobs crisis since the 1930s and an ‘explosion of social unrest’. We said then that there was no way of predicting with any confidence whether this expected ‘explosion’ would go off, or turn out to be a damp squib, depending, as it did and does, on what millions of people think and decide to do.

Since we wrote those words, you’d have to be a dour cynic indeed not to be heartened and encouraged by world events. Truly has it been said that there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen. It’s hard to believe that in just one year we have seen a series of democratic uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa threaten or topple dictatorships; strikes and increasingly militant protests against austerity in Greece and across Europe; strikes, demonstrations and riots across Britain; and mass protests and occupations against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, USA, to name just the most obvious and inspiring examples.

And then, in September of this year, the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters and the activist group Anonymous announced an occupation of Wall Street. The bourgeoisie – along with the older, more senile, battle-weary ranks of class warriors and socialists – barely had time for the sneers to settle on their faces before the ‘anarchism as usual’ action had morphed into what some commentators are already calling the most significant populist movement of the left since the 1930s. On Wall Street, a decade happened in just a few weeks, and a small activist action exploded into an ever-growing movement that the mainstream media and ruling-class establishment eventually and reluctantly decided it could no longer ignore.

Ignoring it didn’t work, and neither did a rapid police attempt to supress it with violence. Every attempt to silence and repress the Occupy Wall Street movement – including mass arrests and rioting cops pepper-spraying young girls – merely led to new waves of support. More and more workers from all kinds of backgrounds – nurses, sacked cleaners, doctors, serving and former soldiers, unemployed graduates, poor youth from the city’s most impoverished districts, even sympathetic Wall Street traders – have poured into New York’s financial district to see what’s happening, listen to talks, take part in democratically organised general assemblies to plan actions and decide upon demands (if any), and generally build solidarity, communication, and mutual aid. (For informative news reports, see the Democracy Now channel at www.democracynow.org.) The example in Wall Street soon spread throughout the country, and there are now copycat occupations in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, and many others, and attempts to repeat the success are spreading around the world, soon to arrive in London and the rest of Britain.     

With what result? Well, of course, no one but fake Cassandras and Nostradamuses know. It may be that the whole thing will have fizzled out before this journal hits your doorstep. Or perhaps the movement will turn lamely reformist and be bought off. Perhaps, like the civil rights movement, it will prove not at all lame, even if reformist, and win some essential gains for our class. Or perhaps even, if some of the more radical demands and ideas put up on the Occupy movement’s websites become reality, we will see a genuine anti-capitalist movement develop worldwide. These are exciting times.

The key, of course, will be whether the protest movement can involve the rest of the working class and organise to take democratic control of the whole of social life, including winning control of  the powers of government. With the potential for the Occupy movement spreading to this country and a nationwide day of action, including strikes, on 30 November, organised by the TUC, these are days of precious opportunity for the working class in Britain. It’s time, as the poet Shelley once put it, to rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number. We have a life to win.
STUART WATKINS