“Occupy Wall Street”: A New Socialist Movement In the Making?

15 Oct
Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall St protesters in Washington Square Park, New York

The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement has resonated around the world. Its significance, in the middle of an economic/financial crisis that the head of the Bank Of England, Mervyn King, says may be the worst ever in the history of capitalism, could be enormous. Unlike some of the ‘anti-capitalist’ and ‘anti-globalisation’ movements that have sprung up and died down over the past couple of decades, this is directly linked to a sense of failure of capitalism itself. It is also intimately linked to working class discontent and rage at the conspicuous enrichment of the super-rich continuing through an enormous decline in working class living standards, unprecedented since the 1920s.

This at last offers up the opportunity for the re-emergence of a mass-based left. Capitalist failure is obvious to many millions today. It is also what we on the Marxist left are in business to lead humanity out of. Ultimately, we have the arguments why capitalism is not a rational system that maximises the productive potential of humanity and uses that potential in a rational and humane way, but rather an obsolete method of organising social production.

Capitalism played a progressive role in earlier times in industrialising important parts of the world and creating the material basis of an advanced human civilisation freed from blind subjection to uncontrolled natural forces. But at the same time, having outlived that progressive role, through its deep social, economic and ultimately political contradictions, it threatens to destroy the fruits of that earlier progressive development. Economic collapse, destruction of the environment to the extent that life on this planet is under threat in the longer term, the threat of future world wars waged with nuclear weapons, all are part of the capitalist system and eloquent arguments as to why it needs to be superseded. But to be replaced by what?

There is only one thing that can supersede capitalism in a progressive sense. That is democratic control and management of the world economy. Major productive forces cannot be allowed to be the private property of individuals or private corporate bodies that are in fact collectives of owners of productive forces that control the lives of all of us in practice. These productive resources must be controlled by all of us – equally and democratically. The economy must be planned democratically, for the benefit of all. Decisions as to what is to be produced must be taken rationally, by accountable bodies elected by the mass of the people affected by those decisions, and recallable by them if they mess things up. Living standards cannot and must not be limited by the ability to pay in a society where inequality has never been greater.

Decent living standards must be available to all that contribute to society. And anyone who is able to work must do so – in decent jobs with decent pay and./or benefits in kind to reward their work. Those who are unable to work through disability must be looked after and have full social and economic equality. If there are no jobs in existence for people right now, they must be created, either through public works or by sharing out available work among all potential workers with no loss of pay. The crippling debts, both for ordinary working people and for whole nations, that are the result of the capitalist financial crisis must be cancelled, and those who have been profiteering from them have their wealth confiscated and reduced to the level of the 99%. Basic social and economic equality can only be achieved by taking all the large-scale industrial resources out of the hands of the big capitalist elite.

With small capital more flexibility is needed, we cannot simply abolish business in a rigid and punitive manner. But we can modify it to stop the reproduction of profiteering and the regeneration of a new big capitalist class We can use democratic measures such as enhanced workers rights, workers control, the encouragement of elected workers representative with real power over management, and the conversion of smaller companies into cooperatives, to modify the small business sector to the point where it mutates into something very different, a grass-roots cooperative socialism.

This could be envisaged only in the context of the abolition of big capital as an economic and political force, which would create a massively different relationship of forces and environment when addressing questions involving small-scale enterprises. But the thrust of this is clear, the domination of big capital over everyone’s lives, the system of capitalism, rule by big capital where the political system, though formally democratic is in fact bought and paid for by big capital, has to be torn up by the roots and replaced by real popular control and democracy.

And this cannot be done in one country, on a local basis. That is what is good about the spreading of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The capitalist press calls it ‘copycat protests’. Good! We need an international movement against capitalism, attempting to build some isolated fortress of socialism while capitalism remains intact in the rest of the world will fail. Globalisation is a good thing, but in its capitalist form it has been a curse allowing capital to move across borders whereas workers are hounded and impoverished when they stay in their own countries and persecuted, shunned, treated as outlaws, often brutally abused and sometimes even murdered when they try to migrate for a better life.

We need to turn the tables on this, we need to bind the capitalists hand-and-foot so that they cannot move their property, obtained through exploitation and robbery, anywhere without workers’ permission, but workers have the right to move anywhere they like in pursuit of a better life. Yes to workers control over all capital movement, and smash all immigration restrictions on workers! For socialist globalisation and a world citizenship of a socialist world!


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One response to ““Occupy Wall Street”: A New Socialist Movement In the Making?

  1. Ross Wolfe

    October 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Occupy Wall Street has so far been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. The protestors have successfully stood their ground against Bloomberg’s attempt to evict them.

    But this victory can by no means considered final. Rather, it tasks us with the question: “Where do we go from here?”

    If this successful moment of resistance against the coercion of the State is to signal a turning-point for this movement, it must now address the more serious political problems that confront it. It is crucial that the participants in these demonstrations ask themselves where they stand in history, and more adequately conceptualize the problem of capitalist society. This requires thorough reflection and unsentimental self-criticism.

    One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and the “occupations” in other cities is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Another problem pervasive amongst OWS demonstrators is a general lack of historical consciousness. Not only are they almost completely unaware of past revolutionary movements, but their thinking has become so enslaved to the conditions of the present that they can no longer imagine a society fundamentally different from our own. Instead of liberation and emancipation, all they offer is the vague notion of “resistance” or “subversion.”

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. To this point, most of the protests have only expressed a sort of intuitive discontent with the status quo. In order to get a better sense of what they are up against, they must develop a more adequate understanding of the prevailing social order. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What it Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies


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