by Pham Binh
Over the headline of this blog are a series of pages which contain longer, more analytic articles. A new one by a North American anti-capitalist, Pham Binh, appears above entitled ‘OCCUPY AND THE TASK OF SOCIALISTS’. I would like to encourage visitors to this ‘critical-mass’ blog to read this important contribution on how anti-capitalists should orientate themselves to the wider struggles which are developing under the impetuous of the current crisis. Although the examples are all from the US, this is an important article for at least two reasons. First as internationalists we should be aware of what is happening elsewhere. Secondly the issues raised have an international relevance. It is to be hoped this article will attract comments and contributions on the issues covered.
In the article, Pham Binh suggests that the Occupy Wall Street Movement has created an important new development in the struggle against capital, but that the socialist left ‘ has not begun to think through the “big picture” implications’ of the Occupy Movement. Because the ‘occupy’ movement has not fitted the usual paradigm of preferred left forms of organisation, this has caused them to ‘wait and see’ rather than join in. Even after a late involvement, Pham Binh argues that most of the left have still failed engage fully with the movement or fully understand how it works.
Although no ‘official’ leadership’ patterns inform the ‘occupy’ movement, he notes, the leadership falls to those who are most involved. And those most involved have been those who do not have to work long hours and have ‘legal’ status as citizens. The system of decision-making by ‘modified consensus’ has been criticised by the left and although it may be cumbersome, he argues that this structure and form also mean the movement is not easily co-opted by pro-capitalist or reformist forces.
Pham Binh, notes that any 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. He adds;
“David Graeber, the anarchist OWS organiser 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 organising, 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. “
Pham Binh notes that ‘trying to overturn existing practices in favour of Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting and formally electing leaders by making proposals along these lines at GAs will fail’. This is because ‘Occupy participants have not been shown by example’ that other methods are superior.
He also notes the tendency of the left to participate in only certain types of activity, namely mental (or intellectual) aspects generally keeping away from physical labour (grunt work as he calls it) in cooking, cleaning, medical etc. This he argues is a failure. He notes;
“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.”
Later he discusses ‘the tactics of the Anarchist groups and assesses their strengths and weaknesses‘. He also argues forcibly against the left characterisation of the police as the enemy or part of the 1%. He notes;
“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.”
He then argues that socialists should be ‘fanning the flames between rank and file cops and their bosses, between the police force and the 1% they work for’ and that;.
“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 neutralise them.”
My own view is that although in some places or some countries, there may be exceptions to this possibility, not to explore and utilise any such contradictions would be the crassest form of dualism. He also warns that if socialist groups focus on ‘winning arguments and ideological points rather than actively listening, joining hands and fighting alongside’ them they will continue to be viewed as outsiders‘. Like a number of us in Greater Manchester he concludes that one difficulty the socialist left faces in any new uprisings is; ” the divisions in our ranks that serve in practice to weaken the overall socialist influence within Occupy”.
He further suggests that “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 this generation end up in separate “competing” socialist groups as they did in the 1960s.” Finally he invites:
“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.”
For Pham Binh’s full article and his web site address, click on the heading OCCUPY AND THE TASKS OF SOCIALISTS above.
R. Ratcliffe (January 2012.)