Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 4, 2012

Evict us, we multiply

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Evict Us, We Multiply

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street on March 2, 2012

At 9 a.m., as most of us clocked in to work for the 1%, occupiers in New York City clocked in to work for the 99% by assembling in Bryant Park to take action against the members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful corporate lobbying group that literally writes legislation. The call to “shut down the corporations” on #F29 came from Occupy Portland weeks ago. Actions spanned the nation and coincided with anti-austerity protests in Spain and Belgium. Targets included Pfizer, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, AT&T, and others. Three Wal-Mart warehouses in Mira Loma, California were closed by the time occupiers got there.

The mood was festive and defiant, a real achievement given the cold, the rain, and the turnout (about 100). After leaving Bryant Park, occupiers spoke on the people’s mic in front of Pfizer before returning to the park for drumming, chanting, singing, and a teach-in by America’s top muckraker Matt Taibbi on Bank of America, the next target of the roving march. Taibbi spoke under an umbrella, discussed the ins and outs of mortgage-backed securities fraud, and noted how the 1% hedge their election bets by giving generously to both parties.

No matter who wins in November, the 99% lose. Two parties, 1%.

The most popular chants of the day:

“Robbers, thieves, protected by police!”

“A, anti, anticapitalista!”

“From New York to Greece, fuck the police!”

“Evict us, we multiply! Occupy will never die!”

The last of these was chanted loudest and most insistently. But is it true?

From the beginning of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) on September 17, 2011, the mainstream media and some in the progressive community have speculated endlessly about Occupy’s demise. We were on our last legs before we were even born. They focused on allegedly insurmountable difficulties: first the lack of “demands,” ideology, or agreed-upon political strategy, then Occupy was too middle class, white, straight, and male to gain traction with workers, women, LGBTs, and people of color who make up most of the 99%, and now they point to the fact that we’ve been evicted from most of our encampments.

The wiseacres failed to understand something very simple: stumbling is not falling, as Malcolm X said.

Look at it this way: when Gadhafi’s government went postal on the Libyan people in early 2011, was it the end of the Libyan revolution? No. Gadhafi’s failed to extinguish the flames of revolution with Libyan blood despite his best efforts. Instead, he created a subterranean fire by driving the organizing underground into neighborhood cells in Libya’s capital Tripoli. With NATO fighters screaming overhead and an offensive by militias from the west, these cells launched a carefully planned uprising on August 20, the day the Prophet Muhammed captured Mecca, adding Gadhafi to the list of dictators ousted by the Arab Spring cleaning and giving heart to the Syrians who quickly began to chant, “Bye, bye Qaddafi, Bashar your turn is coming.”

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=303

17 Comments »

  1. Nice piece. British Stalinism has swung full square behind Assad and become all-out opponents of the Arab Spring. The British SWP are aiding them in this providing the political cover. It was they who put a resolution at yesterdays so-called Stop the War Coalition conference behind which they and the Stalinist could unite excusing the butchery at Homs.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 4, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

  2. Maybe Occupy should request aid from NATO the way that the Libyan underground got? Seriously, while I have no special inclination to parade Qaddafi as the champion of the Arab people, it does sound a bit naive to use such parallels. Qaddafi was a Third World nationalist dictator who first established himself during the Cold War at a time when the Soviet Union existed as a counter-balance to US power. In the last decade of his life he started growing closer to US imperialism and was helping the CIA to torture prisoners. But then the unexpected outbreak of the Arab Spring created an unanticipated context where Washington felt a need to intervene somewhere and show its strength and decisiveness, while still trumpeting itself as the champion of democracy. That formed the context in which Qaddafi was rudely thrown under the bus by Washington. One doesn’t have to feel any special sympathy for Qaddafi in order to understand that this type of situation is totally non-comparable to what is facing the Occupiers. If they could just request aid from Putin then that might be a great break, but don’t hold your breath on that. Without such, there is no valid comparison to Libya.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — March 5, 2012 @ 12:31 am

  3. The occupy movement apparently has been defeated.
    Pham Binh does not seem to realize this. Occupy tried to reform capitalism, not overthrow it. There was no Marxist program, and no leadership. I almost convinced myself Lou was posting Binh’s piece as a sort of ironic parody, but apparently not. I am not trying to be an asshole, I still support my local Occupy group and they are sputtering along, I’d like to hear what Lou has to say about this though, as he defended Binh’s previous essays and now this one seems a little, well, not connected to reality.

    Comment by Robert Allen — March 5, 2012 @ 2:58 am

  4. Much of the problem comes from the general population. One can’t expect the ruling class to be genial. The U.S. remains a deeply conservative country in the thrall of exceptionalism and there is little reason to believe this will change. Even the progressive impulses of working class immigrant groups come more from a reaction to the racism of the Republican hard-right flank than a progressive impulse.

    Comment by purple — March 5, 2012 @ 5:38 am

  5. #2 The Stalinist reptiles over at Socialist Unity blog in the UK have taken a dip in the lake of blood Assad has created in Homs and they are enjoying the warm feeling it gives them especially as they are still grieving for Gadaffi. The new hero of Socialism is Assad it seems. The British StWC is exposed as a truly repulsive outfit of Stalinist refugees given political cover by the British SWP and their Stalinoid leaders who now also share complicity in the butchery.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 5, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  6. Since none of the wiseacres, left or right, could have conceived of Occupy in the first place, it is not surprising that they are now burbling with joy at what they perceive to be its defeat. But the Occupiers are still still manifesting; warmer weather is coming; and the Nazi farce of the fraudulent presidential election, if nothing else, will provide plenty of occasions for action and debate, however dangerous that may become.

    Certainly goals, demands, and organization will have to arise at some point. But one thing would remain true even if the movement had been defeated: no “Marxist program and … leadership” will succeed if they forget the lessons taught by Occupy.

    To have brought awareness of class to the front and center of American political discourse as Occupy has done is to have accomplished the impossible. In the past forty and more years, no left-wing movement except Occupy has come close to doing this.

    When we look at the machinery of repression being arrayed against the movement–e.g. the Nazi anti-demonstration law just passed by the unwashed prostitutes of the U.S. Congress, the carnival of high-tech murder being readied in Chicago by that foulmouthed sociopath Rahm Emanuel–it is difficult not to be both enraged and terrified.

    But Occupy burst forth originally in spite of conditions that were not far short of what we are seeing now. The Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan movements faced far worse conditions.

    I do not think that Occupy is going away just yet, or would even if the word Occupy disappeared from the shelves of the American supermarket of ideas.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 5, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  7. One further thing, if I may. The Occupy movement exemplifies the anarchist spirit of mutual aid. This is something foreign, not to say incompreshensible, to most of the Marxist-Leninist tradition. I think that in the objective conditions here and now in the U.S., that spirit and practice are essential to any movement that wants to enlist the masses, who are reeling with the repeated blows of immiseration, and who have no tradition of survival in poverty to fall back on.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 5, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  8. incomprehensible, not incompreshensible. sorry

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 5, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  9. That is not true Joe. The Marxist movement have always supported, championed and initiated occupations as they pose the question of working class power and who is in control. They nearly always form part of a class struggle programme. Certainly it is an anathema to the Stalinist and centrist manifestations of `marxism-leninism’.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 5, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  10. David, the comment that you were replying to concerns mutual aid, not occupations in general.

    This means so little to you that, unable or unwilling to grasp what I said, you have actually substituted your own words for what I wrote. I am sure this happened without your being aware of it consciously.

    Nothing could demonstrate my point more clearly.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 5, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

  11. I don’t know what’s worse, the wiseacres or the know-nothings.

    Joe: the funny thing is that “the Marxist-Leninist tradition” has almost zero in common with how the Bolsheviks did things — the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party’s activists set up mutual aid societies, for instance. They even had pubs. Mutual aid is essential to any mass movement, much less one that seeks to mobilize and organize the working class.

    Comment by Binh — March 5, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

  12. Bihh: excellent point, thank you! I thought of Kropotkin and mutual aid in a flash while writing my post this morning, then went back and did a bit of research on Kropotkin to make sure I had that connection right at a basic level. I didn’t look into sources on the actual events of the Russian revolution, though I am currently plowing my way through Rabinowitch, who I see actually describes what you are talking about. I am delighted to have this information!

    Anyway, this also links back to and complements a thread that has developed recently in which various “alternative” economic strategies and sharing strategies are being put forward as revolutionary by some and decried by others–community gardens and other things.

    Such things can of course become counter-revolutionary distractions, but the point here and with reference to mutual aid is that people thrust into misery have to find enough support to go on with their lives in some form if they are to realize revolutionary potential. I am writing in haste and can’t put this in a better form than that at the moment.

    I think this is particularly important in the United States now for a number of reasons, including the fact that immiseration is particularly shocking to the American consumer and ex-consumer, who have perhaps had little experience of raw want–and/or the raw fear of it–until recently.

    I believe that Occupy does get this–indeed, perhaps, exists to some extent as a response to it–though it may be that they don’t grasp all the ramifications. Surely Marxists must respond straightforwardly to this problem if they wish to show a way forward in this concrete situation.

    PS: I hope I don’t qualify as a “know-nothing.” Best wishes!

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 5, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

  13. I guess I must be a wiseacre then. Bihn is completely disingenuous of course. Lenin was a huge supporter of the German Social Democrats mutual aid societies especially its working class choirs and despite Tsarist despotism, illegality and working underground for much of the time the Bolsheviks were very big on mutual-aid, establishing trade unions and the day to day existence of the class.

    Joe, sorry if I misunderstood you but it came across as you saying that marxists have no interest in the class whilst anarchists do.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 6, 2012 @ 11:11 am

  14. David:

    What I thought I was saying boils down to this: not (of course) that anarchists know more about class than Marxists, but that Occupy–anarchist movement though it mostly is, (except for the part being claimed by the Democrats)–is the first mass movement in my lifetime (63 years) that has succeeded in bringing class conflict as such to the forefront of popular discourse and consciousness.

    This does not mean that Occupy (Anarchist) therefore beats Marxism in class analysis. That would be profoundly unhistorical, in my view–as well as preposterously naive. It does mean that they have accomplished something very important in the concrete historical situation in which we find ourselves. (And please understand that I am excluding Black Blockery from serious consideration as a political view, although they claim to be anarchists.) It ill behooves Marxists to patronize this reality out of existence.

    As to mutual aid, Binh made essentially the same point you are making, except that he seems to agree with me to some extent that the “Marxist tradition” by and large–as opposed to Lenin and Kautsky, in the early twentieth century–doesn’t here and now seem to honor this concept. I am forced to add, although it should be self-evident, that mutual aid does figure prominently in anarchism (as in the writings of Kropotkin).

    Obviously there is a good deal more to be said on this bunch of subjects. Part of the key, in my view, is to see Occupy as a response in large part to the immiseration of social groups without recent experience of dire want or the serious threat of dire want.

    Shamus Cooke, of Workers’ Action, has a piece in a recent Truthout (of all places) in which, in sepia-tinted, if restrained, Leninoid language, he lectures Occupy on the inadequacy of their recent tactics.

    This piece–apart from an unreasonable implied premise that Occupy must fail if it does not immediately succeed at everything it does–exemplifies what I take to be that Marxist tradition which, as practiced in the U.S. (and probably also the U.K.) at present, remains willfully tone-deaf to the actual social processes that spawned the Occupy movement in the first place.

    II do think a successful mass movement in the U.S. must find a way to offer mutual aid, in the context of a deeper engagement with the immiseration of the working class in general.

    If this is self-evident, as you and Binh both appear to be saying, it nevertheless doesn’t operate any more automatically than any other part of a revolution. So it’s remarkable how little the matter is discussed in forums like this one, especially when the discussion turns to tactics.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 6, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

  15. Occupy–anarchist movement though it mostly is, (except for the part being claimed by the Democrats)–is the first mass movement in my lifetime (63 years) that has succeeded in bringing class conflict as such to the forefront of popular discourse and consciousness.

    That’s exactly it! One wonders what the left who is so quick to deride Occupy is waiting for to materialize. Banners with pictures of Lenin & Trotsky? That’s not how it works. I’m in a neighborhood group where people — and sure, a number of us have histories in activism or the left but really we’re just neighbors — have discussions every week about smashing capitalism. That’s pretty fucking awesome, and at age 53, something I have never experienced before.

    Comment by ish — March 6, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  16. PS The Cooke piece can be found at:

    http://www.truth-out.org/was-occupys-shut-down-corporations-action-success/1330789004

    I’m not sure the URL is permanent, but if this link fails, one can always search via Google.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 6, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  17. David: To be clear I wasn’t including you in either category. Some of the comments here are just completely off the wall. Hopefully that doesn’t come across as disingenuous unlike my other comment (I don’t count Lenin as a Leninist, which is probably what gave rise to the misunderstanding).

    Comment by Binh — March 6, 2012 @ 10:05 pm


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