Monday, October 31, 2011

From Occupation to Revolution II

If OWS decides explicitly that its goal is revolution, it would transform the OWS movement. It would be a qualitative leap and set the agenda for the coming years: a national and international conversation about how to make a revolution and what a post-revolutionary society can be like. If OWS does this, then folding the tents in the heart of winter (or losing them to a police raid) won't matter because the revolutionary strategy can be carried out even without them. What OWS will gain is what does matter: a whole new level of consciousness, determination, and ties to the community and each other internationally.

But what exactly does it mean to make revolution our goal? How is that different from what OWS is already doing? Does it mean picking up a gun or smashing more windows or attacking the police? No it does not. It means doing what is discussed below.

One of the most popular chants of the Occupy Wall Street occupations is, "The banks got bailed out; we got sold out." People want a more equal and democratic society and they know that the 1% with the real power in our country want the opposite. How can the OWS occupiers make society more equal and democratic?

On this, opinions vary widely. While everybody wants more people to join and support the occupation, there is presently little agreement about what "joining and supporting the occupation" should mean in practice. What, exactly, do occupiers need to do in order to achieve a more equal and democratic society?

Some believe that if occupiers keep their tents at the various parks around the country long enough, then the desired changes will happen. Others believe that if enough people get themselves arrested in civil disobedience actions to demonstrate the sincerity of our convictions, that will exert "moral suasion" (as Gandhi called it) on the rulers and make them change their ways. Some think that if everybody can agree on a few realistic demands and communicate them clearly, that will do it. And some believe that electing different politicians to office will solve our problems.

None of the above actions, however, will achieve the desired goal, because these actions don't remove from power the plutocracy that holds the real power in America and that wants America to be undemocratic and unequal, and these actions don't abolish the capitalist system from which the plutocracy derives its power based on concentrated wealth.

Tents in parks won't stop a ruling class that commands the greatest military force on the planet.

The plutocracy already knows we are sincere, and they don't care if we offer ourselves to be arrested to make the point.

Any "realistic" demands we make will have to avoid challenging the power of the plutocracy or the capitalist system from which it derives its power, or the demands will be dismissed as "unrealistic." Defining our goal as a set of "realistic" demands means declaring that we will stop bothering the plutocracy when it makes the demanded changes. Our movement will then be over; the plutocracy will remain in power, able to take back whatever it gave; and before long we'll be back where we are today.

The plutocracy was never elected, and cannot be un-elected. Politicians in our society only have the power that the plutocracy delegates to them; they most certainly do not have the power to remove the plutocracy from power.

It will take a revolution to remove the plutocracy from power, and to begin creating a new kind of society based on equality and mutual aid and genuine democracy. The strategy and tactics of the OWS movement should be directed towards building a huge, popular revolutionary movement, one that explicitly aims to remove the plutocracy from power, that has a vision of a new and better kind of society that can inspire hundreds of millions of Americans to fight for it. This kind of movement can win the support of soldiers and sailors so that, when the ruling class orders the military to attack the revolution, they will disobey and instead join and help defend the revolution with their weapons. This is how a revolutionary movement, when it reaches critical mass, will be able to prevail even in a contest of violent force with the ruling class.

The world does not have to be a capitalist one, based on class inequality and the glorification of self-interest. Most people want a very different kind of society. We can create a society that is the way most people want it to be, in which products and services are created to satisfy real needs and reasonable desires consistent with sustainability and environmental wisdom, not to make a profit for the few at the expense of every other consideration; in which the economy is based on sharing, from each according to ability and to each according to need, where products and services are provided according to need, not according to who has enough money to buy them; where there are no rich and poor because everybody has an equal right to enjoy the benefits of the wealth that society produces.

We can create a genuine democracy in which all law-making power resides in local community and workplace assemblies that all adults who support the principles of equality and mutual aid can attend. Instead of social order on a large scale being imposed by a centralized government democratic in name only, it can be achieved in a truly democratic manner by voluntary federation of local assemblies. (This is discussed in some detail in "Thinking about Revolution.")

The key to building this revolutionary movement is to first explicitly declare that building a revolutionary movement is the strategic goal. Then tactics can be evaluated with respect to how well they serve that goal. The chief element of the strategy is spreading the revolutionary ideas--that the ruling class has no legitimate right to rule over us, that revolution is necessary, that it is possible, and that it is the way to create a far better society based on equality and mutual aid and democracy. Tactics would emphasize communicating these ideas to the wider public: chants during demonstrations, leaflets passed out wherever the public is, talks by us where people live and work, teach-ins, interviews given to whatever media will do them. And tactics would include various creative ways to involve the public in actively discussing and developing revolutionary ideas, and recruiting others to help spread the message.

What about confrontational actions? These tactics also should be evaluated the same way. Do they spread the revolutionary message? Sometimes a confrontation with authority can indeed bring wider attention to our revolutionary message. But this depends on how we engage in the confrontation. A confrontation that exposes the illegitimacy and immorality of the rulers, for example when people pack a courtroom to protest eviction proceedings against a family, is good. A confrontation that gives the rulers what the public will perceive as a legitimate reason for using police force against our movement is bad. Confronting the police, in and of itself, does not help, and can backfire if it enables the rulers to paint a false picture of us in the public eye.

What about violence? Violence in self-defense may not be tactically wise in a given situation, but it is not immoral. The philosophy of nonviolence is wrong to say it is. Violence against property, when it is not clearly in self-defense, serves no good purpose and makes it easy for the rulers to turn the public against us. Violence against unarmed civilians has nothing to do with self-defense, and it is immoral.

If we focus on spreading the revolutionary message, then there will come a time when the revolutionary movement is large enough and has the support of sufficient numbers of soldiers and sailors to successfully defend itself against violence by the forces remaining loyal to the ruling class. At this time we should use whatever force, including violence, that is necessary to defend ourselves and the goals of the revolution.

But we are not yet at the point when we can actually prevail in a contest of violent force with the ruling class. Therefore it makes no sense to pretend that we are and to deliberately get into violent fights with the police that we have no way of winning. When the police attack us violently, we should do our best to make an orderly tactical retreat. Our strategic offense is what is most important: to spread a message about what we believe and what we want. The message isn't that we can defeat the well-armed police today; it is that the movement we are building is for values and objectives that most people share, and it can grow large enough one day to win a contest of force with the ruling class.

We need to keep our eye on the revolutionary strategy. Let us not get deflected from it by wishful thinking of the sort that says that "moral suasion" or "enough tents" or "better politicians" or "reasonable demands" will make the rulers change their ways.

Let us neither be deflected from the revolutionary strategy by those who propose tactics that have nothing to do with spreading revolutionary ideas. There is a totally false Hollywood image of what it means to be a revolutionary, made up of images of Che Guevara and black-shirted bomb-throwing (or window-breaking) "anarchists" who strike a revolutionary pose and talk tough with bravado. Police provocateurs, agents of the ruling class, try to get us to act this way, or themselves act this way in our name, because they know that as long as we equate our movement with such actions we will not be thinking about how to spread revolutionary ideas and mobilizing the public around those ideas, and the public will be turned against us.

The rulers have many agents with many different disguises, all pretending to be our friends, trying to persuade us what to do. They can be very persistent--that is their job! They appeal to our wishful thinking, or our desire to view ourselves as courageous, or anything else that will work, as long as it prevents us from understanding what a real revolutionary strategy is, and carrying it out. Now, more than ever, we need to think carefully about strategy and tactics. Just doing what seems to be "in the air" or whatever the most persistent individuals advocate is not good enough to win. It will take a huge revolutionary movement to win, which can develop if, and only if, we aim to make it happen.

We should make every Occupation a base camp for spreading the idea of revolution. Occupations should actively reach out to the larger community, as Occupy Boston did recently when it cooperated with Occupy the Hood and local people to stage a large rally in Dudley Square in Roxbury, the heart of the black community. The rally focused on local concerns, especially police brutality, but put them in the larger picture of savage inequality in American society.


At 4:03 PM, November 07, 2011, Anonymous Maggie Zhou said...

This article was reposted at the following website:

I posted the following comment in response to the article and another comment there:

I like the article very much, but Michel is also correct. The occupying itself is an act that forces public attention on these issues, so it's very useful, but at the same time, whether or not the occupation can last through the bitter winter is not the key. It is what message/goal the occupation focus itself on that is important. I very much concur with Spritzler's opinion of focusing on communicating the message of building a revolutionary movement, of explaining to the public what is ultimately needed to achieve a better society.

The only thing I disagree with in the article is the idea that a democratic society has to be an entirely local democracy, where "all law-making power resides in local community and workplace assemblies", and no central govt power exists at all. I think it's impossible to solve our global crisis with this kind of microcosmic, idyllic democracy. Also, slum dwellers and populations of poor communities/countries/continents who have historically been exploited will never quite get the wrongs done on them righted if each locality is to be completely self-determined and fend for themselves in the post revolutionary new society.


At 10:13 PM, November 07, 2011, Blogger John Spritzler said...

Hi Maggie,

Regarding the question of whether all local power should reside in local community and workplace assemblies, I think it is important to keep in mind the fact that these local assemblies would naturally and voluntarily federate. They would send delegates to regional assemblies that would in turn send delegates to state assemblies that would possibly send delegates to global assemblies (with levels in between these as appropriate.) Higher level assemblies would be responsible for making proposals for joint/coordinated action by their respective lower level assemblies. Proposals would not be commands, however, but proposals, that the lower level assemblies would agree to or else the proposal would need to be modified until there was sufficient agreement by the lower level assemblies to implement it.

There is nothing about this arrangement which can be characterized as "microcosmic" or "each locality is to be completely self-determined and fend for themselves." Large scale coordinated cooperation can be achieved without top-down commands (i.e. laws) from a distant central government. Would you not agree?


At 1:25 PM, July 28, 2012, Blogger Nicholas said...

The development of civilization makes democracy and the humanization of society inevitable. The best minds tirelessly look for a new and effective form of government that would adequately represent today's changing society. The solution is near and the necessary resources to establish this form of government are already available in society.

A new multipolar political system with a movable centre of joint decisions.

The revolution is not so much about kalashnikovs and passionate rhetoric... A Revolution should be seen as a new stage of development, primarily a new way of thinking and innovation in a system of social relations and governance. If it fails to do that then it is merely yet another ‘palace coup’ bringing grist to someone else's mill.


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