“Activism is no substitute for class action” – Why Occupy is headed the way of MoveOn™
The ICC has an interesting piece on their website entitled “Activism no substitute for class action [sic]”
It’s a fairly long piece, but I would encourage everyone to read it. It’s a constructive critique of Occupy & the failures of “activists,” unions in particular, from an international socialist perspective. The author makes a number of salient observations.
I’ll give a rundown with commentary, below:
Co-option by the professional left
Noting the waning influence of OWS of late (at least in the media), they say this is due to partial co-option by traditional leftist activists.
We think it is important to at least point out that the Occupy Movement’s confusions regarding its goals, its tactics, and its form of organization created the conditions of isolation from the wider struggles of the working class.
This has opened the door to the intrusion by political groups that do not belong to the working class and who have expertly manipulated the state of the consensus process to distort the General Assemblies and install themselves at the movement’s helm.
The Nascent Subversion Of Organized Labor
Co-option attempts appear to have been at least marginally successful. According to the author, this contributed to the de-vitalization of the occupation.
The Occupy Movement, or whatever is left of it, is today in the hands of experienced activists and organizers. As such, we think it is in great jeopardy of missing the opportunity for a genuine development in the direction of class, & proletarian positions.”
In the linked article, the “activists and organizers” in question were the organized labor leaders involved with the port actions with Occupy Oakland. These leaders partially led to the de-vitalization of the movement.
And they believe this is due to organized labor’s leadership increasingly large separation from the working class, a problem that has plagued labor increasingly since the 80’s.
It looks like the 99% has 1%ers masquerading in their ranks.
Which leads to a critique of the proposed May Day actions, in conjunction with big labor:
How successful can this action be in the face of a virtually demobilized movement? Can it develop a perspective for overcoming capitalism — the root cause of humanity’s suffering– against which at least initially the movement seemed to be to crystallizing, in isolation, without linking up to the wider struggles of the working class?
Most importantly, who can be the subject of a radical transformation of society today? The activists and organizers who today are largely at the helm of a demobilized movement? The labor parties and attendant unions? Or the non-exploiting masses themselves, consciously and autonomously organized?
Class Action vs. “Activism”
And thus begins the crux of the argument:
It’s time to leave organized labor leaders out, and focus on actual labor, labor members, and class identity. Legacy forms of activism, and even newer forms of clicktivism, no longer work.
Experienced activists and organizers vie for a position of power and status and identify rather with the bureaucratic tendencies of a union’s apparatus” [Can you say MoveOn™?]
In other words, with “activists” everything devolves into a power grab.
This gets to another key point: the bureaucratic structures of legacy groups (“the professional left”) will drown out and undermine consensus, which is what separates Occupy from most organizations, and gives it its vitality.
In fact, these bureaucratic structures are the identities of the very structures they are trying to take down, both gov’t & corporations, but also the co-opters: the legacy activist groups, and unions.
“The Professional Left” works for the ruling class
They say contemporary “Activism fully works for the benefit of the ruling class,” and their hierarchical strata; not to the benefit of those who are supposedly spoken for. This dovetails pretty well with the premise of Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class,” where he says “the liberal class gives legitimacy to the power elite.”
To make their point, Democrat activists have made income inequality a pet issue, co-opting it for their own masters’ desires.
Rather than encouraging a deepening of the understanding of how capitalism works, why it can no longer offer long-lasting reforms, what needs to be done to address the social problems of the world, and who is to do so, activism ties the movement to the belief that the capitalist state can intervene on behalf of the dispossessed, and that capitalism can still offer ‘opportunities’ and prosperity.
In other words, in the end we are left with the “dead end of reformism,” rather than structural change or revolution. Health care “reform” is a perfect example of this dead end approach. The whole point is to leave the system intact.
The reason being, the structures of the legacy groups & “activists” are still tied & inherently linked to the current structure of capitalism. MSNBC pundits like Sharpton are a sad example of this fact.
From here, they are not too sanguine about the future of Occupy. They see them falling into the traps of “activism” & the professional left, rather than true revolution that they aspire to.
To make their point, they address the scheduled upcoming May Day actions:
It is filled with guest speakers and personalities from the union apparatus, leftist activism, and radical academia who will hold teach-ins about most notably May Day and the general strike.”
In other words, they will talk about talking.
Further, they say Occupy has been confused, as it has partly adopted the views of the “activists” & their masters, and that the problems we face cannot be solved with constitutional amendments, adjusting the tax code, legal semantics regarding corporate personhood, etc.
Instead the true problem is “usurpation of a state otherwise neutral and beneficial by ‘corporate greed’.” The only way to address this is through mass uprising and socio-economic class based action.
In their view, the way forward is to focus more on class structures, rather than activist and union structures.
This means truly getting back to working with the 99%, rather than working with Michael Moore, Van Jones, Trumka, Ilya Sheyman, Tom Periello, etc.
From there, enough confidence will be generated that “a social conflict which can only be resolved through massive, generalized, and unified class confrontations against the oppression of capital” will bring forth the process that will resolve what Occupy originally set out to address.