Friday, December 9, 2011

The wheel, reinvented? A few thoughts on Occupy 4 Jobs

The birth of any united front initiative or group is fraught with contradictions and frustrations. Occupy 4 Jobs could be no different. Emerging out of an activist meeting in NYC on November 5, it bore the hallmarks of previous trial balloons launched by Workers World Party and its supporters: Millions for Mumia, Troops Out Now Coalition, Bail Out the People Movement, Stop War on Iran, et cetera. They can all be found at the bottom of this page.

Some of these initiatives were more successful than others. When they declined, they were set aside, and something new proposed and launched. Critics of WWP will say that the party created these groups in order to counterpose them to living coalitions and movements WWP felt uncomfortable working in. I think party supporters would probably reply that they were trying to unite all the most advanced political activists moving in a Marxist-Leninist direction under their umbrella.

Occupy 4 Jobs comes at a different time and in a different context than previous coalitions/united front groups. "Occupy" as a word has a new and militant connotation for the activities of the oppressed, not just the oppressor. While WWP activists have for decades operated on a "68er" platform [coalitions > marches > teach-ins > campus activism > coalitions > marches], the #occupy movement took that normally long-term and behind-the-scenes process and planted it at the site of contestation. No more church basements or outre coffee shops for semi-public or public coalition and march planning meetings. The entire operation would be conducted in the open on the court house or city hall or stock exchange grounds.

In such a world, how does a Marxist-Leninist party that has christened its work "Occupy 4 Jobs" find its way? What map readings and proposed courses do they propose in the new political landscape inaugurated by #occupy?

It strikes me that Occupy 4 Jobs has a decidedly pre-#occupy look to it. Go to their website, and there is precious little talk about actual occupation; instead, we are greeted with the art for a march on January 16, 2012 at New York City's Union Square: Make King Day Occupy 4 Jobs Day

This is a far cry from OWS. But it is more than that. It is an organizational reversion: using the term "occupy" as a tag on the same types of events that WWP activists have launched for years. A cynic would say this is opportunist pandering or - just as bad - tailism.

In January 2011 the WWP united front group Bail Out the People Movement had a MLK Day march. Marches were organized for jobs around MLK Day in 2009 and 2010, as well.

Do WWP cadre and leaders have such low confidence in themselves and their message that they feel the need to wrap themselves in the flowing mantle of MLK? Whatever the reason, it is being laid-on a bit thick.

This is not to say that marches are, in my view, old-fashioned and unnecessary, or a distraction. But not every new ill, crises, and conjuncture needs to be greeted with the same medicine, either. And not every banner and leaflet needs to feature the name and/or image of MLK. [And let's not forget: every bourgeois politician of the left and right today seeks to wrap themselves in the aura of MLK. Whether one listens to BHO, the Tea Party, or Glenn Beck, they all seek the acceptance of the oppressed by presenting their class poisons to working people under the King imprimatur. Enough is enough.]

The "Occupy 4 Jobs" project is problematic. To begin with, as a communist, I want to know whether this is a strategic program for party-building, or a replacement for party-building by a group succumbing to movementarianism. Second, I want to know whether there will be actual occupations of capitalist property, and if the occupiers are committed to their occupations until they are hired.

Are we talking about occupying state and federal employment offices? Or are we talking about occupying employers who refuse to hire more workers?

Will we occupy closed stores and factories and re-open and run them?

Reading the Occupy 4 Jobs Call, it strikes me that O4J wants to be all things to all people, and so runs the risk of amounting to nothing. How many times have a handful of activists exhausted themselves on a project or campaign that sought to capture the temper of the times, only to realize too late that their plans were ill-conceived and their priorities, while echoing the excitement of the moment, misplaced.

In essence: Of what is Occupy 4 Jobs the name?

*

The communist movement today is smaller, weaker, and more marginalized than ever. The #occupy movement, for instance, is not a communist project. For good or ill, it is the product of petty bourgeois radicalism: a semi-anarchist initiative living and expanding within the political zone we dominated in capitalist society for nearly a century.

A few radical scholar activists have started seriously discussing communism, but does this freshening breeze predict future storms, or extirpation?

2011's events have left me more sanguine about the prospects for communism. But rebuilding the communist movement is not an automatic process: it is a conscious daily activity of communists themselves. It is most certainly not a process of repeatedly rounding up and usual suspects.

Today there is no movement for jobs in the United States. There is the beginning of a movement against austerity [#ows], and there is the development of a social movement around defense of public sector and private sector unions, exemplified by the Madison, Wisconsin occupations and the American Crystal Sugar lockout. But none of these breakthroughs has developed a mass character, and no amount of "substitutiary locomotion" by communists trying to create one will do more than squander what little time and energy our movement has.

Occupy 4 Jobs will eventually find itself in counterposition to #occupy, whatever form it takes as the winter months go by. The idea that O4J can become a more Black and more proletarian #occupy, and represent something more real or authentic in this crisis-ridden society, is a daydream. Communists long ago debated the counterposed strategies of "dual unions" vs. "boring from within." Today we must honestly say there is not the mass motion to accommodate dual structures or organizations. We must work within existing and spontaneous structures as they develop and live, and bend every effort to allow more Black and proletarian elements room within them. Occupy 4 Jobs and #occupy are not two superpowers establishing detente or a treaty of mutual aid. They are in contradiction, and since O4J's artificiality and forced character is clear for all to see, it is better for the group to dissolve itself now into the real occupy movement. Whatever work communists do today, better to do it in the living environment that exists, and not in a hobbyists' Potemkin village.


Jay Rothermel

20111209



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