Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2011

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 3:28 pm

Guest post by Pham Binh

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists
By Pham Binh
December 14, 2011

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.

Occupy’s Class Character and Leadership
Occupy is more than a movement and less than a revolution. It is an uprising, an elemental and unpredictable outpouring of both rage and hope from the depths of the 99%.

Occupy is radically different from the mass movements that rocked American politics in the last decade or so: the immigrants’ rights movement that culminated on May 1, 2006 in the first national political strike since 1886, the Iraq anti-war movement of 2002-2003, and the global justice movement that began with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and ended on 9/11. All three were led by liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They sponsored the marches, obtained the permits, and selected who could and could not speak from the front of the rallies. Militant, illegal direction action tended to be the purview of adventurist Black Bloc elements or handfuls of very committed activists.

Compared to these three movements, the following differences stand out: Occupy is broader in terms of active participants and public support and, most importantly, is far more militant and defiant. Tens of thousands of people are willing to brave arrest and police brutality. The uprising was deliberately designed by its anarchist initiators to be an open-ended and all-inclusive process, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the failed conventional single-issue protest model. The “people’s mic,” invented to circumvent the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) ban on amplified sound, means that anyone can be heard by large numbers of people at any time.

One of the most important elements that makes Occupy an uprising and not merely a mass movement is its alleged leaderlessness. Of course as Marxists we know that every struggle requires leadership in some form, and Occupy is no exception. The leaders of Occupy are those who put their bodies on the line at the encampments and get deeply involved in the complex, Byzantine decision-making process Occupy uses known as “modified consensus.” Occupy’s leaders are those who make the proposals at planning meetings, working groups, and General Assemblies (GAs) that attract enough support to determine the uprising’s course of action.

The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.

Since Occupy is self-organizing and self-led by its most dedicated participants, attempts to make its decision-making process more accessible to those who are not willing or able to dedicate themselves to Occupy 24 hours a day, seven days a week will fall flat. “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!” is not just a chant, it is a way of life for Occupy’s de facto leadership.

This reality has affected the class character of encampment participants, who tend to be either what Karl Marx called lumpenproletariat (long-term homeless, hustlers, drug addicts, and others who have fallen through the cracks of the capitalist edifice) or highly educated (white) students, ex-students, and graduate students. The former joined the encampments not just to eat and sleep in a relatively safe place but also because they hope the uprising will win real, meaningful change. The latter tend to dominate Occupy’s convoluted decision-making process and what motivates them is identical to what motivates the lumpenproletarian elements: hope that Occupy will win real, meaningful change. Many of these people are saddled with tremendous amounts of personal debt, have worked two or three part-time jobs simultaneously, or were unable to find work in their field despite their expensive, extensive educations. They were destined to be secure petty bourgeois or well-paid white-collar workers before the ongoing fallout from the 2008 crisis claimed their futures and put their backs against the wall. This is the material reality underpinning the determination of Occupy participants to keep coming back despite repeated arrests, beatings, and setbacks. Their determination is the stuff revolutions are made of.

The advantage of Occupy’s structure and form is that the Democratic Party, liberal NGOs, and union leaders have been unable to co-opt the uprising before it exploded into over 1,000 American towns and cities and targeted President Obama. The disadvantage is that it limits Occupy geographically to places where authorities will tolerate encampments and sociologically to the least and most privileged sections of the population, to those who have no where else to go besides the encampments and to those who can afford to camp out for weeks at a time.

The undocumented immigrant who works 60 hours a week and the wage slave who works 40 hours a week will find it very difficult to shape Occupy’s decision-making process. Attempts to scrap Occupy’s existing structures and forms to make them more accessible to those other than full-time occupiers carry two inherent risks: 1) opening it up to forces that would love nothing more than to turn the uprising’s fighters into foot soldiers for Obama’s 2012 campaign and 2) diminishing the power wielded by Occupy’s most dedicated participants. In places where Occupy does not take the form of a permanent encampment its decision-making process can be even more diffuse and difficult to participate in.

OWS’s Birth and the Socialist Response
The socialist left did not cover OWS in its daily publications until after NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed cornered women on a sidewalk near Union Square on September 24. The Socialist Equality Party’s coverage on its World Socialist Web Site began on September 26, the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s (PSL) coverage in Liberation News began on September 27, the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) first article appeared in Socialist Worker on September 28, and Solidarity’s initial discussion began on October 3.

This tardiness reflected the socialist left’s deep-seated skepticism at a protest without demands, a rally without a permit, OWS’s talk of prefiguring a future non-capitalist society in an outdoor camp in the middle of Manhattan’s financial district, and a “leaderless” “horizontal” process. The preponderance of these anarchist elements, combined with the socialist left’s theoretical sophistication and political preconceptions, led to a “wait and see” approach that consigned us to the role of rearguard, not vanguard.

The uprising succeeded not only in spite of its alleged weaknesses but because of them. Repression from above and determination from below combined to win Occupy mass support in the weeks after September 24. The socialist left made OWS a priority and moved beyond sending its members to OWS organizing meetings in early October as the unions, MoveOn.org, and other left-liberal groups mobilized for the October 5 march of over 20,000 to protest the NYPD’s bait-and-arrest operation on the Brooklyn Bridge the previous Saturday.

Socialists on Anarchist Terrain
Occupy is undoubtedly related to the “occupy everything, demand nothing” trend that appeared in student mobilizations against budget cuts to higher education in 2009-2010. David Graeber, the anarchist OWS organizer who coined “we are the 99%”, pointed out how anarchism informs Occupy’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of state and corporate authorities and its insistence on direct action, direct democracy, non-hierarchical organizing, consensus, and prefigurative politics.

The task for the socialist left with respect to these issues is to understand 1) how and why these methods dominate the uprising and 2) what to do about it.

Anarchist practices have become widespread because success breeds imitation. Just as the 1917 Russian revolution a century ago spawned communist workers’ parties with tens of thousands of members hoping to imitate the Bolshevik example in their own countries, so today the thousands of people inspired to imitate OWS in their own towns and cities copied what proved in practice to be an effective means of bringing tens of thousands of workers and oppressed people into motion, the socialist left’s criticisms notwithstanding. In the weeks following September 17 OWS’s facilitation working group, which is tasked with running the New York City GA, trained organizers all over the country in the modified consensus process with dozens of video sessions broadcast over livestream.com in addition to face-to-face sessions with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of OWS participants. Many of these trainees then traveled to other cities or returned to their home cities to launch new occupations.

Occupy is the vanguard of the 99% and OWS is the “vanguard of the vanguard,” to borrow an expression of Leon Trotsky’s. OWS’s vanguard role explains why its methods prevail over those preferred by more traditional organizations such as unions, liberal NGOs, and socialist groups.

The socialist left must learn to navigate Occupy’s anarchist terrain if we hope to shape and lead the uprising instead of being shaped and led by it. Trying to overturn existing practices in favor of Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting, and formally electing leaders by making proposals along these lines at GAs will fail because Occupy participants have not been shown by example that these methods are superior.

In short, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if it is broke, show and prove what a better model looks like.

The reality of OWS is that the “horizontal” modified consensus method, the GA, and the spokescouncil are all highly dysfunctional but not fatally so (at least at this stage). Prior to the eviction, many OWS working groups began secretly hoarding street donations they received from the GA’s official finance working group (FWG) because they put lots of money into the general fund but faced serious hurdles in getting any money out of it for badly needed items due to OWS’s protracted, bureaucratic decision-making process. Also, because FWG administers over $500,000 in internet donations, many working groups saw no need to contribute to a fund flush with cash and resented what amounted to a one-way cashflow.

The money hoarding was part of a divide that emerged between full-time occupiers who felt disenfranchised and eventually boycotted the GA on the one hand and movement types (many of whom did not sleep in Liberty Park) who believed that the modified consensus process was the single most important element of the uprising on the other. This divide manifested itself geographically with the emergence of a “ghetto” and a “gentrified” area that was captured in a Daily Show segment.

The spokescouncil structure approved by the New York City GA, aimed at alleviating its frustrating and undemocratic logjams, simply transferred those problems to the spokescouncil while not significantly improving the GA’s process. All of these problems worsened after Mayor Michael Bloomberg evicted OWS from Liberty Park and OWS did not contest the eviction by returning there, a blow the uprising is still struggling to recover from (an improved encampment is planned for a new location).

Although the socialist left might see these problems as a vindication of its dim view of modified consensus and Occupy’s decision-making process generally, the task of socialists is not be vindicated but to aid the uprising in overcoming its stumbling blocks with practical solutions arising from the experiences of Occupy participants that utilize the uprising’s existing framework, infrastructure, and terminology.

Instead of proposing at a GA or a working group to scrap modified consensus from the outset, a more fruitful approach would be to raise process reform proposals only after building close relationships with fellow activists through joint work. If (or when) they become frustrated with the shortcomings of modified consensus, a suggestion to modify the 90% approval margin necessary to overcome a block to a two-thirds margin or 50% plus one might then become appealing.

The difficult, painful, and protracted process of trial and error cannot be skipped. We may be right about the shortcomings of modified consensus, but only peoples’ direct experience will prove it conclusively.

Socialists and Occupy Working Groups
Every local Occupy has working groups organized around a wide variety of tasks, a reflection of Arun Gupta’s observation that “all occupations are local.” The challenges facing OWS are not the same as Occupy Philadelphia, Portland, Mobile, or Nashville. OWS has over 40 working groups, some of which were forced to transform after the eviction (sanitation became focused on housing, for example) due to new circumstances. Local Occupys have adapted OWS’s model to their local needs and created a dozen or so working groups such as labor, demands, direct action, security, medical, food/kitchen, comfort, internet, media, and facilitation.

The socialist left has generally limited its participation in Occupy to a handful of working groups, usually those engaged in what Ross Wolfe of Platypus correctly described as mental labor — demands, labor outreach, direct action — and shied away from the physical labor or “grunt work” done by security, comfort, medical, and food/kitchen. This is problematic because it cedes the majority of working groups to the influence of other political forces (anarchists and liberals), inadvertently creating “Red ghettos.”

Prioritizing groups devoted to mental as opposed to manual labor is predicated on the false notion that running a kitchen or securing tents to sustain occupiers is less political or less important than talking about demands or ideological issues. When Genora Dollinger led the Flint sit-down strike in 1936, feeding strikers hot food was just as crucial to beating General Motors as picket lines were. Without one the other was impossible. The example of post-eviction OWS bears this out as well. At this stage of the uprising’s development, mass mobilizations and political discussions have no launching point or organizing center without a physical occupation, and the physical occupation of a space requires a lot of “grunt work.”

The socialist left must be involved with all of Occupy’s aspects and develop a reputation for being the most committed, most serious, most effective fighters. Only on that basis will we be able to effectively influence people and steer the uprising’s course.

Anarchists and the Black Bloc
One stark difference between Occupy and its great dress rehearsal, the global justice movement, is the role played by Black Bloc (BB) and the broader anarchist reaction to BB. BB (not an organized group but a tactic) came to the fore of Occupy for the first time during the November 2 Oakland general strike called in response to the police department’s crackdown that left Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the hospital with a serious brain injury (he was hit in the face with a tear gas canister).

The first notable BB incident was the vandalism at Whole Foods and major banks during the November 2 day time marches. The second incident occurred when BB led a failed attempt to seize the Traveler’s Aid Society (TAS) later that evening after the general strike succeeded in shutting down Oakland’s port with a 10,000-strong throng. Although related, these two incidents should be examined separately because they involve different issues and had different dynamics.

The vandalism at Whole Foods seemed like a replay of BB’s infamous Starbucks window-smashings in 1999 that came to (unfairly) symbolize the global justice movement. Things turned out differently this time when BB’s actions touched off physical fights among demonstrators, with people shouting and eventually throwing objects at BB when they refused to stop damaging the property of Whole Foods and other corporate behemoths along the march route. BB acted with impunity in the global justice movement because the mantra of “diversity of tactics” prevailed, which, in practice, meant no one had the right to tell anyone else what they could or could not do even if their actions damaged the movement as a whole. This childish attitude has given way to a much more serious approach by Occupy participants who feel a strong sense of ownership over the uprising and will not allow adventurists to wreck it.

The Whole Foods incident led to thoughtful criticisms of BB’s actions in the context of Occupy from fellow anarchists. This marks a significant turning point in the maturation of American anarchism. The socialist left needs to incorporate this reality into its Occupy strategy.

Later that evening, 150 people led by BB occupied TAS, an empty building that became vacant as a result of recent budget cuts. After dropping a banner in celebration of the easy seizure of TAS, the crowd of occupiers swelled to 700 or so. They erected barricades at the two nearest intersections and set them on fire when hundreds of Oakland riot police appeared (the cops kept a low profile throughout the day). The fires and small barricades blocking the street did nothing to stop police from marching on TAS and arresting those who stayed to defend it (many BB fled to avoid arrest).

The reaction within the anarchist camp to the TAS debacle was even more visceral than to the Whole Foods incident. A local street medic blasted the BB members for fleeing the scene they helped create and a post on San Francisco Indymedia’s website presumably from those who led the seizure defending the action drew intensely critical comments slamming their political and tactical failures during the short-lived occupation. Kim Lehmkuhl even went so far as to describe the fire-starters as faux-anarchists, provocateurs, and used other profanity-laced pejoratives unfit for a political publication to describe their actions.

By contrast, the socialist left’s criticism of the TAS occupation focused on process rather than substance. Todd Chretien wrote in Socialist Worker that the action’s organizers failed to participate in much less win the approval of Oakland’s GA, that they underestimated the police, and “sought to replace the power of mass unity with the supposed heroism of an elite.”

These mistakes are irrelevant to why the TAS occupation failed. This line of argument is one of many indications that the socialist left may not fully understand how Occupy works.

The overwhelming majority of actions, especially direct actions, that Occupy engages in are not approved by GAs. Autonomous groups (sometimes working groups officially recognized by local GAs, sometimes not) call actions, and occupiers choose to get on board or not. If every group with an idea for an action had to get GA approval, said action would simply never happen because of the bureaucratic nature of the modified consensus process when used by large groups. Expecting anarchists, especially BB, to come to a GA for approval before taking action is not realistic, nor is it a viable strategy for dealing with the very real problem of adventurist trends within Occupy. Furthermore, the TAS occupation was not an attempt to hijack or disrupt an explicitly non-violent march by an ultra-left minority as the Whole Foods incident was.

OWS itself began with the “heroism of an elite,” the 100-200 people who risked arrest by sleeping in Liberty Park starting on September 17 to make their point. Without their heroic action, the “mass unity” of the Occupy uprising would never have been born.

The TAS occupation failed because:

1) They didn’t sneak into the building and begin quietly building fortifications inside to hold it. Instead they celebrated the seizure by blaring dance music, unfurling a large banner on the side of the building, and dropping hundreds of leaflets from above. This attracted the attention of the local media and alerted the Oakland police to the situation, which gave them time to muster their forces for an attack at the time of their choosing.

2) After celebrating their victory publicly, TAS occupiers set up ineffective, tiny barricades (not more than a two or three feet tall) strewn across the two nearest intersections. Neither of these barricades were manned with enough occupiers to hold those positions.

3) The mini-barricades were set on fire but not physically defended from the slow, methodical police advance.
Hundreds of people outside BB got involved in an exciting action that was ill conceived, poorly executed, and an avoidable failure due more to the organizers’ inexperience (no doubt this was their first time trying to seize a building with hundreds of people) than any horribly elitist ultra-left politics. Setting up barricades was a necessity, but their placement on the outside of the building half a block away with a few dozen defenders (who set them ablaze) did nothing in terms of accomplishing the goal of holding TAS. If 150-700 people unobtrusively barricaded themselves inside of the building and held it until the next day, TAS could have been a big victory and opened a new chapter in the uprising which, thus far, has depended on seizing and holding outdoor locations for mass assemblies.

Our tasks with respect to the anarchists are twofold: 1) to work with them in neutralizing adventurists and ultra-lefts when their activities threaten Occupy as a whole and 2) to out-compete them in daring, audacity, creativity, improvisation, and revolutionary elan in the most friendly, collaborative, and comradely manner possible.

Only when we do both will we truly be contending for leadership of the Occupy uprising and fulfilling our duties as socialists.

Reds and Blue
One of the socialist left’s most consistent criticisms of Occupy has concerned the issue of the police. PSL’s Liberation News ran an article entitled, “Are the police forces part of the 99% or tools of the 1%?” The Internationalist Group attributed the predominance of whites at OWS to its “line” on the police: “A main reason why there are relatively few black and Latino participants in Occupy Wall Street is this positive attitude toward the police, who day-in and day-out persecute the oppressed.” Socialist Worker correspondent Danny Lucia concluded an article entitled “Officer not-at-all-friendly” this way:

I’ll ask the same question now to all those chanting and blogging about the police being part of the 99 percent. When you chant and blog support for the cops, when you publicly speculate that maybe deep down the cops really like you, how does that make you appear to your darker-skinned comrades in the movement who have no doubts about how the police feel about them?
The New York City ISO even held a public meeting on the topic: “Our Enemies in Blue: Why the Police Are Not Part of the 99%.”

Socialists are duty-bound to object to politics, strategy, tactics, and slogans we believe harm or impede movements of the oppressed and exploited. On this point there can be no debate.

However, the socialist left’s objections on this issue are not rooted in the needs of the uprising but in our desire to “teach” Occupy Marxist orthodoxy. According to the socialist left, OWS was and is too friendly to the police, when, in reality, OWS had the opposite problem: hostility to the NYPD was so strong that incidents of groping, sexual assaults, and rapes that began almost from day one of the occupation went unreported for weeks. This practice changed as the incidents escalated and occupiers realized it could not be handled “internally.” (When such reports were filed, the NYPD blamed the victims, creating an opportunity for OWS to link up with SlutWalk.)

None of the daily socialist publications acknowledged or seemed to be aware of this development within Occupy, nor did they offer any practical guidance on what to do about the sexual assaults that plagued occupations across the country.

The socialist left objects to the inclusion of the rank-and-file of the police force in what Occupy calls “the 99%” by which the uprising means everyone outside the wealthiest 1% who destroyed the economy, paid themselves, and rigged the political system. These objections have been framed in a problematic way; the issues have been mixed up and, as a result, Occupy’s “friendliness” towards the police in the face of repression appears to be stupidity, insanity, or both. For example, Lucia wrote in the article quoted previously:

Maybe the horrifying [police] attack on Iraq vet Scott Olsen and the rest of Occupy Oakland will finally settle the debate inside the movement about whether or not the police are on our side. Up until now, some protesters have been determined to maintain sympathy for the cops despite the near-constant harassment of many encampments.
No act of police violence will “finally settle the debate” about whether the police are part of the 99% because there is no debate, at least within Occupy. The police rank-and-file are part of the 99%. They are the part of the 99% that keep the rest of the 99% in line at the behest of the 1%. The police rank-and-file are professional class traitors. Shouting “you are the 99%!” at them drives that point home far better than calling them “pigs” or “our enemies in blue.” PSL’s juxtaposition, “are the police forces part of the 99% or tools of the 1%?” is false because they are both. It is not a case of either-or.

To argue that the police are “not part of the 99%” means to argue that they are somehow part of the 1%, a radically and demonstrably false notion. This explains why the socialist left’s argument on this issue has gained zero ground within Occupy despite all the beatings, arrests, abuse, and brutality.

Where the police rank-and-file fit into the 99%-1% dichotomy is separate from questions like whether Occupy should march in defense of police pensions or if shouting “you are the 99%!” or “join us” at the police is something Occupy should do. These are the live issues facing Occupy that the socialist left should be discussing and providing a political lead on instead of criticizing who occupiers maintain “sympathy” for.

Occupy is absolutely correct in its openness to including rank-and-file cops in a struggle against the 1%. This correctness has been proven in practice many times over. Police in Albany resisted pressure from Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo to clear and arrest occupiers. Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis joined OWS and was arrested in full uniform during the November 17 day of action; he carries a sign that reads, “NYPD: Don’t Be Wall Street Mercenaries.”

It is precisely because the uprising says, “you too, officer, are part of the 99%” that Christopher Rorey, a black officer with the DeKalb County Police Department, emailed Occupy Atlanta for help fighting the unjust foreclosure of his family’s home. Occupy Atlanta sent a dozen occupiers, delaying the foreclosure temporarily. Now the bank (government-owned Fannie Mae) is taking legal action to force Rorey to turn over all email correspondence between his family and Occupy Atlanta, as if evicting them was not enough.

If the socialist left’s “line” on the police prevailed in Occupy and the uprising treated rank-and-file cops as “the enemy,” none of these things would have happened. If officer Rorey is not part of the 99%, then Occupy Atlanta is guilty of betraying our cause and siding with “our enemies in blue.”

No single socialist publication has mentioned Rorey’s case in any of its articles on Occupy and the police because doing so would force them to answer the most basic of political questions: which side are you on?

Occupy Atlanta was not afraid to pick officer Rorey’s side and we should not be afraid to either.

As socialists we should be going out of our way to organize actions that might split the police along class lines or cause them disciplinary problems. Cases like Rorey’s are a golden opportunity. It offers us the exceedingly rare possibility of fanning the flames of discontent within the police force, between the rank-and-file cop and his bosses, between the police force and the 1% they work for.

The tension between the police and their political bosses became evident after the Oakland police union issued a scathing rebuke to Oakland’s Democratic Mayor Jean Quan who ordered them to clear Occupy Oakland and then tried to distance herself from the crackdown after they nearly killed Iraq veteran Scott Olsen and provoked a general strike. Imagine the difficulty that would have emerged within the Atlanta police department if they had been ordered to clear the house of a fellow officer, his family, and “pro cop” occupiers.

It is for these strategic reasons that Occupy the Hood founder Malik Rhaasan spoke positively about the prospect of marching on NYPD headquarters in defense of their pensions. Such an action would put the NYPD in the awkward position of possibly pepper-spraying and arresting a “pro cop” march. Rhaasan’s position should also serve as a warning to disproportionately white socialist groups not to use the suffering of oppressed peoples at the hands of the police to make bogus arguments about Occupy and the police.

The task of socialists is not to “teach” Occupy that the police are “our enemies in blue.” Our task is to overcome the police as a repressive force, to neutralize them, as U.S. Marine and Iraq veteran Shamar Thomas did when he stopped 30 cops from arresting peaceful Occupy protesters at a massive Times Square OWS demonstration. Thomas shamed them, implied they were cowards, and told them there was “no honor” in brutalizing the very people they are supposed to protect. He utilized the contradiction between the stated purpose of the police and their actual purpose to impede police repression on behalf of our real enemies, the ruling class.

The Danger of the Democratic Party
After the socialist left recognized the importance of Occupy and got on board, it began warning of the danger of being co-opted by the Democratic Party. A typical example was Dan La Botz’s article “Occupy the Democratic Party? No Way!” which used current and historical events to make a very strong case against the Democrats but did not offer any practical guidance on how to avoid being taken over (aside from just saying “no” to the drug known as the Democratic Party).

This type of negative “don’t do the following” or “it would be a mistake if” advice to Occupy is common for socialist publications. Danny Lucia’s “Co-opt-upy Wall Street?” in Socialist Worker had a detailed account of how the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) broke promises made in joint meetings with OWS organizers when it took over the November 17 march to ensure there would be no traffic disruption on the Brooklyn Bridge or grassroots people’s mic speakouts at the closing rally. (Given SEIU’s union-busting in the health care industry on the West Coast, this betrayal should come as no surprise.) Lucia argues SEIU’s actions were part and parcel of its strategy to maximize the vote for the Democrats and minimize Occupy’s militancy.

However, the practical conclusion Lucia draws about how OWS should deal with this is to, “not to turn away from organized labor, whose participation in OWS in New York City has been one of the movement’s biggest strengths.” He continued:

OWS has breathed new life into a labor movement that has been in retreat for decades. At the rank-and-file level, the Occupy movement was a lightning rod for many people who have been looking for a way to take action. … Continuing that engagement with labor will be important for the future of the Occupy movement. And within unions, it will serve as a counter-weight against officials who want labor to go back to mobilizing only for the polls—rather than for the protests that have galvanized people around the country in a long overdue struggle against the One Percent.
These arguments are correct so far as they go, but they do not go far enough. These are not concrete, practical conclusions. Of course Occupy should not abandon its work with unions (no one in OWS is in favor of doing so), but refusing to shun unions in general does nothing specific to prevent SEIU from hijacking future marches. Should OWS organize any future actions in conjunction with SEIU since they have proven they cannot be trusted, especially as the 2012 elections approach? Should SEIU representatives be allowed to attend OWS logistics meetings? If SEIU tries to hijack another action, what should OWS do? March somewhere else? Hold an ad hoc GA to discuss a potential course of action?

The article says not a word on these burning questions.

The task of the socialist left is not simply to warn and advise Occupy about the danger of being co-opted by the Democratic Party (a danger that is keenly felt by a large number of participants, including liberals) but to propose, organize, and lead Occupy actions against individual Democratic politicians and the party as a whole, thereby creating facts on the ground that will make co-optation difficult or impossible.

For example, after Congressman Charlie Wrangel visited OWS to “show support,” OWS marched on his office because he voted in favor of a free-trade agreement with South Korea. In New Hampshire (a blue state), Obama was “mic checked” for his silence on the police brutality directed at Occupy and his refusal to do anything about the banksters’ ongoing destruction of the American economy. Jesse La Greca, who famously destroyed a Fox News reporter in an unaired interview that went viral, called for occupying the offices of “worthless Blue Dog” Democrats like Senators Ben Nelson and Max Baucus. OWS has also gone after an Obama fundraiser and the 2012 Democratic National Convention will also be a likely Occupy target (the host city has already tried to ban Occupy actions).

These actions are a reflection of the fact that Occupy is a rebellion against policies the Democratic and Republican parties have implemented for four decades, that most of the mayors who ordered crackdowns on encampments are Democrats, and that the uprising exploded under a Democratic president that millions of Occupy participants voted for in the hopes that he would govern differently than his predecessors had. For these reasons the uprising does not see sharp distinctions between the two parties, unlike the 2002-2003 anti-war movement.

This is not to suggest that the danger of co-optation is nonexistent but to point out that Occupy’s self-led self-organized nature does not lend itself to Wisconsin-style derailment (where the socialist left did not create popular bodies like GAs that could have served as authoritative counterweights to the union leaders and provided the basis for an Oakland-style general strike). Just as Occupy created new and unexpected forms, so too will the Democratic Party’s intervention into Occupy come in a form that is new and unexpected.

We must do everything possible to hinder that eventuality. Deeds, not words, agitation, not propaganda, are decisive now.

Given Occupy’s fluidity, the socialist left should be careful about ruling any course of action out. An attempt to “Occupy the Democratic Party” is not necessarily a road for activists out of militant struggle and into the voting both. For example, Occupy activists might decide to copy the example of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which held an integrated primary and then tried to claim the official segregated delegation’s seat at the party’s 1964 convention. This was an effort to bring the fight for civil rights into the Democratic Party, not an attempt to trap the civil rights fight in a dead end. We may see Occupy efforts to hold “99% primaries” that ban contributions by corporations and lobbyists and select delegates to the 2012 convention that challenge the legitimacy of the party’s official delegates. Such an action would probably be a road out of the Democratic Party since it would prove to thousands of people in practice that the party is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the 1%.

This is hypothetical but Occupy thus far has pulled off many creative and original actions that the socialist left did not foresee but then wholeheartedly supported once they emerged. Failure to be open-minded is what caused us to lag behind Occupy’s rise in the first place.

Some Conclusions
The most basic and fundamental task facing socialists is to merge with Occupy and lead it from within. Socialist groups that insist on “intervening” in the uprising will be viewed as outsiders with little to contribute in practice to solving Occupy’s actual problems because they will be focused on winning arguments and ideological points rather than actively listening to, joining hands with, and fighting alongside the vanguard of the 99% in overcoming common practical and political.

One difficulty the socialist left faces in accomplishing this basic and fundamental task is the divisions in our ranks that serve in practice to weaken the overall socialist influence within Occupy, thereby strengthening that of the anarchists. They have their Black Bloc, but where is our Red Bloc? Where are the socialist slogans to shape and guide the uprising’s political development?

Out of clouds of pepper spray and phalanxes of riot cops a new generation of revolutionaries is being forged, and it would be a shame if the Peter Camejos, Max Elbaums, Angela Davises, Dave Clines, and Huey Newtons of this generation end up in separate “competing” socialist groups as they did in the 1960s. Now is the time to begin seriously discussing the prospect of regroupment, of liquidating outdated boundaries we have inherited, of finding ways to work closely together for our common ends.

Above all else, now is the time to take practical steps towards creating a broad-based radical party that in today’s context could easily have thousands of active members and even more supporters. Initiatives like Socialist Viewpoint’s call for a joint revolutionary socialist organizing committee in the Bay Area is a step in the right direction. We need to take more of those steps, sooner rather than later. The opportunity we have now to make the socialist movement a force to be reckoned with again in this country depends on it.

Anyone who agrees with this conclusion, whether they are in a socialist group or not, and wants to take these steps should email me so we can find ways to work together.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal, The Indypendent, Asia Times Online, Znet, and Counterpunch. His other writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net

60 Comments »

  1. Christopher Rorey’s case is another example of the federal government criminalizing citizens who have fallen on hard times or who are unemployed as the Republicans who are demanding mandatory drug testing of unemployment recipients.

    Christopher’s case is outrageous because he sought Occupy’s help in a forclosure, now he may have to turn over e-mail records?

    What ever happened to constitutional protections?

    I guess all rights and privacy protections apply to the ruling class and the rest of us who have endured misfortunes in life, like foreclosures and unemployment, are criminals who are guilty until proven innocent.

    The Occupy movement is relevant now more than ever in exposing the injustices against the proletariat by the government as they continue to make life a harder struggle for us with tactics designed to oppress and demean those who are victims of their circunstances.

    Make no mistake Occupy is very relevant and important when Time Magazine’s annual person of the year for 2011 is THE PROTESTER.

    Now that speaks volumes comrades.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 15, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  2. Great piece, Pham. What do you think of Kasama? I feel like they’re advocating something quite similar to you.

    Comment by ish — December 15, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

  3. Hey Louis, thanks for the mention on the whole issue of the working group division of labor at OWS. The whole veiled ideological dispute between the sectarian Marxists in the Demands working group and self-appointed anarchoid vanguard in Facilitation was a pretty miserable chapter in the history of what was going on behind the scenes around Liberty Plaza from mid-October to early November. I did my best to provide a documentary account, criticizing all sides with equal opportunity.

    Your article provides a good analysis of the movement as a whole and the role that members of the socialist Left should play in it. In certain respects, it’s somewhat close to the position I’ve heard expressed by some of the more thoughtful members of the Demands working group who have spoken on our recent panels, Erik Van Deventer and Chris Maisano. Their stress is precisely the formulation of demands that are sufficiently ambitious that they do not admit of co-optation or assimilation into the Democratic Party apparatus.

    Also, speaking of Graeber’s influence on the tactics and more general ethos informing OWS, I’m going to be conducting an interview with him tomorrow, and hope to engage him on exactly the points that you mention.

    Moreover, in terms of more useful behind-the-scenes OWS reportage, you might find the political journalism of Fritz Tucker, an ex-Maoist (though still Marxist) blogger from Brooklyn, pretty interesting. Tucker was there at Liberty Plaza from its second or third day, and carefully reported on everything that he saw. He contacted me a couple months back, writing:

    Ross,

    My name is Fritz Tucker. I’ve been a longtime friend of the Platypus Society on Facebook, and really appreciate your ongoing, as well as current, openness to dialogue. I’ve been participating in Occupy Wall Street since day two, and have written two articles that were published by, among others, Counter Currents. You can read them on my blog, fritztucker.blogspot.com, or by googling my name. I still stand by the critiques I made on the second day, and think they are more relevant than ever. I’ve been spending my time there, as well as my time not there, trying to organize in a truly democratic, inclusive manner — something the leaders of OWS aspire to, but have failed at in a major way thus far. I’ve also been pushing for the idea of occupying important, not-simply-symbolic locations, like foreclosed homes [!! — Fritz sent me this e-mail back on October 20th, long before the members of #Occupy actually decided to act on this initiative].

    Also of interest to you, aside from OWS, is that I’m one of a handful of comrades who has traveled to Nepal in the last five years, and one of the even fewer comrades who didn’t merely go on the “Maoist tour” of the base areas and swallow the Maoist line hook, bait, and sinker. Myself and several other comrades who were deeply involved in the Maoist movement for years are about to publish a book about our thoughts on the situation in Nepal. I can send you my chapter of the book on Nepal if you’re interested in learning more about my political orientation. I’ve also been working, for the last 3 years, on a full length book of my own. My critique of the Nepali people’s movement and Maoist movement (two distinct, yet interrelated things) is much like my critique of OWS; it is complex, and pulls no punches in critiquing the movement, but does so from a point of solidarity and recognizing possibility.

    Fritz’s perspective is really, really fascinating, in my opinion. And I can personally attest to having experienced many of the same things (as well as witnessed the same actual events) he described. It’s insightful, especially in the latest installment, which covers the agonistic debate over the formation of the Spokescouncil that was spearheaded by Marisa Holmes and the Structure working group. You can find his three-part series on #Occupy here:

    1. “American Autumn, Part 1″ (published October 1, 2011)
    2. “American Autumn, Part 2″ (published October 16, 2011)
    3. “American Autumn, Part 3″ (published November 4, 2011)

    You’re completely right about the position of the police vis-à-vis “the 99%,” incidentally. And you’re right that it’s one thing that the socialist Left has actually been consistent on. While the majority of the police force might technically fall into “the 99%” in terms of their income bracket (which I’ve always felt is a really misleading indicator of class), the police serve the state, and the state serves capitalism.

    Despite all the Sturm und Drang that has occurred between you and Platypus in the past (to which I myself have most certainly contributed), I’d still like to think that we can keep the doors open for future dialogue, even if you strongly disagree with the views of certain individual members or the organization as a whole. I mean, James Cannon and Max Shachtman still kept in touch and participated in debates with one another even after the big split took place in 1940. (If I recall correctly, the two factions came close to reuniting in 1947, but it was not to be).

    Either way, though might doubt the sincerity of our project or the methods by which we go about it, Platypus is earnestly committed to the task of reconstituting an international, anticapitalist Left and a corresponding revolutionary working-class movement. Toward this end, we’d love to continue to dialogue with you, Doug Henwood, Liza Featherstone, and other prominent figures on the Left today.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 15, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  4. Oops, I didn’t see that the article here was submitted by Pham Binh, with whom I’ve had some fruitful conversations. This notwithstanding, everything I addressed to Louis in the previous post remains the case.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 15, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

  5. Good article, by the way.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 15, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

  6. Time constraints prevent me from engaging this ground breaking evaluation of Occupy with the attention it deserves, but here are my observations:

    (1) I don’t like to get into debates about who is the real vanguard (after all, I tend to be hostile to them), but Occupy Oakland is a militant effort, probably equal to OWS, because it has forged an intense bond with poor people, working people and people of color. The embrace of Occupy Oakland by young African Americans, Latinos and Asians, to varying degrees, as well as young veterans, is striking. Growing out of the history of police brutality in Oakland (as inflamed by the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police on 1/1/2009) and the ongoing dismantlement of public sector services, Occupy Oakland emphasizes issues of race, poverty and militarism. There is a direct connection between the killing of Grant and Occupy Oakland. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next major action of Occupy Oakland is directed towards a target involved in the prosecution of the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

    (2) I have to concede that I have had difficulty understanding you when you have talked about having the socialist left to subsume itself within Occupy, probably because I don’t have much experience with organizations like the ISO. But, after participating in the port shutdown in Oakland on Monday, I am beginning to get it. Of course, my observations were limited and subjective, but it appeared to me that there is an inexorable movment towards the creation of what you call a “revolutionary organizing committee” in Oakland. Clearly, the ISO was involved in the planning and execution of the action, along with anarchists, trade unions, people of color and gays and lesbians, among others. It was an amazing thing to see them working together at the port. Your observation that the socialist left should move beyond participation in more high profile activities like the port shutdown into more mundane day to day ones is sound, and may already be happening in Oakland. Your advice that anarchists and socialists should drive the movement forward through collegial competition is indisputable.

    (3) Yes, a new generation of leftist radicals are emerging before our very eyes, and it is hard sometimes to avoid opening and closing them in disbelief. With their focus upon the concrete conditions in which they, and those aligned with them, live, they have created the opportunity for a national, if not international, socialist movement, one that takes the best from the various approaches (anarchist, Marxist, social democracy, anti-authoritarian, anti-imperialist) as determined through trial and error. I have been most impressed by how they combine their social perspective with the emotional need for people to feel part of a mutually supportive collective enterprise. In this, they confront the atomization that has so benefitted capital. When Jessica Hollie explains about how fear is used to separate ourselves from one another so that we can be exploited by the 1% and then declares, “I care about you and I hope you care about me”, she touches upon a profound nerve that reaches people (such as myself) in an intensely personal way.

    (4) From the beginning, you have insisted upon the need to welcome veterans into the movement, initially resulting in some ridicule. But those who objected to it didn’t realize that there are many veterans who have been thoroughly disillusioned. Of course, we all know that Scott Olsen was a veteran, but so is one of the dedicated ustreamers of Occupy Oakland, OakFoSho, and so is one of their most active media people, Shake Anderson (who I have had the good fortune to interview at length on KDVS). Veterans have been active participants in Occupy since its inception.

    (5) Finally, it is almost impossible to overstate what Occupy has accomplished. At 5:30am in West Oakland, I marched with somewhere between 800 to 1500 people about 2 1/2 miles to the port. After emerging about three blocks out of the 880 underpass to the west, I looked back and still saw an enormous crowed of people coming through the underpass. I wanted to pinch myself to see if I would wake up. Later that afternoon, another 5000 to 8000 people marched on the port to picket the evening shift. The next evening, a benefit showing of “V for Vendetta: at the Grand Lake Theatre near Lake Merritt raised $6,000.

    (6) Occupy is putting unions in a difficult position. Occupy Oakland organized the port shutdown from the bottom up, directly reaching out to union members at the union hall and at the port. They made contact with port drivers, and got the Oakland Education Association to endorse the march. For the first time in many years, the hierarchal structure of the unions, and the ability of the leadership to restrain the members from taking more confrontational actions against corporations, the government and political figures is being challenged.

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 15, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

  7. I find all this talk of the so-called socialist left “shaping” and “leading” the uprising decidedly creepy.

    Comment by emmryss — December 16, 2011 @ 1:24 am

  8. Ross, I’m really glad you and your organization the Platypus Society are intervening in this debate.

    Whatever criticisms naysayers make, I think there’s a consensus developing that Platypus is doing some great work shaking up the forces of the left, which as we know remain dogmatically stuck in Paleo-Marxist “activist mode.” I think everyone can agree that Platypus’ efforts to synthesize widely divergent thinking —bringing the heritage of the Spartacist League into dialogue with Adorno, for example— is a really valuable contribution to reconstituting Marxism today.

    By standing on the sidewalk opposite Liberty Plaza holding their banner (“The Left is Dead, Long Live the Left”), Platypus has been making a critical intervention. This is just the kind of thought-provoking aporia that the Occupy movement needs, and I hope it can open the space for occupiers to 1) assimilate the positive value of Christopher Hitchens’ post-9/11 literary output 2) get protesters thinking carefully about how impotent their efforts are, especially the Paleo-Marxists among them, by using the critical resources of writers like James Robertson of the Spartacist League and Chris Cutrone, and 3) forcefully interrogating any “anti-imperialist” assumptions young occupiers may be absorbing, while asking them to reflect upon Arab anti-Semitism.

    If Platypus can channel enough theory-hungry young people away from socialist “protest politics” and get them into a classroom discussing Platypus’ own innovative iteration of Marxism, the 1% will really have a force to be reckoned with!

    Comment by FreshLeft — December 16, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  9. Just for clarification, I am *not* FreshLeft.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 1:48 am

  10. “I find all this talk of the so-called socialist left “shaping” and “leading” the uprising decidedly creepy.”

    I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand your reaction, indeed, I posted a brief blog entry earlier this afternoon that touches upon this subject.

    http://www.amleft.blogspot.com/2011_12_01_archive.html#5869981545912758134

    An evaluation of the Socialist Viewpoint call highlights the problem, that is, the inability of some on the left to shed their attachment to preconceived identities (in this instance, note the exhortation about the revival of Trotskyism in the call), an attachment that really has little to do with is required to effectively participate in Occupy, and, in fact, inhibits it, as it raises suspicions about motivation. In terms of content, there is much in the call that has merit, along with other things that are more problematic. But it is not a statement that should be summarily rejected, as it constitutes a legitimate intervention that should be addressed by everyone on the left, from anarchists to Marxists to social democrats. In other words, it constitutes a legitimate participation in an essential dialogue.

    As I said about two months ago, Occupy is going to be a challenging endeavor for people on the left with strong attachments to past socialist movements and groups (and, here, unlike Binh, I consider anarchists as socialists as well). Whatever one’s background, everyone is probably going to have to release an attachment that has been historically dear to them in order to create a broader, more powerful socialist effort. And, I as I briefly said in my blog post, I believe that this process is already underway. For example, the Black Bloc was forced to confront its deficiencies after the 11/2 general strike, and we will see this happen again and again across the movement. Not surprisingly, many young activists in Occupy have less of a problem with this, as they are developing their praxis on the fly in response to the revelatory efforts to suppress them. At some point, it will likely cohere into a more formal approach.

    It is, understandably, a troubling proposition for those on the left with long memories, say, for example, those who recall what happened after the PCI in Italy voluntarily recast itself as a different political party that rejected much of its historical perspective. Paradoxically, Lucio Magri’s statement in opposition to this decision, “A New Communist Identity”, is actually pertinent to the implicit effort of some within Occupy to create a new left, and has much to say as to how this effort can be achieved. At the risk of coming across as a pedant, you can find it at the conclusion of his book, “The Tailor of Ulm”, recently released in English by Verso, and probably elsewhere, too. Sadly, Magri died at the age of 89 at the end of November.

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 16, 2011 @ 2:00 am

  11. “Peter Camejos, Max Elbaums, Angela Davises, Dave Clines, and Huey Newtons”

    Those are your examples?!? Really?

    If that’s what you aspire to achieve, it’s no wonder no one will follow your congo line off the plank.

    Comment by The Idiot — December 16, 2011 @ 2:26 am

  12. I am *not* FreshLeft either but turns out without question the best nightly news about OWS, albeit from K. Olberman’s reformist perspective, has been consistently on CURRENT TV’s “Countdown” nightly newscast.

    K.O. deserves lifetime credit for that. Progressive people in general & socialists in particular definitely need to acknowledge this and are remiss for avoiding these telecasts, complete with: “World’s Worst Persons” — congenitally degenerate scourges all of them.

    Of course we Unrepentants could all name far worst persons nightly than K.O. does but he still deserves big props, as does David Schuster, & others their for putting their nuts on the line nightly for the last vestiges of liberalism they cling to.

    If folks are not catching these telecasts I sincerely urge them to find a way to do so because there’s no more thorough mainstream coverage out there.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 16, 2011 @ 2:29 am

  13. The Worst Person is a segment that I can relate to far better than the other choice of Fascist Fox O’Reilly and his Pinhead or Patriot.

    He never volunteers himself though you notice (or yours truly as he calls himself) or asks viewer’s opinion if he’s a pinhead or patriot.

    I say PINHEAD!

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 16, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

  14. It’s nice to see Binh fleshing out some of the shorter critiques he’s offered over the last few months. There’s a lot to think about here.

    I guess I’d push Binh to drill down a little bit more and push the analysis further. I have some questions.

    What do you think about the potential of the Occupy movement? What could it achieve–short term, medium term, long term? If you had the ear of the movement, what would you argue are the crucial next steps?

    What does it mean for the socialist movement to “merge with” Occupy? Is that a question of winning leadership? If so, how? Is it a case of winning larger numbers of people in the movement to socialist ideas? If so, how?

    What exactly do you believe Marxism has to offer the Occupy movement, if anything? One problem I have with what I’ve seen of your analyses so far is that they seem to posit that Occupy is both unprecedented and basically perfect–that socialists should stop and listen rather than attempting to change anything. I assume you’d reject that characterization of your own views, but could you say more about this?

    There’s more to say, obviously, but I’ll leave it there for now.

    Comment by James — December 16, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  15. Ish: I submitted this to Kasama. I don’t know if they will publish it or not.

    Richard: I hear you re: the “vanguard” issue. It’s a term that has been so abused and distorted that it’s not useful/helpful to use it except when you are talking to “Leninists” and those who continue to think in those terms, i.e. the political current I came from and still identify with to some extent. One of the interesting things I’ve found is how many anti-authoritarians/anarchists identify as such because they reject the elitist pretentious of the “Leninist” left, toy vanguardism, rigid/sterile practice, and so on. There is a lot of common ground politically and practically between what I would label “class struggle” anarchists (syndicalists, anarchocommunists) and Marxists like myself and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be working more closely as well.

    Ross: Your arguments about the police apply equally to the military. I would prefer to have the rank and file of both on our side rather than theirs. Agreed?

    emmryss: Why does that talk creep you out?

    Comment by Binh — December 16, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

  16. James: Potential? Unlimited. It depends on what happens, on what we do. Next steps depend on concrete conditions. In NYC we need a physical occupation. I am skeptical of taking over Canal and 6th Ave, but it’s worth a try. I think ceding Liberty to Bloomberg was a mistake as is making a fetish of a permanent encampment outdoors. A properly organized and conducted TAS-style occupation may be a better way to go (provided the space in question is big enough to hold hundreds of people and can be defended properly).

    “Merging with” is the opposite of “intervening in.” I’ve outlined exactly how to “win leadership” in this piece. Socialist ideas are important, but we earn ourselves no credibility by saying absurd and factually wrong things like “rank and file cops are not part of the 99%.” No one takes that seriously, including me.

    If we want Occupy to think in Marxist terms and have a Marxist outlook we Marxists have to prove ourselves in practice to be better, more effective leaders, organizers, and fighters than the people who are leading it now who generally think and act in anarchist terms. The ideas that dominate the movement are an ideological reflection of the balance of forces on the ground. Whether the Marxist left is up to the task of changing that balances of forces on the ground in its favor is an open question.

    I’d like to see some evidence from my writings for your claim that I view Occupy as “basically perfect” or “unprecedented” (I wrote an entire thing about how Occupy has its roots in American history: http://www.indypendent.org/2011/11/07/occupiers-past-and-present/)

    For me it’s not a question of rejecting someone else’s characterization of my views but rather figuring it out what it is you are referring to. Many of the questions you are asking I have directly addressed in this piece and others in the past hence why I tend to emphasize the issue of listening.

    Comment by Binh — December 16, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

  17. Hey Binh. Having read your stuff pretty closely I don’t agree that you’ve answered those questions satisfactorily. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of valuable insight in your analysis, because clearly there is, but as I stated above I think you need to go further. I only say that because this is a project all of us are engaged in right now–figuring out what this movement represents, what our role in it is, etc.

    I think your response to my questions show a lack of clarity on where the movement could and should go. On the one hand you think there’s unlimited potential, depending on what we do–let’s face it, about as vague a response as it would be possible to give–and on the other you suggest an extremely specific next step for the movement in NYC.

    (I don’t live or organize in NYC so I’m actually more interested in thinking on a bigger scale than just OWS).

    It seems to me you’re stuck in this position of saying “the movement should continue to exist, and should get bigger and more militant.” But why? To what end should it exist? What purpose does it serve for the movement to get bigger and more militant? Is the movement trying to achieve something in particular beyond its own continuity? If so, what?

    To put it another way: in your piece for the Indypendent you discuss a number of other movements in the US history that have used the occupation as a tactic. But the occupations of the 1930s, for example, had very specific goals: to win union recognition, in the case of the sit-down strikes, or to force Congress to pay lost wages, in the case of the Bonus Army. I’m interested in what you think should be the goals of the Occupy movement.

    Now just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Occupy should adopt demands or goals that are as narrow as these. Nor am I arguing for the imposition of some more or less arbitrary list of reform demands. But the danger of going too far the other way is that we fall into a kind of tactical fetishism–we’re occupying for the sake of occupation. Incidentally, this was the major weakness of the “occupy everything, demand nothing” current in the California student movement 2 years ago, and prevented them from playing the leading role they could have.

    I guess what I’m driving at is the role of socialists in formulating some sort of action program; identifying what we think are the most important tasks facing the working-class movement right now. At the beginning of your piece you put forward the goal of building a new socialist party. But a party requires a program of some kind, surely?

    Anyways, these are the questions I’ve been wrestling with and it would be helpful to get your take on them.

    Comment by James — December 16, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  18. James: I’m sorry my work doesn’t meet your criteria. I was unaware that I would be graded.

    Again, you attribute views to me, but do you have any quotes that will support what you claim my position is? Do you have any quotes from me that will show how I am “stuck” in said position? I’m still waiting to see where I said anything about Occupy being “basically perfect” (it was easy to debunk the “unprecedented” allegation).

    Comment by Binh — December 16, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

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  20. Binh, your first sentence was quite a first impression. However, I should suggest two slight corrections (“slight” for most readers here, big corrections from my POV): “to re-ignite and re-emerge” and “worker-class” instead of “working class.”

    Overall, Occupy reminds me much of the Chartist movement, and in some ways goes beyond that by starting out at the political and not at the economic. Some may deride the more political nature of Occupy as “petit-bourgeois” (because the petit-bourgeoisie tend to see more clearly that immediate solutions to economic problems must be political or “politico-political”), but I see this as a huge step up from the agents of mere labour disputes that always tail movements like this.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — December 17, 2011 @ 7:26 am

  21. Thought provoking piece, but the following raises an interesting issue.

    “The most basic and fundamental task facing socialists is to merge with Occupy and lead it from within.”

    To lead it from within??

    Does this not reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of OWS, this emphasis on leadership?

    Comment by don — December 17, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

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  23. Binh: The moment that military and police forces stop taking orders and join protestors has typically marked a crucial turning point in every even halfway-successful revolution in history. I’m not saying that this is about to happen anytime soon; I have my doubts. But between the two, military personnel historically almost universally tend to be more sympathetic towards protestors than rank-and-file policemen. Soldiers are far more likely to be radicalized than cops, if history is any indicator. I think that this has already been seen at Occupy Wall Street, where a number of veterans have been at the front lines leading the demonstrations.

    Indeed, in revolutionary situations of the past like 1917, the soldier’s soviets and mutinying navy forces were a crucial component in bringing about fomenting revolution. The role of militantly anti-capitalist unions was also huge in shutting down transport and certain sectors of production. Ordinary police forces, for whatever reason, have tended to be far more reactionary in their political orientation. In general a movement should intersect with a number of forces, but until the police start joining it instead of beating protestors up, the occupiers should have no illusions about the “working-class” status of the cops.

    It’s certainly an important question, however.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 19, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  24. And to FreshLeft, despite your facetious tone, it has been my impression that many of the occupiers actually have appreciated the way Platypus has engaged #Occupy. To clear up a mistake you seem to have made, Platypus has never simply held our banner outside of Liberty Plaza. If you’ve ever actually been down to the park and acquainted yourself with its layout, you would recognize that all the pictures of us at Zuccotti show us clearly inside the park, on the northwestern corner (what later became the crafts and meditation center). Not to fetishize the physical space of the park or anything, but all of the teach-ins we’ve held there took place inside the park, even after most of the working groups had moved their activities off-site to Charlotte’s Place or the 60 Wall Street Atrium. Perhaps you’re referring to something else?

    Beyond this, we’ve written several articles on it as well as the Greek anti-austerity protests in the last couple issues of The Platypus Review. We’ve also interviewed Žižek on the subject and more recently I interviewed David Graeber for an upcoming piece. We’ve hosted five political roundtable discussions in various cities throughout the U.S. and Greece featuring panelists who are involved in #Occupy. This is more than can be said than many contemporary leftist groups, though we don’t consider this fact a badge of honor or anything like that. We’re not trying to enlist members for our group, either. Anyone who might be interested can join if they want to, but that’s hardly the reason we’ve been engaged so far.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 19, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  25. An illuminating piece.
    My contact with the Occupy movement was in Nanaimo. If you haven’t heard of Nanaimo, it is a smaller city two hours or so from Vancouver by bus and ferry. I was always peripheral, as I live 15 miles away and as a senior I thought it unwise to join the group staying overnight. The camp lasted until December 9 and the activists are still meeting.
    The core of activists are young, including mothers of small children, and certainly people I had never met before.

    The movement certainly touched a lot of people. I was struck by a report of a young woman (in another small Canadian city) who got involved because she wanted have a family and she wasn’t sure that she would be able to do that.

    The tasks of socialists? I am sure many of us had the same response. Go to the encampments, get involved. Disseminate information on their behalf and bring them useful information and contacts. Join in the practical work, like bringing food or taking away garbage and organic waste.

    A red bloc?
    I appreciate that the writer, in response to big events, is trying to think big. In my opinion it is better to start where we are, participating each in our small way, and in the course of our involvement find common ground with other leftists and through that slowly overcome the barriers between groups.

    Check out http://www.occupynanaimo.ca

    Comment by Ken Hiebert — December 19, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  26. Hey Binh, fantastic piece and a lot of good stuff here. One thing I just want to point out regarding anarchism and consensus. I’ve never met an anarchist that believes every single decision needs to be made by consensus, indeed that’s logistically impossible. The libcom article you cited is an example of an impasse where you have one of two roads to take and you can’t “consent” to one over the other, either one would have its blockers and you can’t simply not go forward. In these cases, a straw poll becomes an unfortunate necessity. This has played out in Spokes before on a process question where a facilitator has said they’re just going to go with the majority. But please be careful about using this as a straw man against consensus. The implications of simple majority rule in all cases (or even 2/3 rule) are far more detrimental.

    Comment by Daniel — December 19, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

  27. Analysis of & Reactions to Pham Binh’s “Occupy and the Task of Socialists”

    The eleven major points abstracted from Pham Binh’s article “Occupy and the Task of Socialists” are summarized directly below, numbered with Roman numerals.

    The eleven items are then described by extracts from the article itself, below the summary (Arabic numerals mark individual items within each of the eleven points).

    A few comments and questions follow. I am not a Marxist, so some notes are included to clarify word usage from the commonly understood meanings in intra-specialist discourse.

    Summary:

    [I] Goal: To have Marxists assume leadership of OWS, and organize it as a political movement.

    [II] OWS today:
    – Led by educated young adults, often college educated, debt laden and under-employed; and operating with anarchist conceptions.
    – Under-represented are low-wage employed, immigrant/minority labor.

    [III] Marxist were skeptical of the anarchist nature of OWS, and thus left behind as it exploded into a popular movement.

    [IV] Marxists should learn why the OWS features that led to its successful growth are so disfavored by Marxist ideology.

    [V] Marxists can begin gaining influence in OWS by organizing it for greater effectiveness.

    [VI] To date Marxists have been too focused on assuming managing roles in OWS.

    [VII] Marxist should note the overwhelming sentiment in OWS for non-violence.

    [VIII] On the issue of dealing with police, Marxists should practice what they know instead of just preaching it: split the cops from their superiors by advocacy, don’t lecture OWS about “how to do it right.”

    [IX] The danger of OWS being co-opted by Democrats or Republicans is not high. Nevertheless, Marxists must keep OWS free of union = Democratic Party control.

    [X] The best tactic for Marxists to gain control of OWS leadership is to infiltrate in the role of a typical OWSer, prove useful, gain recognition, and rise into leadership roles.

    [XI] The motivation for leading OWS is to attract Marxists sects into unity, ultimately forming a major “socialist” (presumably non-anarchist) political party.

    [I] Binh’s Goal(s) (1-6):

    1. “Helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.”

    2. “The socialist left must learn to navigate Occupy’s anarchist terrain if we hope to shape and lead the uprising instead of being shaped and led by it.”

    3. “The socialist left must be involved with all of Occupy’s aspects and develop a reputation for being the most committed, most serious, most effective fighters. Only on that basis will we be able to effectively influence people and steer the uprising’s course.”

    4. “Our tasks with respect to the anarchists are twofold: 1) to work with them in neutralizing adventurists and ultra-lefts when their activities threaten Occupy as a whole and 2) to out-compete them in daring, audacity, creativity, improvisation, and revolutionary elan in the most friendly, collaborative, and comradely manner possible. Only when we do both will we truly be contending for leadership of the Occupy uprising and fulfilling our duties as socialists.”

    5. “Failure to be open-minded is what caused us to lag behind Occupy’s rise in the first place.”

    6. “The most basic and fundamental task facing socialists is to merge with Occupy and lead it from within.”

    NOTE #1: Pham Binh uses “socialist left” and “socialists” to mean “Marxists,” as opposed to “Anarchists” (Bakuninists?). Anarchists would use labels like:
    Marxists = authoritarian communists, or authoritarian socialists,
    Anarchists = non-authoritarian communists (or n-a socialists, or the n-a left)

    [II] OWS Today (1-2):

    1. De facto Leadership, and main participants in OWS:

    “The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.”
    –> These being the young indebted highly educated, who both have the time and stamina to camp out full time ‘forever.’ Also, the homeless street people are constant participants (for reasons of safer survival), but presumably less often leaders (perhaps less articulate).

    2. Absent could-be-participants of OWS:

    –> Proletarian/immigrant labor, due to time-consuming work commitments; and employed low-wage labor (union and non-union).

    [III] Anarchist OWS and Marxist theorists mutually ignored each other (1-3):

    1. “Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left [NOTE 1] combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.”

    2. “The preponderance of these anarchist elements, combined with the socialist left’s theoretical sophistication and political preconceptions, led to a ‘wait and see’ approach that consigned us to the role of rearguard, not vanguard.”

    3. “This tardiness reflected the socialist left’s deep-seated skepticism at a protest without demands,… and a “leaderless” “horizontal” process. …The uprising succeeded not only in spite of its alleged weaknesses but because of them.”

    [IV] Binh’s recommendation to Marxists for OWS research:

    “The task for the socialist left with respect to these issues is to understand 1) how and why these methods dominate the uprising and 2) what to do about it.”

    NOTE #2: “these issues” means “the anarchist nature of OWS,” up to this point.

    [V] Marxists can improve OWS organizationally, to begin gaining influence:

    “The reality of OWS is that the ‘horizontal’ modified consensus method, the GA, and the spokescouncil are all highly dysfunctional…[e.g., problems with money management described]… Although the socialist left might see these problems as a vindication of its dim view of modified consensus and Occupy’s decision-making process generally, the task of socialists is not be vindicated but to aid the uprising in overcoming its stumbling blocks with practical solutions arising from the experiences of Occupy participants that utilize the uprising’s existing framework, infrastructure, and terminology.”

    [VI] Marxist volunteerism in OWS focused on management instead of service roles:

    “The socialist left has generally limited its participation in Occupy to a handful of working groups, usually those engaged in what Ross Wolfe of Platypus correctly described as mental labor — demands, labor outreach, direct action — and shied away from the physical labor or “grunt work” done by security, comfort, medical, and food/kitchen. This is problematic because it cedes the majority of working groups to the influence of other political forces (anarchists and liberals), inadvertently creating ‘Red ghettos.'”

    [VII] Marxist should note the overwhelming sentiment for non-violence by OWS:

    “The Whole Foods incident led to thoughtful criticisms of BB’s actions in the context of Occupy from fellow anarchists. This marks a significant turning point in the maturation of American anarchism. The socialist left needs to incorporate this reality into its Occupy strategy.”

    [VIII] Marxists should practice not preach: split cops from superiors, don’t lecture OWS:

    “The task of socialists is not to “teach” Occupy that the police are “our enemies in blue.” Our task is to overcome the police as a repressive force, to neutralize them, as U.S. Marine and Iraq veteran Shamar Thomas did when he stopped 30 cops from arresting peaceful Occupy protesters at a massive Times Square OWS demonstration. Thomas shamed them, implied they were cowards, and told them there was “no honor” in brutalizing the very people they are supposed to protect. He utilized the contradiction between the stated purpose of the police and their actual purpose to impede police repression on behalf of our real enemies, the ruling class.”

    [IX] Dangers of OWS being co-opted (1-2).

    1. Marxists must keep OWS free of union = Democratic Party control:

    “The task of the socialist left is not simply to warn and advise Occupy about the danger of being co-opted by the Democratic Party (a danger that is keenly felt by a large number of participants, including liberals) but to propose, organize, and lead Occupy actions against individual Democratic politicians and the party as a whole, thereby creating facts on the ground that will make co-optation difficult or impossible.”

    2. The danger of OWS being co-opted by Democrats or Republicans is not high:

    “These actions are a reflection of the fact that Occupy is a rebellion against policies the Democratic and Republican parties have implemented for four decades, that most of the mayors who ordered crackdowns on encampments are Democrats, and that the uprising exploded under a Democratic president that millions of Occupy participants voted for in the hopes that he would govern differently than his predecessors had. For these reasons the uprising does not see sharp distinctions between the two parties, unlike the 2002-2003 anti-war movement.”

    NOTE #3: OWS has also not be co-opted by Marxists yet.

    [X] Binh’s recommended tactics for gaining control (1-2):

    1. Marxist must infiltrate (prove worthy), and lead:
    “The most basic and fundamental task facing socialists is to merge with Occupy and lead it from within.”

    2. Marxist groups that seek to argue their way into leadership will fail:
    “Socialist groups that insist on “intervening” in the uprising will be viewed as outsiders with little to contribute in practice to solving Occupy’s actual problems because they will be focused on winning arguments and ideological points rather than actively listening to, joining hands with, and fighting alongside the vanguard of the 99% in overcoming common practical and political.”

    [XI] Through OWS, Marxist sects can be unified, and a major Marxist party formed (1-3):

    1. Marxists’ political effectiveness (and competitiveness) is weakened by sectarianism:
    “One difficulty the socialist left faces in accomplishing this basic and fundamental task is the divisions in our ranks that serve in practice to weaken the overall socialist influence within Occupy, thereby strengthening that of the anarchists.”

    2. Emerging revolutionaries should be recruited into a unified Marxist movement:
    “… a new generation of revolutionaries is being forged, and it would be a shame if the Peter Camejos, Max Elbaums, Angela Davises, Dave Clines, and Huey Newtons of this generation end up in separate “competing” socialist groups as they did in the 1960s.”

    3. “Now is the time to begin seriously discussing the prospect of regroupment, of liquidating outdated boundaries we have inherited, of finding ways to work closely together for our common ends… now is the time to take practical steps towards creating a broad-based radical party… The opportunity we have now to make the socialist movement a force to be reckoned with…”

    Questions and Comments:

    C1: OWS has quickly gained very broad appeal, domestically and internationally, and has been amazingly successful in changing the nature of public debate regarding the social consequences of neo-liberalism — without any (organized) involvement by Marxists.

    Q1: Regarding [I], how do you justify the assumption that Marxist leadership would improve the effectiveness of OWS, or broaden its appeal?

    C2: Agree with observations [II] and [III].

    C3: Agree with [V], but this applies to anyone.

    C4: Observations [VI] and [VIII] are noted as probable indicators of ideological character.

    C5: Observation [VII] is held to be true of people generally.

    C6: Agree OWS must remain free of Democratic Party sabotage. However, [IX] indicates Marxists are averse to coalition politics to advance popular/populist OWS goals (e.g., Popular Front) because this diverts them from acquiring exclusive power of a political apparatus.

    C7: [X] is tactically true for anybody. My preference is that such individuals be free of hidden agendas.

    C8: [XI] states the Marxist agenda, which would be hidden in implementation of [X]. This agenda is perfectly acceptable if overt and pursued separately, like any other organizational-unionizing movement. It is dishonored if intended to surreptitiously infect a populist social justice movement, and drain movement energy to power a “vanguard’s” ambitions for political power. Hidden agendas invite reasonable suspicion.

    Q2: Which is more important:
    – achieving the full range of OWS goals (overturning neo-liberalism), or
    – ensuring a Marxist character to the popular movement that emanates from it?

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — December 20, 2011 @ 5:13 am

  28. > Which is more important:
    > – achieving the full range of OWS goals (overturning neo-liberalism),

    There isn’t going to be any overturning of “neo-liberalism” in the framework of capitalism. Neo-liberalism was formulated as an effort to overturn regulations which had been willfully passed by the capitalist class itself in an age when capitalist profits were high enough to allow for it. The decline in the rate of profit hit home in the 1970s, and so the earlier reforms were reversed. Nothing is going bring back that earlier age.

    To the extent that Occupy has led people into protesting for things like a restoration of Glass-Steagall it can serve as a useful tutorial experience for people who do not yet appreciate the historical tendencies within capitalism. But that does not mean that Marxists should be pretending that an option of “overthrowing neo-liberalism” actually exists within the capitalist framework. It does not. People simply need the chance to learn this for themselves (if necessary with the help of tear-gas and mace-spray).

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 20, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  29. Daniel, I never implied that anarchists/anarchism insist that “every single decision must be made by consensus,” so if there are strawmen in this discussion they are not of my making. I pointed out how quite a few decisions/actions are done autonomously, i.e. not through consensus. I have been in quite a few meetings where important decisions have been tabled precisely because we could not come to a consensus even where it seemed like there was no way we could not go forward.

    Manuel: the reason OWS got off the ground and succeeded is precisely because it was not controlled, dominated, or infiltrated by Marxists. That should not change. Ever. I am simply trying to hammer home what Louis said in an earlier post: “It will be absolutely incumbent upon Marxists to figure out a way to relate to that movement not as learned professors chiding it from above but as dedicated participants whose loyalties are to the movement rather than their own group.”

    If a Marxist group sent a dozen of its members to try to take over a working group for example I would do everything possible to fight them. I joined the demands group to fight their suppression by the facilitation/internet working groups even though I almost totally opposed the purpose and political goals/methods of the demands group.

    My loyalty is to Occupy, the working class, and the oppressed, not “Marxism” or the socialist left. If either get in our way I will go after them. I am willing to work with anyone and everyone in a struggle against the 1%, whether they are cops, anarchists, or libertarians is irrelevant.

    Comment by Binh — December 20, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  30. Mahalo Binh:

    I hope you know I love & deeply respect you & wish you the warmest comradely regards to you & yours this winter Solstice, 12/21/11, the shortest day of the year, which pagan peasant toilers from time immemorial marked in regards to their various crop cycles, from which Christianity ruthlessly appropriated Christmas (just like Easter Spring) to try and recruit the toiling masses into the mythology of afterlife whereby the pack-horses of the ancient regime might find their eternal reward.

    Having said that, and agreeing with over 90% of what you’ve written since the outset of OWS, there is a fundamental sociological problem with the “Reds and Blue” chapter. While it’s true you’ve written a most compelling analysis of that potential proletarian unity, perhaps the most persuasive I’ve ever read, there’s a fundamental political flaw, which is the fact that the Red OWS protesters are equivalent to prisoners — and the Blue OWS police are equivalent to prison guards — from which no true political compromise can ever be attained.

    Marx, Engels, Lenin & Trotsky would in the last analysis boil capitalist society down to two historically decisive sociological formations, that is, prisoners (red wage slaves) and their incarcerators — Blue guards known also as “turnkeys” & “screws” (because old fashioned locks were like a nut & bolt with threads).

    Nobody on Earth can cite a historical example of a case where a prison uprising took place and the guards sided with the prisoners, aided & abetted them, nor can history document a case where the police (never mind the commercial press) has ever sided with picket line strikers. It cannot happen & will not happen according not so much to politics but the physics of bourgeois society.

    Fact is there’s not a single human being who ever lived whose sauntered up to a bar stool to enjoy a libation that struck up a conversation with a fellow patron on the next bar stool who upon discovering that their neighbor was a cop (or a screw) that didn’t radically change the words that came out of their mouths. Suddenly honesty is not necessarily the best policy. That neighbor bar stool worker cannot be trusted in the normal sense.

    No, in fact that peculiar worker, the cop, screw or turnkey, whose ruined tons of workers’ lives as part of their normal routine, made a conscious decision to ALIENATE HIS OR HER SELF from the rest of the working class. That cop, screw or turnkey volunteered for a job that they knew, or should have godam well known (especially when it comes to tort law) that they were alienating themselves from the rest rest of society, because they de facto have done just that.

    In Tucson, AZ for example, where virtually every working class youth I’ve ever interviewed (and these are just the white kids) considers the “only good cop is a dead cop.” That’s because AZ is a police state and cops ruin lives here. Never mind I haven’t the wherewithal to poll non whites but if I did I suppose it’d be victory to Aztlan!

    Fact is cops in Tucson will only eat at places like Subway, where they can see their food being prepared, because arrests have actually been made at places like Denny’s where a breakfast burrito was allegedly a soft tortilla’s wiped down on the ass crack of a Mexican dish washer — which does tend to stretch the use of re fried beans.

    The mistake that the poor kitchen help made was sticking their stupid heads out of the kitchen door with shit-eating grins while the cops sensed something tasted like shit and the cop literally took the tainted sample to the crime lab for testing when, the results came in, all hell broke loose and they storm trooped the place like Marines out of breath.

    The point is if you look at every prison uprising you will never find guards who joined in to help the uprising and therefore imprisoned youth need to get out of their heads the notion that they can ever win over prison guards in any meaningful way.

    As a fulltime truck mechanic I don’t have the time nor wherewithal to do an archival study of Marx or Lenin’s actual views on the roll of cops during revolution but my political instincts and sociological education tell me it’s ultimately a 100% reactionary roil that cannot be reconciled and must therefore be overcome by the movement. That’s not to say that our actions cannot demoralize them, and force them to consider their untenable actions, but win them over to the prison uprising is ultimately an unthinkable waste of time.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 21, 2011 @ 2:50 am

  31. “I never implied that anarchists/anarchism insist that “every single decision must be made by consensus,” so if there are strawmen in this discussion they are not of my making. I pointed out how quite a few decisions/actions are done autonomously, i.e. not through consensus. I have been in quite a few meetings where important decisions have been tabled precisely because we could not come to a consensus even where it seemed like there was no way we could not go forward.”

    On the first point, you’re right and I apologize for inferring otherwise, I just wanted to put that information out there. As to the second, we’re both speaking broadly. I was more specifically referring to a point in a meeting where either the community as it is currently functioning or even the meeting itself could not continue without a decision being reached one way or the other. To what important decisions being tabled do you refer and what happened as a result? In the example I’m referring to, tabling would have meant the Spokes Council would have to adjourn at least temporarily and possibly permanently unless people could consent to the process, so a straw poll became necessary.

    Comment by Daniel — December 21, 2011 @ 5:00 am

  32. Nobody on Earth can cite a historical example of a case where a prison uprising took place and the guards sided with the prisoners, aided & abetted them, nor can history document a case where the police (never mind the commercial press) has ever sided with picket line strikers. It cannot happen & will not happen according not so much to politics but the physics of bourgeois society.

    I beg to differ Karl: http://www.newser.com/story/126969/rebels-had-double-agent-in-gadhafis-security-force.html

    Comment by Binh — December 21, 2011 @ 5:15 am

  33. Daniel, I’m referring to stuff in direct action. I’ve also seen straw poll “votes” taken, so you’re right it’s not 100% (or 90%) consensus.

    Comment by Binh — December 21, 2011 @ 5:17 am

  34. Right, so you can table a Direct Action without putting the entire community, or even that meeting, on hold. You may just find that more problematic than I do.

    Comment by Daniel — December 21, 2011 @ 5:22 am

  35. @#32 — That’s not a viable counter example Binh as here in the belly of the beast there are no double agent prison guards and cops don’t help strikers. The exceptions only buttress the rule. That’s not to say the movement should go out of their way to alienate law enforcement workers. On the contrary their sympathies should be cultivated whenever possible but nobody should be lulled into believing one can tame the fight out of a fight dog just because they’re objectively similar to all other dogs.

    These people make a conscious decision to alienate themselves from the rest of society. Sociology stats show that within 36 months on the job cops lose 90% of their civilian friends. Bridging these kinds of social gaps is virtually impossible.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 21, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  36. Karl, I don’t understand the point of your analogy. I just gave you a historical example in recent history of parts of a police force (the higher ups, amazingly) that split and joined a revolution, something that you claimed (or maybe I read you wrong) was impossible. I don’t see what in my piece you are objecting to. Maybe you can quote the part that is wrong and that will help me understand.

    Comment by Binh — December 21, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  37. I suppose one of my problems with this article lies in the posited need for the movement to have guidance. Vanguardism in popular movements is outmoded just as is all the other frameworks that we stand in opposition to. I understand frustration relating to leading a movement in directions that we would like to see, but is indicative of the capitalist model of production, including within it ideology and process. For a movement like this to not only appear legitimate but to be legitimate, we must understand that the concept of modified consent stands against our old notions like vanguardism or “dictatorship of the proletariat.” These frameworks of understanding and controlling (for they are both and inseparable) must be done away with as well. I understand that this is very ingrained in our historical context. Nonetheless, we must critically attempt to redefine the left in ways that favor the group over individual thinkers.
    I agree that the socialists do themselves no favors by keeping themselves away from the manual labor aspects of occupying. Not because as Binh stated, that mental labor and manual labor are both important, but because mental labor is a product of manual labor. Ideology is a product of a specific mode of production that exists in a time and a place, and being removed from that is being removed from understanding this new emergence.
    What this failure represents is the failure of Western Marxism as a whole. Focusing on mental labor and processes which produce ideological content instead of getting their hands dirty. What Gramsci and Marx properly understood is that new modes of production lead to new ideologies. So, with these new modes of production, we see ideologies emerge despite what “ideological content” is produced by Occupy, and it will not always be aligned with the work of the socialists. What we are seeing is an emergence of new frameworks of understanding and doing. These frameworks are necessarily reactionary to capitalism, but also necessarily reactionary to old leftist ideologies which do not exist in our current social and historical context.

    Comment by Matthew Carson — December 21, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

  38. “Nobody on Earth can cite a historical example of a case where a prison uprising took place and the guards sided with the prisoners, aided & abetted them, nor can history document a case where the police (never mind the commercial press) has ever sided with picket line strikers. It cannot happen & will not happen according not so much to politics but the physics of bourgeois society.

    I beg to differ Karl: http://www.newser.com/story/126969/rebels-had-double-agent-in-gadhafis-security-force.html

    So do I: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php?article_id=11402

    Comment by D_D — December 21, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

  39. Matthew, the uprising has guidance already. That is a fact. Do you agree?

    D_D thanks for that! My Irish side swells with pride.

    Comment by Binh — December 21, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

  40. Comment by D_D:

    “But the mutiny was petering out. On 11 August 3,200 police and troops poured into Catholic West Belfast.

    “They unleashed a reign of terror. Workers were beaten and intimidated. Homes were wrecked. The troops and police used batons and bayonets freely. They killed two workers in Divis Street and wounded countless more.”

    This doesn’t exactly contradict KF’s argument.

    That said, I can agree that there is sometimes a tendency among some self-proclaimed socialists to make a fetish out of slamming the police. There are some very good sound reasons for being wary of any role which the police may play, but there is also the tendency to convert this into another of the More-Revolutionary-Than-Thou talking points. Some judgment and discretion should be exercised in determining when does it serve a real purpose and when is it acting more as a kind of brand-marketing for “revolutionary socialists” pushing a sales pitch onto the gullible consumer body of “revolution-buyers.”

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 21, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

  41. hm… I don’t think it matters. The point of the movement is not decided by the participants on the ground alone. I think we are getting into the subject-object relationship here. Tho observer outside the movement sees no leadership, instead they see consensus, and already these have already become part of the new American ideology. What is important is the perception of the movement in the public eye,and that is through channels of the media, alternative and mainstream. What actually happened and happens are of importance in so far as how they are perceived and then remembered.

    Comment by Matthew Carson — December 21, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

  42. Bihn:

    I should have made it clearer but my argument was meant to be applicable only to the “Core” countries (to use an Emanual Wallersteinism) — the belly of the beast, that is, I meant the police forces of Imperialist countries have never broken ranks and have only been strikebreakers, without exception.

    Countries historically oppressed by imperialism have a qualitatively different police force, corrupted by imperialist turpitude, they are far less professional. In those cases, sure, not just in Libya but in other 3rd world revolutions police forces have indeed broken ranks, quite often actually, and in fact can be counted on to do so.

    Just imagine today how many Syrian foot cops would love to plunge a dagger into the heart of the Assad regime but are held back by the fear & loathing of the potential reprisals, but still may do it in a heartbeat.

    In these “periphery” countries (to use the other Wallersteinism) historically victimized by imperialism the sociological stats I originally referred to don’t apply, that is, when a Mexican campesino joins the local police force in, say, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico he doesn’t lose 90% of his civilian friends within 36 months. Not even close. But in the USA cops do, so with this simple caveat in mind (the Core countries) my point remains very important.

    That’s not to say your exploration isn’t useful — because it is — all avenues must be exploited for advantages in this world historic movement we’re all involved in, let’s just not forget the physics of history during our excursions.

    It’s a stubborn fact that in the big police departments in the USA right from the 1st week in the academy they train recruits to view citizens as “Shitheads” (NYPD): “Turds” (Dallas PD) and “Assholes” (LAPD) — this is per a retired LAPD academy Drill Sergeant who wrote a scathing book shortly after the Rodney King riots.

    Sociology stats show these kinds of cops from these uber-professional departments vote over 90% Republican. They probably secretly dream of plunging a dagger into the Obama regime but not because they’re revolutionary but because they’re racists who would rather have a McCain or a Giuliani beefing up the repressive apparatus of the state they are employed by. Little do these dickless idiots know that Obama is probably to the right of McCain on many of the issues they hold dear — he’s certainly been objectively the 3rd term of the Bush administration.

    By contrast the average police officer in Mexico, Libya or Syria was definitely not sent through the kind of academy that had the wherewithal to inculcate the idea that the average citizen is a shithead, turd, or asshole. They’re brutes, yes, like all cops, but It just doesn’t work that way in 3rd World police forces for a variety of socio-political reasons which should be obvious.

    Why DD chose to repeat your post almost exactly remains a mystery?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 22, 2011 @ 1:22 am

  43. Binh, I was wondering if what I said about the historical tendency of soldiers and other military personnel being more open to leftist/Marxist tendencies than their police counterparts makes any sense. Soldiers’ soviets and navy mutinies were a crucial part of the revolution in Russia in 1917 and the (failed) revolution in Germany in 1918. Already, a number of ex-soldiers have enthusiastically joined the #Occupy demonstrations, in what are often fairly high-profile cases. At least to my knowledge, there haven’t been any cops who have “defected” in such a manner.

    If a contingent of policemen were to join with the protestors, obviously their support would probably be welcome. However, until they do, the police remain agents of state oppression. I personally feel it would be unwise to regard them otherwise.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — December 22, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

  44. Ross, what about officer Rorey? Emailing Occupy Atlanta for help against a foreclosure is not exactly police protocol, is it? Was he acting as an agent of state oppression in doing so?

    Comment by Binh — December 22, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  45. On the topic of Occupy, I give this report to you comrades that I found rather amusing.

    It seems that an Occupy group set up shop in a park in Darien, CT USA.

    If any of you are familiar with lower Fairfield County Connecticut, then you know that Darien is very right winged conservative and super wealthy.

    As expected, the Occupy turnout was small after all Darien is the stuck up capital of America surpassing Greenwich in the wealth department.

    There was a small counterprotest of people, who were denying association with the Tea Party, holding up picket signs that said STOP THE SUCCESS WARFARE!

    As if Americans are going to buy the notion that these poor little successful bourgeoisie are getting a bum deal.

    Oh yeah those poor one percenters with their tax breaks and loopholes, and mansions, boats, planes and hired hands who wipe their bourgeois butts.

    Spare me folks I have zero sympathy and couldn’t stop laughing when they spoke of the warfare against them.

    Perhaps Occupy should scrap the idea of trying to promote their movement in Darien.

    The audience there is too self absorbed to even notice there is a world outside the gate.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 23, 2011 @ 4:57 am

  46. Post being discussed here too:

    http://www.politicalworld.org/showthread.php?t=8800&page=3

    Comment by D_D — December 23, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  47. […] strongly recommend that the ISO comrades pay careful attention to Pham Binh’s article “Occupy and the tasks of socialists“, especially the […]

    Pingback by What kind of party do we need? A reply to Ahmed Shawki « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 23, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  48. “Ross, what about officer Rorey? Emailing Occupy Atlanta for help against a foreclosure is not exactly police protocol, is it? Was he acting as an agent of state oppression in doing so?”

    No, but I don’t see how that can be compared with an actual statement of support for demonstrators by a former enlisted member of the armed forces. If Rorey were actually involved in an effort to defy orders for a crackdown by the police against demonstrations, then that would be different.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 25, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

  49. Wow cool, article, thanks a lot for this article !!!

    Comment by Marxist Chavizta — December 26, 2011 @ 5:45 am

  50. “I submitted this to Kasama. I don’t know if they will publish it or not.”

    Apparently they did today.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 27, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  51. I’m concerned that no-one has taken up the issue of how to deal with the sexual harassment that Pham Binh describes. Surely, this is an issue that could and should have been resolved within OWS and its democracy?

    Comment by Geoff Brown — January 1, 2012 @ 6:08 am

  52. Geoff, at OWS they set up communal women-only tents to end this problem (and another one was set up as a safe space for GLBTs as well since there were also male victims) in the week leading up to the eviction. The problem was that there was room for only 18 occupants and the sign-up list soon outstripped the capacity. Early in the morning hours a woman was removed from said tent because her name was not on the list when someone on the list showed up for her spot. Needless to say it was a huge mess. The town planning group for the failed occupation of the Trinity church site planned to 1) be much more strict in enforcing community guidelines and 2) ban individual tents which probably would have nipped the problem (along with drug use and alcohol) in the bud altogether. Unfortunately the action was a failure, as I figured it would be.

    The reason I raised the issue in the piece is to point out how the socialist left was/is either unaware or willfully ignorant of the actual problems facing Occupy; instead it seems to favor ideological arguments.

    Comment by Binh — January 3, 2012 @ 4:43 am

  53. Google the terms OWS and activists and this is the second result:

    http://biggovernment.com/tloudon/2011/12/20/o-w-s-activist-police-rank-and-file-are-professional-class-traitors-but-we-should-attempt-to-use-them-against-the-1ers/

    My “line” on the cops apparently infuriated some on the right. Some of the comments about my nationality here are priceless. The Pol Pot one was great.

    Comment by Binh — January 10, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  54. Oh my lord, they actually accused you of being in the Vietcong. Hilarious.

    Comment by ish — January 10, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  55. Too bad they don’t get that being accused of being related to the Vietcong is a badge of honor that the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants recognize as perhaps the most heroic peoples & admirable resistance fighters in human history.

    Even the late Christopher Hitchens, on his last day alive, would back me on that point.

    The bosses, bankers & landlords should FEAR THE DAY that OWS resistance has the acumen, temerity, courage & cajones as the Vietcong!

    Even if these gutless turd sycophants of the ruling classes meant Pol Pot instead of the Vietcong they ought to read what the late liberal Spalding Grey said in “Swimming to Cambodia” about the socio-economic & military conditions (relentless carpet bombing by cowards 7 miles high) that lead to the rise of phenoms like Pol Pot.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 11, 2012 @ 1:03 am

  56. The only discernible change I’ve seen as a result of this is that I haven’t seen any of the groups continuing to argue that the cops are not part of the 99%. I suppose that’s progress.

    Comment by Binh — January 24, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  57. That’s progress all right because in no victorious revolution in the history of the universe have the masses ever counted on the cops for anything except to be given shit & then pushed into it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 25, 2012 @ 2:42 am

  58. Karl, I think you misunderstood me. “The groups” I was referring to are the socialist left. I haven’t seen them going on about how cops are “not part of the 99%” since my piece.

    Nobody in Occupy is counting on the cops for anything except for pepper spray and tear gas. This is not a new development.

    Comment by Binh — January 28, 2012 @ 7:47 am

  59. Paul D’amato of the International Socialist Review responds to this piece in the conclusion here:

    http://links.org.au/node/2726

    Comment by Binh — February 6, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

  60. “The biggest policemen’s union said it would issue arrest warrants for foreign bankers from the ECB and IMF who show up in Greece.” From: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/street_slides_on_greece_protests_y6auIHjHE1QtLc1quQ4MeK#ixzz1m6TYuwox

    Don’t they know they’re not part of the 99%? :)

    Comment by Binh — February 11, 2012 @ 7:33 pm


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