The Manifesto of the Occupy Movement
Written by William Shaub, Contributing Writer
The revolutionary potential of workers, according to Marx, is directly correlated with the growth of the capitalist class that concentrates power and wealth in a political economy that, by definition, abides by the fundamental economic law of limited resources. He famously argues that culmination of miserable human conditions, an exceedingly massive proletariat, and the radicalization of this population is a formula created by the iron laws of capitalist history itself, leaving the bourgeoisie on the losing side of a class war that it formerly waged with virtually little opposition. Thus, to be ready for a revolution that becomes “permanent”, Marx argues that “the association of the proletarians” must “progress sufficiently far—not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world.”
These remarks were central to Marx’s Address to the Communist League, and effectively describe the first significant challenge that a socialist revolution consistent with Marx’s values would face. Given the natural tendencies of the ruling class, which is bound to expand its economic reach in both law and principle, corporate mercantilism (the modern version of capitalism) sponsors the worldview “nations are merely production-shops; man is a machine consuming and producing… economic laws blindly rule the world.” Marx’s criticism of the classical liberal economists remains one of the best descriptions of right-wing ideology that we possess. Understanding it is key to conceptualizing what the modern pitfalls for revolution look like in the 21st century.
It is certainly not far-fetched to look at the future of the Occupy movement and wonder if Luxemburg’s analysis holds value.
Without a selfless peasantry and the support of sympathetic populations who have also experienced exploitation, it may in fact be impossible to achieve a “permanent revolution,” to borrow a term from Trotsky (the ultimate opportunist). The expansion of financial prowess and therefore power to control social relations requires broad solidarity across borders, given the strength of concentrated wealth and decision-making capacity.
Another critical aspect of the challenge that capitalist expansion poses to revolution is the use of violence by the elite organizations to crush radicalization and egalitarian changes to political economy, both domestically and abroad. With the absence of concentrated capital and consolidation of decision-making power, both of which the economic elites possess, popular movements and organizations lack a serious defense to the violence that could destroy them. This reinforces the importance of popular support and sympathy towards the revolution, which must include international solidarity, and also implies that a revolution simply cannot be achieved by a radicalized proletariat acting alone. Even an armed insurrection by the workers cannot sustain itself against “the height of proletarian exploitation,” to quote the early Marx, given the power of the capitalist class at such a moment.
Finally, the revolution faces what can be described as a parasitic internal threat, namely, that its own authoritarian streaks form a vanguard in the name of socialist, democratic, or necessary representation. Not only can the vanguard not sustain itself at the peak of capitalist exploitation by violent means (as formerly established), but may use this excuse to become the equivalent of a new bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the temptation to process a more efficient (faster) revolution is itself a credible threat towards a permanent revolution.
The SEIU to MoveOn.org, are preparing a movement to fuse with Occupy called The 99% Spring.
It is certainly not far-fetched to look at the future of the Occupy movement and wonder if Luxemburg’s analysis holds value. Could the movement be ‘hijacked’ by a vanguard; does Occupy also have a tendency towards the centralization of its decision-making capabilities? The historical record exclaims “yes,” but Occupy’s actions—from the general assemblies to the free communities it sponsors—say “no.” But some on the left are questioning Occupy’s involvement with the Democratic Party, or perhaps more aptly, the Democratic Party’s involvement with Occupy.
Establishment liberal organizations, from the SEIU to MoveOn.org, are preparing a movement to fuse with Occupy called The 99% Spring. According to MoveOn’s Ilyse Hogue writing in The Nation, “the challenge is to use the fertile ground left by the transformed earth to foster a multitude of new growth.” The transformed earth is what Occupy created, while the new growth is what the 99% Spring is supposed to spark. The parallel to Luxemburg’s warning thus becomes abundantly clear, be it correct or not. Occupy is about to receive its marching orders—not from a single leader or a party, but by the establishment liberal organizers. Specifically what the marching orders are is irrelevant, because centralization of authority is displacement of participatory power, and is antithetical to democratic values.
But one should be careful, because as always, placing judgment is too easy in this situation. As Hogue points out, “Occupy is dead,” meaning it lacks resources, manpower, organizational skills, and faces an abundance of technical questions with regards to its structure. It needs help, in some shape or form. But have we learned from the past? Is it not too easy (and too damning) to overlook process, and to overlook who exactly is providing the help?
In moments of dire need, of destitution, both individuals and movements subordinate themselves to external authority, which covertly justifies itself in the name of providing help.
Within such a framework, which we know is based in reality given the example before our eyes, lies a classic case of conflicting values. Occupy as a movement can subordinate to power and sustain itself, or “die” as a result of technical problems and remain consistently democratic in process. If only this were unprecedented.
Even in the age of Obama, some things never change.
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