Question of the Day.

Is the global “Occupy” movement a genuine grassroots mobilisation with revolutionary potential or is it bound to fizzle out, be coopted, voluntarily moderate its demands or splinter into myriad fringe groups without promoting substantive change in the socio-economic status quo?

Interested readers are invited to share their views.

24 thoughts on “Question of the Day.

  1. I get part of the message but wonder what the end game actually looks like.

    In the dom post one is quoted as saying – “We’ll be here for as long as it takes,” said Smith. “There’s no point in leaving if nothing’s achieved.”

    And I thought – “What is “it”?” & “What does “achieved” look like?”

  2. Talking to others about it, one problem people have with the movement is that the protestors claim “they are the 99%”, what right do they have to speak for the 99%?
    If the movement acts up or something drastic happens (riots maybe) I think this feeling will intensify.
    Most people will complain about the recession and GFC etc but are still more than happy with the status quo.
    Also, they need to get their message across better, it’s unclear what they want. I saw someone with a sign saying “Protest Everything.”
    In short it will fizzle out, it doesn’t have the support it needs or clear intentions.

  3. My thoughts are similar to Socrates’ above. A general grassroots mobilisation with revolutionary potential has to have some aim it’s trying to achieve. Getting lots of people in one place on the basis that you all hate the guys who brought us the GFC is one thing, but it’s no basis for achieving anything concrete. I presume once they all figure out that no two of them agree on what they’re there to do, it’ll fizzle out.

  4. I agree with Socrates and PM. There was some good commentary somewhere from one of the Egyptian protest leaders saying that even though the various factions in Tahrir Square wanted completely different things long term they all agreed that Mubarak needed to go.

    It’s hard to see how any movement can achieve its goals if it can’t agree on what they are.

  5. I expect, as long as it remains peaceful, it’ll be partially co-opted by both major parties. At the recent Memorial, Obama said something along the lines of, Martin Luther King Jr. would have approved of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And according to part of an interview I heard today, Republicans have changed tact: from calling the movement a “mob” to trying to harness the unemployment frustrations (et al) and blame Obama’s economic policies.

    That’s not to say I think there’ll be partial success from the movement (which is probably impossible anyway – how would you measure the success of a movement that doesn’t really have any concrete demands?) Just that the rhetoric will be picked up and used for votes.

  6. Tom C: I was thinking more of the global mobilisations rather than in the US, specifically (admitting that it all strarted with the Wall Street occupation).

    Hugh: Thanks for the link, it is excellent.

    As I ponder the movement I cannot help but think of the utility of tactical alliances in wars of maneuver against a common enemy, but also in the need for a strategic alliance in order to implement the revolutionary project once the old regime is deposed (Libya might be a recent example in this regard, although I am not convinced of the NTC’s revolutionary credentials). Mao famously wrote about the United Front being divided into tactical allies, strategic allies and strategic enemies, and of course in “What is to be Done” Lenin noted the need for a revolutionary vanguard to impose discipline and coherent revolutionary praxis on the revolting mobs in order for the conquest of state power to be successful.

    But all of this was focused on winning an armed revolution and imposing by force a revolutionary agenda. I am not sure these theories apply to a peaceful war of position-focused (so far) movement such as the “Occupy” crowd. In NZ it appears to have little support and seem to be using the Occupy umbrella for a variety of the usual Left causes (anti-imperialism, etc.) without a programmatic centre of gravity.

  7. From a New Zealand perspective I think that it is going nowhere we haven’t had the dislocation that has happened in the US and the austerity measures coming into force Europe.

    I am less inclined to dismiss it particularly in Europe where I suspect the goal is to stop the imposing of said austerity measures. Could some European countries revert to ” benevolent authoritarian ” political past, I would bet against it but I wouldn’t be risking my life savings.

    Isn’t Russia an interesting political model ?

    As to America I haven’t got a clue. I dismissed the Tea Party as an overnight phenomena and that I was so (unhappily ) wrong tempers my reluctance to predict what might happen in America.

  8. “Alienation, False Consciousness, Passive Revolution and Reformism” (Great title, no sarcasm) was possibly a theoretical lunge too far for some of the usual counterpunching commenters here.

    One can fairly ask where Occupy is going to go; the involvement of younger people, internationalism and publicised consciousness about finance capital etc. so far has to be considered. The use of proper political terms remains important, on RNZ today a published proponent of the positive effects of ‘peer pressure’ gaily chuckled about “revolution” in respect to Egypt.

    In my view Lenin was not wrong about the need for a vanguard, the small left sects of many countries despite their obvious internecine clashes and negations have kept the hard core marxist ideological flame flickering. Class consciousness and analysis. If the Occupy movement is to persist it will inevitably include those of a materialist philosophy along with the “anything goes“ people. The ‘end of history’ is not here yet.

    Finally I would express solidarity for the Tudeh, Indonesian and many other attacked parties over time.

  9. I checked out some images of Occupy Queen Street (or whatever it’s called) and couldn’t find a single banner that wasn’t about the environment or indigenous rights issues.

    It seems that the NZ left remains extremely disinterested in economics.

  10. The Ross Wolfe link is interesting. I’m someone who prefers Gandhi to Lenin (while acknowledging the limitations of Gandhi’s approaches) and would choose genuine piecemeal reform toward democratic socialism over the prospect of revolution in a heartbeat; bear that in mind or not as you wish as I kvetch.

    An international revolution remains so far beyond the horizon that it wouldn’t be worth plotting for, even if the occupiers had the means and the stomach for it. A best-case scenario for the anti-capitalists would be the establishment of self-sustaining non-capitalist zones. Obviously the currently occupied spaces are extremely far from self-sustaining (I get requests for power strips and coffee). But a gradualist approach seems more likely to succeed than a declaration of independence and the assertion of state power that would follow.

    To progress in this way would require more radicalisation than is currently apparent, and much greater disruption to the functioning of capital than has happened so far. Strikes would be a natural progression. The support of labour movements is crucial, but do they have the strength and the inclination to get huge numbers to picket?

    Besides work, the other major interest of those supporting the occupiers (except in New Zealand, New Zealand is weird) is debt. Inasmuch as there is a class struggle here, the classes are debtors and creditors. The most tempting avenues for the disruption of capital are along these lines. There’s already a campaign to take money out of the large banks and put it into credit unions. It’s not clear how to escalate this into something that would cause real harm to capitalism, like organised mass default, but that seems to be the route that would have to be taken.

  11. The global “Occupy” movement is a genuine grassroots mobilisation with revolutionary potential that is bound to fizzle out, be coopted, voluntarily moderate its demands and splinter into myriad fringe groups without promoting substantive change in the socio-economic status quo.

  12. Thanks for sharing my link on here, Phil.

    Though Brad Luen identifies more as a Gandhian, I actually agree with him that an international revolution lies “far beyond the horizon.” The point is to problematize that fact. Why is it that international revolution and the realization of a new, emancipated society seem so unimaginable?

    A century ago, there was an organized international anti-capitalist Marxist Left. The groups and Social-Democratic parties that coalesced around the program of the Second International were engaged on a continuous basis in the politics of the different nations in which they operated, in the most advanced capitalist countries of the world. Yet the crisis came in 1917 and the flames of revolution failed to fan to Europe proper.

    The point, to me, is to reconstitute such an international Left once again, founded upon a comprehensive critique of the present social order and an understanding of our own moment in history. OWS represents, at best, an outpouring of popular anti-capitalist sentiment for the first time since 1968. This is very significant. But capitalism can produce as many crises as it wants, at cataclysmically as it wants, and as long as there is no Left pointing the way toward an alternative society, capitalism will reproduce its own relations. Until humanity self-consciously organizes its own form of society, it will continue to be made by history rather than make its own history.

  13. Rosswolfe – “Another possibility, unlikely though it may be, is that Obama might promise all these things and then actually deliver them in his second term in office.”


    Obama is going to be a one term president. Even his greatest supporters have now seen through his empty words.

    Seriously now.
    “Another related fallacy I have noticed among many of the Wall Street occupiers is their rather bizarre fascination of the notion of “direct democracy.”

    For them, direct democracy is the undistilled expression of what Rousseau would have called the general will, bypassing the republican practicalities of representation in favor of the mass caucus…

    … It might allow individuals to freely start up clubs or “workshop groups” by acting on their own initiative, but the nearly endless proliferation of such groups only adds to the confusion and the unstructured free-for-all of the protests.”

    The writer reveals the instinctive desire for fascist control prevalent among so many on the left. They dont like capitalist market democracy because they do not feel they are in control and would prefer to substitute it for something in which they and their peers control.

    This protest movement will fail because it is a symptom of a developed society that has met all of its basic needs and is desperately seeking something more abstract. It has nothing in common with your South American experience or the Prague or Arab Spring but as the writer says it has much in common with the 60’s.

    The reality as I have said here before is that the natural path is towards more self determination and transparency. Stopping large corporate and political elites from controlling the destiny of the masses can only be achieved through more capitalism rather than less. The European project was not set up for the benefit of the masses, it was set up to allow the elite to participate on the global stage.

    Capitalism is self determination. Billions of individuals making an infinite number of freely made decisions. Just like those protestors going to Starbucks. It is monopolies that corruptly limit that self determination whether they are large corporates, unions or political elites paying lip service to democracy.

  14. spam alert, was my third in a short period of time.

    Ross – actually it was hugh that shared your link. my comment is slightly more critical

  15. Thanks Ross, for stopping by. Your post (linked by Hugh) is excellent, and I share your view that a “New Internationalism” is needed to channel progressive discontent into a (peaceful) revolutionary agenda for change. Keep up the good work.

  16. I think Ross that what most impressed me about your piece was your identifying that the protestors are not really organising against capitalism per se, simply against a particular form of capitalism. They don’t want to overturn the basic economic setup of society, they just want to return to the 1950s when capitalism was intact but was delivering its dividends more evenly.

    That’s not to say that they’ll always think this, but it is hard to imagine an even slightly plausible chain of events that would get them there. Still, there is some hope – most major revolutionary upheavals, be they 1968 or 1917 or 1848 or 1789, look slightly unlikely from retrospect.

  17. Sorry for the mistake, Phil. I got confused by the anonymous “star” icons.

    Thanks again, Pablo and Hugh.

    I agree, Hugh, that a revolutionary upheaval on the scale of 1917, 1848, or 1789 is extremely unlikely. Even a repeat of 1968 hardly seems possible. The thing I am most hopeful about with this sudden resurgence of popular anti-capitalist consciousness is that it might lead to a more permanent radicalization of some of the participants’ politics.

  18. I agree with Ross that an upheaval on the scale of 1917, 1848 or 1789 is unlikely to result from the #Occupy movement itself. But what I do hope, as Ross has also suggested it might, is that it does lead to further radicalisation among its participants. The current economic crisis has a long way to go yet; the more interesting question, for me, is what the #Occupy movement may act as a catalyst for in the longer term future.

    And I would also just like to note that, as far removed from the global crisis as we are here in New Zealand, and as (relatively) unscathed by its effects as we are, we may have a tendency to underestimate the importance of the events playing out right now on the global stage. While I agree that what is happening in the United States is not (yet) a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary situation, I do think we ignore the Greek situation, and the I think genuinely revolutionary potential it represents, to our detriment.

  19. one thing that’s perhaps missing from this discussion is the fact that the demands of the #Occupy movement, as inchoate and ill-formulated as they may be at the moment, are absolutely irreconcilable with the capitalist system itself, or at the very, very least with the neoliberal iteration of it. This is perhaps what makes me most hopeful about the movement, or at least its legacy — I may have to eat my words on this one, but I hardly see the current US administration, hell-bent as it is on dismantling what remains of the New Deal, being able to co-opt #Occupy as the Tea Party was co-opted.

    Broadly speaking, capitalism at the moment is in the throes of a crisis brought on by its inability to expand through the accustomed channels of accumulation of the last three decades. The only choice left open at the moment is to open up every conceivable remaining space for the absorption of capital, in a world in which, thanks to environmental crisis and resource shortages, is less able than ever to absorb that capital. More so than in any crisis since the Great Depression, the survival of the system itself is at stake in this crisis. Capital has no choice but to seek ever-increasing privatisation of the commons, with all the disruption and violence that entails, from clearing Indian slum dwellers from their shacks to putting a price on the water people need to survive to slashing social programmes and turning their remnants over to private companies to leech yet more wealth from ordinary people.

    In these circumstances, a return to the fifties and the social compact of the post-war boom, all accomplished through mainstream electoral politics, seems less likely than ever. The one ray of hope in this grim future is that movements like #Occupy may give rise to future mobilisations able to put up some serious resistance. In this light, concerns about the strategic and tactical perspectives and goals, or lack thereof, of the #Occupy movement seem rather misplaced. I’m more or less resigned to the immediate movement fizzling out in the cold of the Northern winter, but the material conditions that gave birth to it are unlikely to go away, and, if I may be permitted some optimism, people will be more likely after #Occupy to realise this fact and act on it.

  20. In every leftist protest in which I participated there was a moment wen the initially participatory, consensual decision-making model had to decide if the protest group would adopt a pragmatic or pure strategy. It generally occurred when some opponent or the target wanted to negotiate our demands. On one hand, it seemed like a victory, until we confronted the resentments caused when we nominated a person or persons to do the negotiations. One protest fell apart completely, and two others, including an anti-apartheid South Africa divestment protest succeeded.

    For the record, and fr what it’s worth, here’s what I recommended to an Occupy Rockford diarist at Daily Kos about media strategy:

    Actually, I think the Occupy movement in the US should push for constitutional amendments, and in their countries, similar measures, on a few well-targeted topics, like campaign finance and subsidies, and perhaps even the question of representation at the Federal level, like the Progressives of the early 20th Century.

  21. The middle class kids of the NZ branch of occupy wall street will see their movement fizzle out, unless they provoke a violent government attack on themselves – and I doubt they have the courage to do what it takes to invite that assault.

    Ultimately opposition to capitalism can only make headway by violence. The initiation of this violence can be two way, from either the actions of the crowd, or by an authoritarian reaction leading to a police riot on protesters. The US movement seems to be the product of a large segment of marginalised middle class people, one seeing its opportunities squeezed and its standard of living dropping enough to become radicalised to a degree where enough people have nothing to lose by challenging state power – and accepting the challenge of the possibility of this “violence exchange” occuring. In this country, the safety valve of Australia means our white and blue collar middle class is not sufficiently threatened by loss of social and economic status to abandon its current “two New Zealand’s” paradigm ((“real” and “deserving”, New Zealanders who look and act like them vs. the rest) and therefore does not yet feel as a class that it needs to challenge the status quo, and the roughly 20-30% of New Zealanders who make up the real poor and working poor are still not desperate (or perhaps organised) enough to challenge the status quo on the streets.

    There remains, just perhaps, the very faint possibility of the emergence of a middle class radicalism from this particular “Occupy” movement here (and maybe in the USA as well), an “astro-turf” movement similar to Germany’s Red Army Faction using its very marginalisation as justification for extreme acts of anti-capitalist and political violence (whether we like or not, such movements seem to be reasonably effective in striking fear into the hearts of the targeted elites and forcing reforms that otherwise would not have occurred). The Urewera radicals seem to have contained an element of just this sort of nascent urban middle class radicalism.

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