Occupy and the tasks of socialists

December 21st, 2011

Published on LINKS*, by Pham Binh, December 14, 2011.

… Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working-class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s.  

The socialist left has not begun to think through these big picture implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution …//

… Socialists and Occupy working groups:

  • Every local Occupy has working groups organised around a wide variety of tasks, a reflection of Arun Gupta’s observation that “all occupations are local”. The challenges facing OWS are not the same as Occupy Philadelphia, Portland, Mobile or Nashville. OWS has over 40 working groups, some of which were forced to transform after the eviction (sanitation became focused on housing, for example) due to new circumstances. Local Occupys have adapted OWS’s model to their local needs and created a dozen or so working groups such as labour, demands, direct action, security, medical, food/kitchen, comfort, internet, media and facilitation.
  • The socialist left has generally limited its participation in Occupy to a handful of working groups, usually those engaged in what Ross Wolfe of Platypus correctly described as mental labour — demands, labour outreach, direct action — and shied away from the physical labour or “grunt work” done by security, comfort, medical and food/kitchen. This is problematic because it cedes the majority of working groups to the influence of other political forces (anarchists and liberals), inadvertently creating “Red ghettos”.
  • Prioritising groups devoted to mental as opposed to manual labour is predicated on the false notion that running a kitchen or securing tents to sustain occupiers is less political or less important than talking about demands or ideological issues. When Genora Dollinger led the Flint sit-down strike in 1936, feeding strikers hot food was just as crucial to beating General Motors as picket lines were. Without one the other was impossible. The example of post-eviction OWS bears this out as well. At this stage of the uprising’s development, mass mobilisations and political discussions have no launching point or organising centre without a physical occupation, and the physical occupation of a space requires a lot of “grunt work”.
  • 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. Only on that basis will we be able to effectively influence people and steer the uprising’s course.

Anarchists and the Black Bloc: … //

  • … One difficulty the socialist left faces in accomplishing this basic and fundamental task is the divisions in our ranks that serve in practice to weaken the overall socialist influence within Occupy, thereby strengthening that of the anarchists. They have their Black Bloc, but where is our Red Bloc? Where are the socialist slogans to shape and guide the uprising’s political development?
  • 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 the Peter Camejos, Max Elbaums, Angela Davises, Dave Clines and Huey Newtons of this generation end up in separate “competing” socialist groups as they did in the 1960s. Now is the time to begin seriously discussing the prospect of regroupment, of liquidating outdated boundaries we have inherited, of finding ways to work closely together for our common ends.
  • Above all else, now is the time to take practical steps towards creating a broad-based radical party that in today’s context could easily have thousands of active members and even more supporters. Initiatives like Socialist Viewpoint’s call for a joint revolutionary socialist organising committee in the Bay Area is a step in the right direction. We need to take more of those steps, sooner rather than later. The opportunity we have now to make the socialist movement a force to be reckoned with again in this country depends on it.
  • 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.

(full really long text).

* LINKS is an international journal of socialist renewal. This article is also mentionned on Socialist Projects.ca/what’s new on Dec. 20, 2011).

(Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal, The Indypendent, Asia Times Online, Znet, Green Left Weekly and Counterpunch. His other writings can be found at Planet Anarchy.net).

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