The comrades of the Workers’ International League in the United States have been intervening in the #Occupy Wall Street movement since the very beginning. Here we publish several reports from comrades around the United States on the movement and their intervention within it.
O ne year ago, the world's attention was focused on Europe, as mass mobilizations against cuts and austerity shook the world. This was soon surpassed by the heroic and inspiring movement of the Arab masses, with the drama of Hosni Mubarak's fall galvanizing the planet. The occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo then inspired the mass movement and occupation of the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin after Governor Scott Walker's attack on public sector workers. Now Greece and the whole of Europe are again at center stage. But alongside the European crisis and protests is the #OccupyWallStreet movement in New York City, which has spread across the U.S. and back to Europe, Japan, Korea, and beyond.
The Marxists have long explained that with a globalized economy comes globalized economic and social crisis. This in turn leads inevitably to global class struggle, protest, and ultimately, revolution. What we are seeing around the world today is just a taste of what is to come as the world class struggle enters a new and ever-more convulsive stage.
Here in the U.S., sit-ins, protests, tent cities, marches and rallies marked the October 15 international day of action. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of protesters poured onto the streets to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, and in solidarity with the #occupy movement. From Boston to Baton Rouge, Los Angeles to Seattle, and a dozen cities in between, the Workers International League has been participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement since day one.
We have been able to discuss with literally hundreds of people, handed out thousands of leaflets, sold hundreds of copies of Socialist Appeal, and have had a tremendous opportunity to raise the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and the need for a labor party in the U.S. with thousands of young people and workers from around the country. Below are just a few highlights from our October 15 interventions:
New York, NY
As comrades know, the occupation in lower Manhattan is the flagship of this new #occupy movement. Comrades from the NYC Metro area have been intervening in the movement since day one, and we have carefully watched every ebb and flow in numbers and every oscillation in its political orientation.
On Saturday four comrades sold id="mce_marker"24 in literature, including more than 40 papers & met several people interested in the ideas of Marxism, from around the U.S. and around the world. Occupiers decided to keep the events of the 15th rather busy. There was a march to Washington Sq. Park at 11am and one on Times Square at 5pm. Bourgeois media estimates the crowd at the latter to have crossed the 12K mark, bringing it close to the numbers seen at Foley Square earlier when unions showed up in support.
The movement began as an amorphous grouping of various political trends on September 17th and has engaged itself in a long dialogue. The purported ‘leaderless’ character of this movement has privileged internal dialogue almost over all else. Politics continue to take second place over “building the movement.” This has been both a weakness and strength of the movement, allowing it to grow and attract a large layer of sympathizers.
However, as this movement grows, there will be an increased opportunity and need for Marxists to offer a critique of its limits. In New York we have noticed that the so-called “leaderless” nature of the movement does not stand to an honest examination. There is an unaccountable leadership that has emerged, usually those with charisma and almost always those in a position to not have to worry about rent or work. Those that cannot dedicate the time to the movement are heard less by this ‘direct democracy’. Some in the movement see the limitations of this structure, but as yet there is no viable alternative.
The core of the actual occupiers is anarchist youth. The class basis of anarchism lends itself well to the occupation tactic. But even some of these self described “anarchists” are looking for more sophisticated ideas. And, for example, a member of the IWW has shown interest in our ideas and material. Others are more hardened in their views. In either case, their methodology dominates not only the general assembly but some of the ultra-left tactics. The official-unofficial social media accounts of the movement consistently promote anarchist ideas. These accounts on twitter and Facebook have also expressed an apprehension of labor unions.
However, around this core are a number of workers that show up after work frequently. Many of these workers are union members. When NYC Mayor Bloomberg threatened to evict the occupiers, it was several hundred union workers that showed up to prevent the NYPD from sweeping the park. These workers are very enthused by the fightback they see and are looking for ideas.
We, the comrades of the WIL, are spreading as widely as possible our ideas and also our comradely criticisms of the limitations of the movement, as we are convinced that when the movement inevitably ebbs, a lot of activists will be drawing conclusions and we believe that Marxism is the only concrete direction they can go in.
Los Angeles, CA
Yesterday, Occupy LA swelled to a LAPD [police] estimate of between 10,000-15,000 people. Beyond the popular slogan, "We are the 99%", there are some occupiers, that are beginning to draw more advanced conclusions and that are interested in Marxism to some degree. There is also a growing understanding and discontent with speakers repeating the same over-generalized, undirected slogans that don't accurately capture much of the frustration among the campers.
As for actual the occupy solidarity protest I was at, it was made up of maybe 100+ people who gathered in front of the capitol building for a few hours. It eventually merged with an anti-war rally which was occurring at the same time and led to a wide array of coalesced individuals from a multitude of different groups. They (I say they, as I couldn't really figure out which group, if any, was leading the demo) took turns giving somewhat sporadic and separate speeches using amplified sound until the crowd dispersed. I did notice a good number of workers and individuals present which seemed to be outside of the general activist circles in the area though, which was very encouraging and which I thought showed the developing class consciousness of the working class.
The comrades in Minneapolis have been very busy. We have been able to keep up our regular weekly paper sale at a local community college (where we are about to set up a "Students for a Labor Party" campus organization), been participating in and tabling at the #OccupyMN occupation, and participated in a labor rally to "Save the American Dream." We have sold nearly $200 in papers, books, booklets, and other materials in just the last few days.
On October 15, the international day of action, we all went to a planned anti-war demonstration with around 200 people attending. We had a table, were selling papers and one comrade was speaking on Pakistan (see speech below), one comrade was singing political songs, and one comrade was emceeing.
On Thursday we are having a public event on the American Revolution which we have been promoting in our interventions and a lot of people are interested and have said they will be there. We have also invited all contacts to an open meeting in 2 weeks for a discussion on "What is Socialism: An Introduction to the Workers International League."
It has been a very busy and successful week and we are now preparing for how best to use our forces in the coming week of interventions. We are meeting lots of new people and a lot of things are going on - it is very interesting times to be a revolutionary!
Speech by John Peterson on behalf of the PTUDC, at Anti-War Demonstration in Minneapolis on October 15, 2011:
10 years ago, the United States invaded Afghanistan. For all intents and purposes, they have lost that war. And yet the carnage continues, and has spread across the border into Pakistan. The region’s borders are the artificial creation of the British imperialists who attempted for centuries to subdue the many rich cultures that flourished there. But if history teaches us one thing it is this: you cannot forever subjugate a people that refuses to be subjugated.
I have worked with the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign for about a decade now. The campaign began as a response to the assassination of the trade union leader Arif Shah by the bosses of the ceramics and tiles manufacturing mafia. It is a network of trade unionists in Pakistan and around the world who fight to raise awareness and solidarity, and for better wages, conditions, and quality of life for all workers in Pakistan.
As any worker here knows, fighting against the boss is hard enough! But in Pakistan it is not only the bosses they must confront. They are also fighting against their particularly rotten and corrupt government and its plans for massive cuts and privatizations. They are fighting against the intrigues and assassinations of the Pakistani Army and the ISI--the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA and the FBI. They are fighting against the imperialists of NATO whose Special Operations troops and Predator drones have killed untold numbers of civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are fighting against the reactionary Taliban and the mullahs who would strip them of all their union rights and drag the people of the region back into medieval barbarism. And they are doing all of this in a part of the world that has been sunk to such a degree of poverty, violence, unemployment, squalor, bombings, social decomposition and misery, that most of us here in Minnesota cannot even imagine what it would be like to live there for a single day.
Many hoped Obama and the Democrats would mean a change in U.S. foreign policy. But he has only continued and even intensified the policies of his predecessor. There has actually been an increase in the use of unmanned drones in Pakistan and the killing of thousands of innocents under Obama. This is not the change Americans hoped for! This is not the change the Pakistani and Afghani people hoped for when George W. Bush finally left office!
So I ask you to help raise awareness of the struggle of the brave activists of the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign. But above all, I urge you to get involved with the struggle to change things right here in the U.S. The only real hope for the oppressed, laboring masses in Pakistan and around the world is a fundamental social transformation here in the United States.
But we should be optimistic about the future. In hundreds of cities around the country, Americans are starting to mobilize and to fight back. But fighting back is not enough. We must fight to win! A victorious revolution in the U.S. would mean the end of the tyranny and oppression of capitalism not only here, but around the world. This would be the ultimate form of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. Their struggle is our struggle! An injury to one is an injury to all! You can learn more about the PTUDC at www.ptudc.org.
The organizers of the occupation claim that there were 3,000 people present for the inaugural march to the occupation site, though the media claims 2,000. Regardless, this has been the largest mass demonstration of workers in Pittsburgh since the G-20 in 2009, and the largest demonstration involving exclusively local forces since the 2003 actions against the US invasion of Iraq. The mood was very enthusiastic and class conscious (despite a very small and disorganized but vocal minority of Libertarians) - the very first chant offered during the march was "1-2-3-4, we declare class war!" The march was shadowed by a sizable contingent of police but as far as I'm aware there have been no problems, and in fact I have heard reports of individual police officers voice support for the movement, and apparently as we speak there are actually no police present at the encampment. The morale of those taking part in the occupation and associated events is overall very high, and the execution of the events so far has been surprisingly well-coordinated and orderly. There was a substantial trade union presence at the march and rally, which is an encouraging sign.
Our "For a Mass Party of Labor" banner was prominently featured in the march and can be seen in many of the media's photographs of the demonstration. A smaller handheld sign held by one comrade stating simply "Yinz need a labor party!" is clearly visible on the front page of the Sunday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which is widely read in the area. We twice set up tables to sell materials, and they have received a great deal of attention from the participants in the movement so far (we have sold around $200 of materials already).
We were heckled by a couple of Libertarians on two separate occasions but it wasn't a huge deal either time, and we were actually applauded by the crowd gathered around the table following our defense of socialism. Many young people from high schools and colleges (including a few people from Penn State University) stopped by our table, and we did our best to collect their contact information and promote SDS's upcoming march and rally on Pitt's campus, which is scheduled for Oct 29th, which was also well-received. Several trade unionists stopped by the table as well. Interestingly, one of the copies of Four Marxist Classics that we sold was purchased by a pair of US Marines who were at the demonstration (we're not sure if they were active duty or not).
Several of us were interviewed by various press outlets, including the Associated Press, Daily Kos, and the University of Pittsburgh's student newspaper (which was a very lengthy, two-part interview about socialism) and the WIL was also mentioned by name in an article on the Post Gazette's website late last night.
St. Louis, MO
In St. Louis we have been intervening in the #occupy movement for the past two weeks. Most recently, on Friday we intervened in a Labor march and rally at the occupation which was organized by the Central Labor Council. Bob Soutier, head of the CLC, spoke to the rally.
The line of the AFL-CIO leaders, which we gleaned from their flier is similar to the line of some of the Democrats and also the 'liberal' section of the media who want to channel the anger of the youth against the Republicans and draw them into the "big tent" of the Democratic Party ahead of the 2012 elections. About 1,000 people participated in the rally and march, there was a good mix of union members and youth and there was not much in the way of police harassment. This seems to be a change from last week, when the general assembly was discussing the threats made by the police to evict the over-night occupiers from Kiener Plaza. The police had set a deadline for the park to be cleared, but at this point the CLC intervened and asked the Mayor to allow the occupation to continue, which the Mayor agreed to do for now.
There have been arrests and citations, but the police have not moved to evict the occupation yet, largely due to the unions intervention but this could still change either due to provocations by anarchists involved or if the movement nationally starts to decline. The unions brought out a large portion of the numbers at the Friday rally, but 500-600 workers is really just a tiny portion of the numbers the unions could mobilize if the leadership seriously mobilized the unions here. On Saturday, we also intervened at the occupy event in Springfield, IL. One comrade was interviewed by the Springfield newspaper.
In St. Louis, we are planning to continue intervening in the marches that take place. We've had just one opportunity to address the general assembly (I intervened last Saturday on some of the lessons of the Egyptian revolution and the need for the occupy people to link up with the unions,) mainly because, for now at least, the general assembly has limited itself just to 'organizational' discussion.
The leadership of the occupation is in the hands of a direct action activist group, which basically elbowed-out the initial organizers (who were libertarians of some kind) but they can't offer any kind of perspective of where the occupation will go or what it can even achieve. This leaves a big vacuum for the majority of youth and others there who are seeking out ideas.
San Francisco, CA
Yesterday the Occupy SF camp marched from the Federal Reserve building in the Financial District to the Civic Center and back. The size of the camp had grown to about 2,000 demonstrators, which meant they had the largest GA to date. These numbers swelled, mostly due to marchers, the regular camp size is closer to 100 occupiers.
As the OWS movement has demonstrated there was no clear program or set of demands. The march attracted all shades of political affiliation from Ron Paul supporters to a large group of Buddhists.
When the march ended at the Civic Center two very fiery speeches were delivered essentially calling for radical changes based on the movement of the masses, expressing an emerging class conscious. When one speaker asked what we demanded the crowd murmured a number of things, unable to come to a general agreement, but she answered that we did not need demands because “we are the greatest social experiment in the history of the world.” Once again on the march back the question of “what we want” was raised and the crowd was silent in response.
SEIU, UHW, AFSCME and IBEW were the only organized union presence that we identified during the march. Our leaflets were received well by almost everyone we spoke with and made a number of promising contacts that were very interested in the CMPL.
The comrades of the WIL have been busy in different parts of the USA, intervening in this first wave of revolt on the part of the youth. The movement has brought to the surface an underlying mood of anger against capitalism in general. It is still early days, but we can say without a shadow of a doubt that this movement is having a huge impact on the consciousness of millions of ordinary working Americans, youth and the unemployed. The task of the Marxists is to patiently explain the real nature of the crisis and to pose the need for a mass party of the working class based on the trade unions and armed with a genuine socialist programme.