'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists 

Leaving aside the fact that I include anarchists among socialists, Pham Binh has written a provocative, insightful evaluation of Occupy from a Marxist perspective. Here is the introductory paragraph:

Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The socialist left has not begun to think through these big picture implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.

The following is an attempt to understand Occupy, review the socialist response, and draw some practical conclusions aimed at helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.

Please visit The Unrepentent Marxist and read it in its entirety, as Binh addresses many of the practical issues that have emerged since the movement began.

If anything, Binh may have underestimated the extent to which the old divisions among socialists, between anarchists, Marxists and social democrats, have already begun to wither away. For example, consider my post yesterday about my experience during the West Coast port blockade in this light. Given the prominent role of young people and poor people in the movement, it is not surprising that they are less confined by ideological doctrine, and more influenced by their personal experiences. Hence, an analysis based upon considering Marxists (which is what I believe he really means by use of the term socialist left) and anarchists mutually exclusive, competing left perspectives is dubious. Even so, his practical insights into the operation of the movement are essential to forming an understanding of it.

Binh advocates for the creation of a revolutionary party as a means of carrying the struggle forward. Unfortunately, to the extent that such a proposal originates among Marxists, and is expressed by reference to Marxist language and experience, it is probably likely to be dismissed. But, if presented as a means of coordinating the actions of semi-autonomous groups nationally, centered around an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective, it might get a better reception. Clearly, the proposal for a Joint Committee of Revolutionary Socialists put forward by Socialist Viewpoint is problematic, especially as the proponents seem oblivious to the essential role of anti-authoritarians within the movement. But it does provide a good starting point for discussion of both ideological and practical issues. For example, would increased centralization assist the movement or impair it? Along these lines, recall that the adoption of Leninist forms of organization in both the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers were turned against them with success by law enforcement. Furthermore, it also had the practical effect of suppressing debate that might have allowed both to survive. So, the problem becomes, how does the movement organize itself effectively while retaining much of the openness and spontaneity that has been so integral to its success?

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