Occupy MayDay! Occupy Lenin!
First, let’s get this idea that Occupy is finished out of the way. It hasn’t finished and this is why. You can’t evict an idea when that idea is to make the Bankers pay for their crisis. They won’t and they can’t without renouncing the whole basis of capitalism – making profits. Therefore Occupy is forced to confront the system in all of its dirt and blood. Physically Occupy lives on in the many actions and meetings that are taking place globally. Occupy is outreaching to working class struggles in workplaces, education, housing, unions, media etc and much of this activity is live-streamed, twitted or blogged continuously.
The #OccupyMaydayGeneralStrike call is an attempt at a global general strike. There is intense political and theoretical discussion among liberals, radicals and Marxists about what Occupy is, its class composition, its demands, its prospects, and so on. This is not new as liberals, radicals and Marxists have had to debate Occupy’s progenitors – the Arab Revolution and the European revolt of the Indignados and the British youth riots. So what do revolutionary communists make of Occupy as a social movement and the ideological struggle between reformists, radicals and revolutionaries?
The reformists want to suck occupy back into legislative politics on the instalment plan. Bad! The radicals want a movement of the streets and workplaces that occupies everything. Good! But can the mass radical movement resist the reformists without an organised, disciplined leadership? As Bolshevik/Leninists we say that Marxism does not spontaneously grow on the streets under attacks from the cops. You can be academically anti-capitalist like Chomsky or violently anti-capitalist like black bloc without understanding what capitalism is.
Those who want to challenge capitalism have to take power and that means the class conscious, organised armed insurrection to take power. So how is the revolutionary left working towards this? Let’s look at a discussion kicked off by Pham Binh that is directed at the failure of the organised ‘Leninist’ left to relate to Occupy fruitfully. Binh argues that is because today’s Leninists are a caricature of Lenin. He remonstrates that Lenin would have done a much better job. So the question is what would Lenin have done? At its heart this is the question posed by many revolutionaries today. Let’s look at the three positions in turn.
Reformists co-opting occupy?
The reformists in Occupy are trying to turn Occupy into a support base for the re-election of Obama. Leading this co-option is the 99Spring which is a “campaign” fronted by organizations like MoveOn, Jobs with Justice, Greenpeace and others who have signed the 99% Spring pledge? It claims to be a broad base movement based on the grass roots. The 99% Spring label attempts to trade off both the Arab Spring and the 99% concept of Occupy. Yet it’s objective is to coopt Occupy behind Obama. That is why it has not endorsed the MayDay General Strike. That is the test. Since the call for the reclaiming of MayDay is a radical initiative to put International Workers Day on the agenda of Occupy and making clear that Occupy and the base of the labor movement must join forces, this will embarrass the machine politics of the Democrats. So 99Spring is using its training schools for “nonviolent direct action” as a way to divert Occupy from MayDay. There is also the Occupy NATO in Chicago, but that would be too close to the bone for the party of Bomber Obama!
At the same time we don’t want to write off Occupy just because it has a large number of reformists. This is a factor of the backwardness of US political culture where no workers party exists and the weak unions act as conveyor belts into the Democrat Party. But Occupy signals a huge upwelling of anger at the effects of the capitalist crisis especially as it effects middle class youth. The whole point is that Occupy has the capacity to develop into a revolutionary movement.
But first it has to outgrow its reformist limits, and this is made more difficult when some radicals inside Occupy do not present a clear alternative to the Democrats. This is the result of adopting key electoral slogans like Tax Capital or Tax the Rich that are directed at the political parties. On top of that there are prominent supposed radicals like Chomsky, who when it comes to the election will give critical support to the Democrats.
Chomsky is a classic case of the celebrity anarchist who is trapped in the petty bourgeois politics of individualism that offers no way out of the existing state apparatus other than to adapt to it. Much pseudo radicalism is based on the notion of ‘horizontalism’ ostensibly directed at the ‘hierarchy’ of political parties. It implies Occupy can operate without a leadership and function on the basis of direct democracy. It can build a ‘counter-power’ that does not need to challenge the bosses’ state power. But inevitably if you don’t contest the power of the state uncompromisingly then you end up joining that state. Chomsky and Co are the reverse side of the anarchist coin to the Black Block. Both offer no alternative to capitalism because they have no program to replace it.
Radicals: Occupy Mayday!
Occupy proved in a few short weeks that the reformist platform is bankrupt. This is why reformists like Hedges attacked the Black Bloc. But the Black Bloc is an easy target and does not represent more than a tiny minority of Occupy. The reformists have more difficulty in neutralising the real breakthrough which is the radical unity of Occupy with union rank and file. This proved to be the ‘circuit breaker’ that built mass support for port closures and forced the ILWU union bosses to expose themselves as in the bosses’ pocket at Longview. That is to say, as soon as Occupy, rebounding from the vicious attacks of the state forces, joined up with the militant union rank and file, the reformist’s strategy to recruit Occupy to Obama was blown out.
What was blown out was the pacifist politics of electoralism where ‘Violence’ is reserved for Obama’s bombs and drones. In its place Occupy found that the mass picket justifies violence in defence of the 99%, and in the process confronting state violence put them in solidarity with the ‘wildcat’ strike at Longview! The linking of Occupy and the ILWU rank and file at Longview also exposed the union officials who panicked by the fear of losing control of the dispute signed a sell-out deal with the EGT bosses. To its credit Portland Occupy who were not shown the rotten terms of this deal, saw it as a small victory as part of the ongoing war against the 1%. There is a long way to go to build solidarity to the point where the unions take strike action against Taft-Hartley and return to the militancy of the early days of the US labour movement.
The Occupy decision to reclaim MayDay as a general strike follows directly from the experience of solidarity with workers in struggle. It’s a first attempt at a national strike which falls far short of a general strike. But it is a political strike that prepares the ground for a political general strike at the power of the 1%. But the labour solidarity at Longview and other struggles may not lead directly to militant class conscious struggle in the ranks of the unions or Occupy unless revolutionaries intervene directly. This is because neither the unions or Occupy as yet has a Marxist analysis which explains that the labour bureaucracy act as the labour lieutenants of capital that keep the unions confined to the labour law. The labour bureaucracy is no friend of the workers!
As Earl Gilman says, “Yes, labor unions of course are prohibited from striking for political demands….they are prohibited from striking to support other unions, etc. The list of legal prohibitions on unions goes on and on…The reason the unions in the U.S. are gradually dying is because they obey the law. The law was made by the rich to protect themselves from the poor. The auto workers who occupied the Detroit auto plants were defying the law. John L. Lewis, when he was head of the miners during the Second World War, called strikes in defiance of the law. I don’t think we on the Left should let the labor bureaucracy off the hook…so the courts throw them in jail for a few days…so what? But we have to educate/prepare/organize workers that defying the bosses’ laws are the only way to save their jobs. Thanking the union bureaucracy for “supporting” the movement with resolutions is political bootlicking!”
Fortunately Occupy has labour solidarity groups like #OOlaborsolidarity where revolutionaries can put forward analyses of what must be done. It requires the revolutionary Marxists to speak plainly and tell the truth. So this means Marxists advocating labour solidarity actions that unite workers’ strikes against the employers with Occupy’s commitment to ‘breaking the law’ to advance the 99%. In essence it means making Occupy MayDay General Strike the launching pad for an unlimited political general strike for an insurrection to bring down the ruling class and put a Workers’ and Oppressed peoples’ Government in power!
The radical reclaiming of MayDay by Occupy is an attempt to generalise this revolutionary thrust. But it’s not enough. Lenin and Trotsky recognised the limits of Trade Union Consciousness as falling short of revolutionary consciousness. Trade unions operate as economist institutions that negotiate wages but do not fight to end the wage system! Without a revolutionary Marxist party neither the unions or Occupy cannot develop beyond an economist consciousness of capitalism into a class conscious revolutionary movement. Let’s examine this point because it is central to the debate on what kind of revolutionary party is needed to lead workers to revolution.
What would Lenin have done?
The need for a revolutionary Marxist party is the need for a revolutionary Marxist program. Capitalism throws up a smoke screen that hides the class basis of exploitation. A Marxist program proves that capitalism cannot be reformed and that to survive the working class must become class conscious and overthrow it. The program also spells out how to go about making a revolution. Such a program needs to be kept alive and kicking by a revolutionary party. Whether a program works or not is decided by testing it in practice. So a revolutionary party must be organised to put the program into practice, and to change it if it doesn’t work. The Marxist left sees the need for leadership and a revolutionary party, but what does this party look like.There are two basic models of a Marxist party. The first is a ‘class party’ (or “multi-tendency” party) including reformists, radicals and Marxists. The second is the so-called ‘vanguard’ party of class conscious Marxists. The question of how Marxists should intervene in Occupy has raised this question again. And the advocates of both types of party both claim to be Leninists.
For the class party side is Pham Binh who argues against le Blanc and others that the idea that Lenin built a new type of vanguard party is a myth. He claims Lenin didn’t form a party of Bolsheviks separate from the broad party of the class in 1905 or 1912. The Bolsheviks in 1905 were a small minority inside the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) which was a mass party including a number of currents which shifted course so that both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (minority) where never actually distinct or separate parties.
What Binh is arguing here is that today left parties are tiny sects modelling themselves on the mythical Leninist ‘vanguard’ and competing in a sectarian way to win support in Occupy and meeting resistance. He looks back to Leninism as he understands it for the model of a broad class party, that contains workers at different levels of political consciousness, where the different factions compete to demonstrate how a Marxist program can be applied to solve the problems of the 99%.
There is some truth in this as the Bolsheviks did function as a faction in the old RSDWP until 1917. Yet that faction acted more as a vanguard party within a much broader party from 1905 when it declared itself to be a separate party, and after 1912 when it actually became a separate party. The Bolsheviks growing split from the Mensheviks was necessary to defend the Marxist program. The basis on which the Bolsheviks formed a faction/party distinct from the rest in the RSDWP was a programmatic principle: the refusal to ‘liquidate’ the proletarian class into subordination and even political alliances with the exploiting classes. In other words the Bolshevik faction stood for the independence of the workers as the revolutionary class against those who ‘liquidated’ this class independence into cross-class or popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. Allied to the ‘liquidators’ were the ‘conciliators’ who while formally opposed to liquidation, in practice vacillated towards the ‘liquidators’. The liquidators in various degrees all took the Menshevik position that ‘backward’ Russia would have to go through a prolonged bourgeois revolution before it was ready for a socialist revolution.
The long battle against ‘liquidationism’ faced the critical test over the question of whether the RSDWP would give ‘conditional support’ to the bourgeois Provisional Government in Russia after the February 1917 Revolution. Up to that point the Bolsheviks had won support for a Bourgeois revolution led by the workers and peasants (the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasants’) since the bourgeoisie was too weak and dependent on Tsarism. The Bolsheviks would give ‘conditional support; to a bourgeois government ‘insofar as it acts in the interests of the revolution’. That is, mobilise workers and peasants to control it and push it left (for peace, land, and bread) to complete the tasks of the Bourgeois revolution and so prepare for the socialist revolution.
Yet when the workers rose up in February and a Bourgeois provisional government was formed Lenin rejected ‘conditional support’ for this government as ‘liquidation’ into the class enemy. He argued that the working class was capable of completing the bourgeois revolution ‘uninterrupted’, or in Trotsky’s terms, in a ‘permanent revolution’ for socialism. Subordinating the workers and peasants to the Provisional Government would leave workers defenceless against a Bourgeois/Tsarist counter-revolution. There would be no peace, land or bread. No road forward to socialism, only back to barbarism.
The lesson for Leninism in Occupy today is that after 1903 the Bolsheviks formed a faction in which the principle of revolutionary independence of the working class against any political alliances that subordinated it to the bourgeoisie was the test of membership. When revolution broke out in Russia the Bolsheviks had the history of building an organisation with a long experience of both democracy and discipline to act to defend this principle and change its program from one which involved a ‘popular front’ with the bourgeoisie, to that of socialist revolution. The change in program defeated the counter-revolution and made the revolution. So if this is the Leninist party we need today how do we go about building it?
Lenin in Occupy
The global capitalist system is facing a terminal crisis. The world economy must go through a deep depression to restore the rate of profit. No bourgeois or capitalist party can stop this, only a working class revolution. We face socialism or barbarism. The bourgeoisie cannot rule without invoking extreme repression, first smashing of democracy and then unless workers stop it, fascism. The workers cannot live with capitalism. For workers to live, capitalism must die. Lenin would call it a revolutionary situation where the extreme rottenness of global capitalism threatens destruction of humanity and where the working class is ready and willing to fight to the death but has yet to overcome a huge lack of class consciousness and organisation.
So Lenin would recognise Occupy as a spontaneous mobilisation of objectively anti-capitalist youth and other workers but with its majority trapped into an economist ideology and still misled about the possibility of reforms. However the severity of the crisis means that the capitalist attacks and resistance of Occupy to them will quickly prove that the capitalists must destroy rather than grant reforms. One term of Obama has gone a long way to destroy economist illusions. Several social democratic government in Europe have been voted out after imposing drastic austerity programs. Even so the reformists are fighting like hell to hijack Occupy and stop its revolutionary development. So Leninists must join in this fight against all attempts to subordinate the working class to the bourgeoisie via the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucracy, and raise instead the need to build an independent mass workers party with a revolutionary program.
Leninism is about how Marxists lead in the wider working class struggles. This means a program for socialist revolution. It means to fight against today’s liquidators and conciliators who want to bury the Marxist program into the popular front of the workers, petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements who make up the 99%. Leninists intervene to oppose the politics of all those who claim to be anti-capitalist yet act as the agents of the popular front with the bourgeoisie.
Lenin’s tactic of a Bolshevik faction engaging in patient explanation combined with contesting the leadership of the class struggle would weed out those among the 99% who are agents of the bourgeoisie. Cops, Ron Paulites, libertarians, etc. yes. But more dangerous are those that pose as workers. We oppose pacifist and reformist appeals to the 1%, the cops, the middle class, the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucrats of the trade union federations.
We do this by calling on Occupy to follow Occupy Oakland’s lead and unite with the union rank and file members to Occupy all the strategic sites of production of profits – the workplaces, the banks, transport and communications, schools, hospitals etc – to demand workers administration and control. Reformists will oppose such direct action, and radicals will join with Leninists to build workers councils and workers militias capable of smashing the capitalist state and installing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
We advocate reading Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg but not the petty bourgeois radicals Zizek or Chomsky, Bourdieu or Badiou. The latter offer no revolutionary answers as in their various ways they oppose the Leninist-type party and the practice of democratic-centralism. For us the only way that the Marxist program can be tested is if a majority agrees to unite in action to test it, and then to debate the results democratically to see if it works or not. That is the basis of democratic centralism, or, dialectics – which in its highest form is the class conscious intervention of the vanguard of the working class to resolve the contradiction between socialised production and private profit by means of a socialist revolution.
That is the method of Leninists in Occupy. The crisis of capitalism is destroying the working class and driving it to resist it’s destruction. Leninists are Marxists; we do not separate ourselves from the masses, but champion their class interests locally and globally. We intervene only to help workers become class conscious fighters, organised in strike committees, democratic councils of action, defence militias, and as militants of an international party of socialist revolution, able to unite internationally as a force to smash the capitalist system and its military machine and replace it with a socialist society producing for need and not profit!
Turn Occupy into revolutionary workers councils!
For a new World Party of Socialist Revolution!
Reblogged from redrave.blogspot