Sunday, January 8, 2012

OWS: a Marxist view

Our debt to Occupy Wall Street movement

Published Jan 8, 2012

The following excerpts are from opening remarks by Larry Holmes, First Secretary of Workers World Party, to the WWP national leadership meeting Dec. 17 in New York City. Holmes’ First Secretary position was officially ratified at this meeting.

We are in the opening stages of a wholly new epoch.

This epoch in all likelihood will be protracted and long. It will be uneven, it will be explosive, it will be fraught with dangers — all of it necessary to that which we have been waiting so long for: the awakening of our global proletariat, and especially the awakening of that section of the proletariat whose development we are responsible for — the working class of the U.S.

The epoch I am referring to is the beginning of the end of capitalism. The epoch will end with the destruction of capitalism and the expropriation of the capitalist class.

Of course, it is possible that at the opportune time, when the system is at its weakest and the capitalist bourgeoisie is the weakest, our class and its leadership might not be prepared to carry through the revolution.

In that case, capitalism might get another short lease on life, the way a parasite does if it is not stomped out. It is axiomatic for revolutionary Marxists that no matter how much it seems that capitalism will fall apart of its own dead weight and decay, it will not simply fall apart. It will need to be buried. And that process can only be completed by the working class. But that is a caveat.

The important point is that anti-capitalist consciousness is growing on a global basis. It is actually surging. Some of it is incipient, not well articulated; some of it is better articulated; some of it is articulated by those who are not real revolutionaries and who have another agenda with whom we have differences. All of that will be part of the terrain that we are developing and fighting.

The Party and the revolutionary movement and all who are moving in a revolutionary direction should not underestimate the depth of the radicalization of sections of the working class, especially the youth but not only the youth. Because radicalization, especially when it abets the struggle, becomes contagious.

And so, if the Party is ultimately going to play its role in helping our class to move toward what is sometimes called the maximum program — socialist revolution — it will be necessary for us to be very conscious, very meticulous and serious in how we go about it.

There are sections of the world capitalist class that are more aware than even the most militant sections of the working-class movement of the reality that this capitalist crisis is no “garden variety” crisis; but rather something infinitely more profound than all previous crises and more importantly, a crisis from which there is no way out.

This is no small matter because our class and its organizations cannot fight that which it does not fully understand. It goes without saying that we communists must assist the working class and the oppressed in defending all the gains, be they significant or meager gains, that are under relentless attack. However, let there be no illusions — the epochal class struggle that is in the making on a global level will not be resolved on the basis of concessions or reforms, or a return to some semblance of “capitalist stability.” Those days are over.

It is important, henceforth, for us to see the possibility of socialist revolution — no not tomorrow — but neither as merely some idea that has no relevance to the class struggle today. To truly understand how unprecedented and irreversible the present world capitalist crisis is, is to understand that the question of the need for world socialist revolution is not something that can be postponed.

Whatever other work the Party undertakes in the day-to-day class struggle, we will not be of help to our class and only cause more confusion, if we fail to illuminate the road to the socialist revolution.

Significance of Occupy Wall Street
movement

The Occupy Wall Street development is symptomatic of this. We have debated inside the Party and in the movement whether or not OWS should have been anticipated. Let’s take a look at that. If you just say in the narrowest sense that no one knew how significant Sept. 17 was going to be and what would happen, I suppose you could make a case for that.

In a larger sense, a more true sense, the Occupy movement should have come as no surprise. Why? The OWS development is wholly unique to the unprecedented character of the current global capitalist crisis. And if we had been paying attention — which we have — some of us at least — we would have known that it was in the making. For example, at our last plenum, some of you may recall, we took note of an article that appeared in Forbes magazine shortly after the rebellions in the United Kingdom in the mid-summer, mid-August.

Forbes magazine — not our paper, not some other radical publication — and the article title was “UK riot means global class war is coming.” This was several weeks before Sept. 17.

The article is significant because it reflected the thinking of at least some within the world capitalist establishment. The article mostly talked about how high unemployment is, particularly among youth, both oppressed and working-class youth, as well as youth who previously considered themselves somewhat more privileged, how devastating unemployment is and how they are all saddled with enormous college-related debt.

One of the most intriguing, astonishing and gratifying aspects of OWS is that it reflected, at least to some extent, that this is a critical social stratum that by virtue of education and other factors is usually promised a place in capitalism. But now, those days are over. And now, this social stratum in the working class and the middle class that capitalism and imperialism have usually depended on for support is beginning to defect.

This must be a cause for great alarm within the bourgeoisie.

We understood right away that there would be tension between some of this stratum and the oppressed sectors of the working class. Most of the young, white participants in the Occupy uprising knew nothing about racism and the national question because it hasn’t been an issue for them.

In the final analysis, however, the rebellion of this heretofore more privileged stratum in the working class and the middle class will ultimately be of help to all the workers and the oppressed of the world.

OWS has sharpened the crisis for the revolutionary movement. It is a crisis for us and our friends and allies. Why? Because even though we are ideologically ahead and can teach the best elements in the Occupy movement things they need to learn about imperialism, about the national question, about the woman question and on and on — in some ways they are ahead of us.

I am talking in general about a phenomenon that is hard to avoid. It is what happens when the revolutionary movement contracts as a result of an extended and painfully long reactionary period.

Even when you survive such a period, it can’t help but affect your thinking. It may make your thinking more conservative, your expectations more conservative, more narrow. In which case you can be surprised by something that signals a break from that period.

I think this is a process the entire working-class movement is going through.

The Occupy Wall Street movement should serve as a wake up call to all who remain committed to a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist direction. The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the developments that led up to it, are easier to understand today as we can more fully appreciate the devastating toll of more than 30 years of worldwide counterrevolution.

Part of that devastating toll has been the degeneration and weakening of the revolutionary socialist orientation.

Degeneration does not happen all at once, overnight, but rather incrementally, almost unconsciously, over an extended period of time and under the pressure of disappointments and frustrations, the causes for which in large part can be traced to stagnation in the working-class movement, demoralization, contraction and fragmentation in the revolutionary movement, and the seemingly endless prevalence of bourgeois triumphalism — a prevalence that has clearly now come to an end.

In some ways, the young, inexperienced and ideologically eclectic makers of the Occupy movement, precisely because they are not burdened by the baggage of past defeats, understand the gravity of the global capitalist crisis and the revolutionary potential that it has opened better than many of us seasoned veteran revolutionary Marxists.

We will not be able to help the OWS movement advance until and unless we catch up to it.


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