Occupy Everything Goes Proletarian: Revolutionary Strategy, the Occupy Movement and the General Strike

We On a World Tour

The occupy movement which started in North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, followed by Wisconsin, and blending with popular and labor movements in Southern Europe and the UK, has spread to the US with a vengeance.

In typical US fashion, the Occupy protest has remained a vague vision, a confused critique, and a couple catchy slogans. Despite its shortcomings the movement hits the populace in the solar plexus with the truth.

How can something come so true, yet be so cloudy?

Our occupation in Oakland has become a focal point for the global movement, gaining solidarity from Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Most recently, global solidarity has been expressed in the form of calls for strikes and renewed protest in solidarity with our decision to have a general strike November 2nd here in the Bay Area where we have a fighting spirit that we are proud to share with sisters and brothers across the country.

What are we fighting for? How do we clarify what we hold to be true?

For years, revolutionaries have been prodding at the US populace to wake up, stop drinking the Bush-Obama kool-aid, and criticize capitalism. We have stood up against the Wars, fought back against the immigration laws, rejected budget cuts, and resisted racist police murder.

Each of these movements has brought together a  mass of people that seems to dissipate almost as quickly as it appeared. But enough folks stuck around through each cycle of struggle to give hope that conditions were ripening for a bigger breakthrough in the near future. Each of these struggles has been like an isolated dot on a page. Now the struggles are coming together, dots are being connected and so is a growing mass of people. All these struggles of the past decade have overlapped a little, and now they are coming together as one big picture in a movement that is changing shape every day.

“What do they really want?”

In Oakland, a movement has been growing to fight school closures. The heartbreaking threat of 5 elementary school closings drew a mass of about 500 people to the most recent Oakland Unified School District board meeting. Saving schools is a local issue that helps to give the occupy movement something to actually fight for – a concrete demand. Concrete demands are necessary because we have to know what we are fighting for, not just what we reject. We have to be able to explain to the rest of the working class why they should join us.

Wherever demands have materialized throughout the 3 or 4 years of the economic crisis, they have involved demands on the state to intervene on behalf of the working class in one way or another. We have been fighting to save the services provided by the state.

But to an advanced layer of the movement, mostly based in higher education sector and connected to socialist or anarchist networks and organizations, slogans such as “save our schools” and “tax the rich” do not suffice. These militants with more advanced, anti-capitalist politics are saying that this system is totally broken and that we need to build an entirely new system of some kind of socialism.

The point where the need for immediate next steps, clear articulations of the goals of the movement, and tactical precision, meets ideological values and anti-capitalist logics has been the limit-point of the movement. The potential of a movement is determined by the limit of what the masses of people in struggle can imagine. Advanced militants of a movement usually have the most far-reaching imagination, and it is their role to open the creative vision of the working class.

The ruling class is always trying to chop our imagination to just the next day, the next month, at most the next year, all while erasing history and the working class’s consciousness of it. Capital chops our calendar off at the next cycle of paychecks and bills. Capitalist time is scarce and bitter. Marxism integrates the past into the future by showing materially how older social forms gave birth to the existing ones, and how the existing social form will give birth to a future one. Elements of the past social forms persist in the present, as do elements of the society of the future.

The Hydra Grows New Heads

Key questions for our movement today can be approached from the point of view of past versus future. One theme that has been used a lot is the comparison of our current situation with that of the 1930s Great Depression. The past injects itself into the present discourse not just as a reference point for what a crisis looks like, but also as offering a menu of solutions to crisis. Present-day demands by organizations tied to the Democratic Party include a government jobs program, which was the centerpiece of a Move-On.org march that was organized early on to end at Oakland Occupy. This solution is drawn directly from FDR’s New Deal, a relationship to the past that mirrors calls for defense of the public sector as a whole, which is a product of the New Deal and its successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. We should keep in mind that the New Deal jobs programs didn’t do much at all to alleviate the depression. It was hundreds of billions of dollars in tank, ship, bomb, and plane production that ended the depression.  Not only is war a disgusting solution for economic crisis, but today it isn’t even on the menu for leaders of the capitalist system looking to solve the economic crisis. The Iraq and Afghan wars have gone on for a decade, costing trillions, and the economy is still getting worse.

The situation of crisis in the 1930s through the mid-1940s gave birth to a higher stage of capitalist development. The US military, the dollar, and the whole form of multi-national corporations emerged out of WWII to engage a whole new cycle of capitalist development spurred by private enterprise with the support of a state that was stronger than ever. The main role of the state became to create the conditions that supported the expansion of capitalist enterprise, reproducing everything they needed to thrive. Some of these things appeared to be good for the working class, such as free education, unemployment benefits and public housing and welfare for the poor. An important part that the state played in reproducing the conditions for capitalist development was the integration of the working class, the breaking down of borders between nations, genders, and races. De-segregation and affirmative action began as issues in the workplace, where capitalists replaced white men with black men, and women both black and white, during the 30s and 40s. Integrating the workplace was good for women and blacks, because they had access to decent wages like they never had before, but capitalists were still able to pay them less than the white men who preceded them, and thus were able to keep more money for themselves as profits. Later on, immigrants from Latin America would largely take the place of Black workers in agricultural and domestic work with many of the same effects.

But just because these things made life under capitalism more tolerable for many workers in the US, did this mean that they were solutions to the crisis of capitalism? NO! Every decade that went by, the rate of profit was less and less, although capitalists still made big profits, and these profits still went up and up, they went up at a slower pace than they did before. Also, these profits were re-invested less and less in real production, and more and more in financial assets. By the time the mid 1970s came around, there was a surplus of labor and the layoffs began. Black workers were the first victims of the shrinking labor market, losing jobs in factories and distribution that they fought hard for less than a generation before. As the ranks of unemployed black people swelled in the 80s, attacks on benefits for the unemployed and welfare came up. In 1978, California passed Proposition 13, which drastically cut the taxes paid  by mostly suburban homeowners in order to defund social services that largely inner city residents depended upon.

This was the beginning of what came to be called the Tax Revolt that defined the core of the Conservative program ever since. This backlash against the Civil Rights movement lasted 30 years. The Occupy movement marks the end of the hegemony of that backlash. On this point, we need to be clear. This is the end of an era, the beginning of a new one. Liberal leftists and Democrats are taking the end of the hegemony of the backlash to be an opening for a revival of that which preceded the backlash – the Great Society and the New Deal. They offer us an even more distant past as the program for overcoming the program of the recent past. They offer the New Deal part II and we can expect the Backlash part II in response. Fascism is what we will get, unless we succeed at stimulating the revolutionary socialist imagination of the working class. We must inspire confidence that a socialist future is more realistic than a New Deal part II.

Rooted in the decades-long economic crisis of capitalism (which started in the early 1970s) but extending toward a whole host of political crises ranging from War on Drugs to the wars in the Middle east, and incorporating a vast social crisis which includes racial re-segregation, reversal of gains for women’s rights such as abortion, and a sharp social antagonism around sexuality whose most concrete expression is in the form of the gay marriage struggle, the movement is still not capable of defining itself.

Method for the Madness / Skip the Pitfalls

Revolutionary Marxism is the key to unlocking the imagination of the working class. Raising up the seeds of the future (socialism) from the soil of the present (capitalism) is a matter of method: what method to stimulate the imaginations of millions of working class people, beyond the limits of mere reform, to the more realistic horizon of revolutionary society?

How we can defend some aspects of the state, and also claim that the whole thing needs to go? The tension in this question has at times propelled the movement forward, and at other times frustrated the movement and layers of people new to the struggle. If it is true, as Rosa Luxemburg claims in “The Mass Strike”, that what remains after each wave of mass upheaval is a “residue of consciousness” that fertilizes the soil of revolution as the flood waters of ancient rivers did the soil of the fields, our richest theoretical gains may derive from the tension between reform and revolution that inevitably arises in times of great crisis.

Rather than being two opposite sides, these aspects of the class struggle here in Oakland are complementary. We can argue they are complimentary because the best way to defend aspects of the state like public education or healthcare is with class struggle strategy and tactics backed by a dialectical materialist analysis of the historical forces in motion. Therefore, by winning these struggles, we build the confidence of the masses in the strategy and tactics that flow from the marxist method, and we develop a hegemonic praxis that is harder to co-opt. Either we win and build the strength and knowledge required to smash the state, or we lose and are forced to create these services ourselves by expropriating the productive property required to create them. Either way, if we defend them with a marxist praxis, that defense will complement the smashing of the state.

From here, we will have to figure out how to synthesize the (still) largely white of middle class origin Occupy movement with the mostly black and brown working class families who produce the value that holds society together. Moreover, we will have to build this synthesis in the context of a worldwide upheaval which is made up of (and in some cases led by) professionals and young people who hope to become professionals one day. We will have to find a way to include millions of people who live in contemporary capitalist world and whose livelihoods depend largely on the economic role of the state, defend the notion that a government bigger than just one group of specific interests should provide for the general well-being of the whole society. In other words we have to defend the concept of democracy, while insisting that democracy be used in the interest of the working class which is perhaps not 99% of the population but pretty close.

One reason we see such vague demands here in the US is that this movement still lacks a real working class base. In general the working class has needs that are not being met, but could and should be met. These needs include high quality free housing, healthcare, and education; good jobs that do positive things for the world and have good working conditions, short hours and high pay for every single person; freedom from state violence, particularly in the forms of police brutality and war. We need to organize on a class basis to make class wide demands that flow directly from these needs, and to ally with strategic sectors of the class that could win those demands, such as transportation workers, food production workers, sanitation workers, factory workers and so on. We can ally with them by preparing support for a strike of that sector and encouraging militant rank and file organization within that sector. By educating workers in strategic sectors about the history of international proletarian revolution and agitating them to take a leading role to win the demands of the class, we can forge a real working class base for this movement.

If the working class decides to draw the line in the sand and battle it out with the powers  that be in order to defend their needs, these needs will not only be defended – our dreams of a healthy society based on good work, good working conditions, and free high quality services will come true. No politician will give this to us. We have to build it ourselves.

Occupy Oakland showed how we can build a new society. Yes, it was a tent city in which a lot of people did not have jobs or responsibilities to their families, so they could be there 24/7, but look what they did! They fed 1000s of people, and lived basically in peace for  2 weeks in the middle of a city that is devastated by the capitalist system. This is a drop in the bucket. With a socialist revolution, we could make a system where billions of people have free housing, good jobs doing good things for the people, and a lot of leisure time to do art, learn about politics, make music, and do anything else that is peaceful and constructive.

We need to have confidence that the occupy movement has been just one stage in a growing working class upheaval that is reaching the point where we will have to get comfortable calling it a revolutionary situation. This is the direction that we are going, and we should all be filled with hope. Where does the society of the future have a foothold in the present? Is it in the public schools? Yes, in the sense that the response to the attacks on the public schools might assume the form of school occupations where parents, children, teachers, and members of the working class community determine their conditions, link up with other sections of society that in upheaval, and become bases of the class struggle. The class struggle can become a struggle by the working class to run away from its sectorally isolated jobs, its segregation between home, work, and community.

Build a Working Class Base to Occupy the Means of Production

A school-based struggle would bring elements of the future socialist society into the present, would allow the working class the opportunity to run its own life, govern itself, and be in unity with the class as a whole. Will such a struggle emerge out of calls to explicitly build socialism, or is it more likely to emerge out of defense of some element of the future that has already been won such as public spaces, democratic promises of equality for all? It is a mistake to argue that defending the state sector gives false illusions to the working class that the system can work because it is clear that it can’t work. It is even more clear that the democratic promise of equal education for all that came out of the Civil Rights movement of the past is a principle that will be central in socialism and that it seems as righteous to the working class today as it ever did. It is also a mistake to argue that the working class doesn’t care about lofty ideas like socialism and that we can only reform our way toward an incrementally brighter tomorrow. The working class will need to know why the past reforms have been snuffed out by the same capitalist system that put them in place.

By defending the gains of the past, such as public education, we can build the seeds of the society of the future, and build bases of power for the confrontation against the state apparatus. The movement already has to confront the  state in the form of riot police, but we will have much more serious battles ahead. Millions of workers will have to be armed not just with weapons, but with correct ideas. The unity between workers and revolutionaries will have to be total, founded upon a trust earned through struggle, respecting the correct ideas that workers already have about some things.

All politicians–from heads of state to the school board–stand naked in the contradictions of our times. The working class is demanding the simple dreams which capitalism cannot fulfill.  Things swing wild in the struggle as the future is pulled into the present at an ever quickening pace, yet is obstructed by the past that tries to hold things back. Revolutionaries can unleash the imagination of the working class, by showing real steps forward for real actions they can participate in and lead that represent their own immediate self-interest yet have positive repercussions for the power of the class as a whole.

What can revolutionaries do to maximize this moment? Demands, goals and visions are necessary. At every stage of revolutionary struggle, we need to see our next step as clearly as possible, and actually take those steps in action. Defending things like public education through direct action such as strikes and occupations lead seamlessly into new social relations that form the strategic basis of revolutionary power – integration of the class across sectors.

Revolutionaries fulfill many roles, play many functions, and often are following behind the masses merely interpreting their actions. But one key function is to illuminate the path ahead with a vision, demands, focus, and strategic next steps. When these resonate, are unified, and articulated by millions of people in more or less the same way, dreams become reality, ideas become material, fuel for the advancement of humanity to a higher stage.

Goals for the whole working class:

End the Wars

Free education, healthcare, housing for all

Positive work for all

Socialist revolution

Goals for the Oakland working class:

No school closures

Equal rights for immigrants, no deportations

Stop gang injunctions

6 responses to “Occupy Everything Goes Proletarian: Revolutionary Strategy, the Occupy Movement and the General Strike

  1. Thanks for raising important issues. This shows the ability to walk in struggle, and try to interpret what is happening, which are skills the left unfortunately often lacks. It has become especially clear that in this moment the majority of the left is as you say behind the masses merely interpreting what is happening, or worse trying to destroy, capture, or coopt these movements into movements to save capitalism. It’s refreshing to see discussion of our tasks framed within the context of a widening global crisis.

    Just a few points I want to raise:
    1. On demands- I support all the demands you all raise. I do think though that the lack of demands has been an asset of this movement in the context it happened. That is, it opened space for a strong current of newly politicized people to reject that this system can be fixed without some kind of revolution (even if understand in a cloudy manner). This is important because that movement objectively moved beyond the “make the rich pay for the crisis” which is limiting as Abraham Guillen discussed during the crisis in the 60s in Latin America.

    Pushing on capital, and trying to stake victories is positive for sure, but I think the system is showing cracks, and our primary responsibillity is not to use the institutionalized forms of reform and negotiation, but hammer on those cracks. I don’t think you’re arguing different necessarily, but it’s important to lay that out.

    2. Waves of struggle as fertilizer- I agree with this perspective most of the time. We should recognize though that in some instances, we may end up behind rather than ahead from recomposition, repression, and new regimes of capital. Maybe the class learns as a whole in the long run, but if the long run is a whole generation lost, it’s a high price to pay. We just need to be careful that we recognize in a crisis, there is huge amounts we could lose too if we don’t go far enough. The problem is that it’s impossible to predict standing in the center of the whirlwind, but a revolution made half-way could set up back 50 years as well.

    3. The racial composition of the working class- Maybe the phrasing here was loose?

    “From here, we will have to figure out how to synthesize the (still) largely white of middle class origin Occupy movement with the mostly black and brown working class families who produce the value that holds society together.”

    If not, I think it’s a mistake. A large section of the working class (and even the commodity-producing industrial proletariat) of the US is white. The working class is disproportionately constituted by people of color, but we need to recognize the likely 10s-100s of millions of white people are workers at the point of production in this country. Understanding the construction of race in the recompositions of class in the US is fundamental for our movement, and I get the feeling there’s more there you all could have written to clarify that we would all agree on. How race and class interact is extremely complex, and we should try to recognize how that functions without reducing class to racial stratifications (especially with different nationalities occupying ruling class positions increasingly, and annexed ruling classes from other nations like Cuba and other exiles). For example large sections of communities of color have been locked out all together from the workplace and employment for decades. Part of the struggles of previous decades have been around being held totally outside direct-value production, and against existing class compositions which held people of color out of major sections of production. We need more nuanced ideas to make sense of that beyond a proletariat of color & white classes outside value production.

  2. Here is an example of taking the Occupy movement to the working class in key industries like transportation: ie mass transit, shipping\trucking, ports etc; Workers who do have the power to shut down capitalists profits for a time and have the potential for being a revolutionary force to overthrow capitalism.
    The article below is part of the long march of 40 years of communist activity in Bay Area transit by members of Progressive Labor Party (plp) who work in that industry.
    Transit supplement to Challenge Desafio distributed among transit workers in Bay Area. (www. plp.org):

    We’re Tired of Cutbacks, While Wall St. Profits!
    Occupy Oakland has called for a General Strike,Wed. Nov 2nd 2011
    The same Financial Capitalists that attack Transit workers, Attack the 99%.

    Why should workers pay for a crisis caused by the banks? Why should we give up our pay and benefits when rich CEO’s are sitting on trillions of dollars ; a crisis they caused by economic & military wars for domination of world resources (oil), labor, & political control?
    What kind of system has millions unemployed, underemployed and evicted from their homes, medically uninsured while a set of ruling CEOs sit on trillions of dollars?

    Look how the Metropolitan Transportation Commission,(MTC), is subsidizing Hedge funds while attacking transit workers and passengers. The MTC controls Bay Area transit funding.(“public” dollars)
    The Hedge Funds Amerimar Enterprises,Philadelphia, Angelo, Gordon and Co, N. Y., made $33 Million in Profits from the Sale of the Post Office property at 390 Main St S.F. to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission These transactions allowed Public Tax dollars ( the Post Office Property)- and Fees paid by the Public- (MTC collected Bridge tolls) to go directly to profit Finance Capitalists

    Bay Area wide the MTC plans to cut service and jobs by $80 million/year by scrapping or easing work rules with part-time bus drivers to cut service.(Contra Costa Times 10\26\11)

    These Financial Capitalists are nothing but VULTURES on the carcass of PUBLIC SERVICES.
    How do workers and passengers get the power to take that $33 millions?

    The anarchy of capitalism! Jobs and Unemployment:
    MUNI has just reintroduced part time drivers in order the cut service. MUNI projects that they will cut the budget by almost $24 million by using part-time jobs to reduce service by 2014. Yet there are workers sitting on Civil Service lists, waiting for a full time MUNI job.
    AC has cut weekends, nights and mid day, raised the fare an had layoffs, closed the Richmond Bus Garage. Bart, Valley Transit, Golden Gate have all cut nights & early mornings. This trend, in miniature, is causing unemployment in every industry.

    This has a disproportional, racist impact on minority communities and those who work off hours. Since the 1960’s rebellions, Transit workers have come from these communities. Banks targeted these communities for vulture sub-prime loans.

    Corporate & financial SF & Silicon Valley control the MTC. They want rush hour service If your labor does not produce profits for them….your needs be damned.
    BUT…..they dont make the Trains and Busses move!!!!

    Union Elections at AC & MUNI are an opportunity to put Joint Strike Actions on the Agenda. We represent a Major power that moves the Bay Area. Take the Occupy movement to our jobs.

    Capitalism can’t be fixed. Unions, alone, can’t solve this. Contracts\Mous spell out how much the Capitalists STEAL from us. No contract can stop this robbery.
    Ultimately we need a revolution to get rid of capitalism.

    PLP produces Challenge Desafio Newspaper to help develop this movement. It presents building blocks for a real communist society which abolishes the wage system & produces for need.(desafio.challenge @gmail.com)

  3. Pingback: Roundup: Oakland General Strike and Beyond « Kloncke

  4. “Occupy Oakland showed how we can build a new society. Yes, it was a tent city in which a lot of people did not have jobs or responsibilities to their families, so they could be there 24/7, but look what they did! They fed 1000s of people, and lived basically in peace for 2 weeks in the middle of a city that is devastated by the capitalist system. This is a drop in the bucket. With a socialist revolution, we could make a system where billions of people have free housing, good jobs doing good things for the people, and a lot of leisure time to do art, learn about politics, make music, and do anything else that is peaceful and constructive.”

    Is the form of the general assembly (now widespread as part of the Occupy movement) something that could become universal enough to serve as a means of building alternative authority in workplaces, schools, and communities? This is a question that flows from the juxtaposition of these statements you have here — we have autonomous self-organization on the one hand and the solution to various problems thrown up by the system (in employment, neighborhoods or educational facilities) on the other.
    The Russians and Chinese had councils (“soviets” in Russian) that served a role in establishing popular power during their socialist revolutions.

    Going by this analogy would it make more sense to put building and spreading the growth of more General Assemblies throughout society, particularly among the proletariat but also on campuses, and making the issue of concrete demands secondary at this point, until the movement has spread to create these spaces for strong public contestation of power, among various class strata and in different social arenas? In the meantime, move to build up institutions that can provide support for the growing revolutionary movement and at the same time present concrete opposition to some of the phenomena you list as targeting.

  5. concise and well-said
    the media prefers to stereotype as kooks or ex-hippies…and hammers the “vague” aspect (the usual)
    but even here in the cowtown of the midwest, the protests serve to bring together people who would read this kind of blog, who otherwise would never have connected

  6. The armed struggle needs to be put into the frame of this movement because we cannot be in the mindset that armed revolution is okayfor those in third world countries but not us.

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