Occupy: A Balance Sheet and a Way Forward

By Paul Hubbard

When OWS, Occupy Boston, Occupy Oakland, and the dozens of other encampments were cleared out by the police, it disrupted and disorganized our movement. We have to recognize and admit those facts. Repression is a tried and true method that the 1% employs against social movements— IT WORKS— that’s why they do it.
Further, the continued occupation of OWS in Zuccotti Park represented the only national focal point for our movement and once it was gone, Occupy entered a new space— the space of retreat, regroupment and figuring out the next phase.
As long as the movement was in occupied spaces, we offered an organizing/protest in the streets/social movement alternative to the electoral sham of the 1%. Mass social protest movements in the streets seriously disrupt the electoral process and I cite the 1968 street protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a good example of that. In order to refocus the country on the duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans, the 1% had to repress our movement.
All social movements have inherent contradictions and follow their own special ‘laws’ of development. They go through amazing phases of mass protest, unity, unleashed energy and creativity, and, especially after a nationally coordinated repression, periods of downturn.
A huge part of movement building (and movement leadership) is having the ability to recognize those periods of downturn and being sufficiently organized to minimize the impacts from the blows from the 1%.
The Occupy movement was brilliant at illuminating the primary contradiction of American capitalism. By focusing on the obscene wealth inequality caused by Wall St, the big banks, and the profit motive, the Occupy movement tapped into mass anger and deep-seated outrage at the corporations, which was bubbling just underneath the surface in American society. Its formulation of the 1% versus the 99% struck a deep chord in the consciousness of the American people, particularly the youth.
The occupation tactic offered an amazing model of sustained organizing, reclaiming public space for protest, assembly and free speech. These combined to give the Occupy movement a mass appeal which hasn’t been seen from a social protest movement in 35 years. A new radicalization is beginning to unfold in dramatic and unique ways.
Occupy represents nothing less than the rebirth of working-class, anti-capitalist struggle. After 35 years of neo-liberal economic policies and structural adjustments that have devastated the unions and women’s rights and increased racial inequality (despite Obama’s election as President), the one-sided class war is over. Our side is finally fighting back!
Two-sided class struggle is on the agenda­­— an amazing achievement for a movement that’s just six months old. But as I stated earlier, all social protest movements have contradictions and follow their own ‘laws’ of development. The Occupy movement’s biggest contradiction is this: it’s a working-class, anti-capitalist movement fighting the 1% that is physically based outside the workplace (factories, offices, hospitals, schools, construction sites, other workplaces), and largely outside the organized spaces of the working class (unions). That is where the real potential power of the 99% resides, in our workplaces, where through strikes and workplace occupations, we can collectively organize to shut down, then take over and run the system ourselves. The tactic of occupying public space was brilliant as a first phase for our new movement but there are solid reasons to believe that phase is and should be over. The most compelling reason why I think it won’t be useful for us to try to reproduce the occupations of last fall in the spring is the relative ease with which the armed agents (police/security apparatus) of the 1% were able to repress and clear out the encampments. Occupy alone doesn’t possess the social weight (which exists with workers in factories and workplaces) to defend occupations, especially in open public parks.  Occupy can’t mobilize sufficient masses of the American working class to consistently come out in defense of public spaces every time the police move to evict us. The relationship of class forces (1% versus 99%) doesn’t yet favor the Occupy movement.
The Occupy movement has changed the discourse in this country, with a powerful narrative that has resonated with the 99%, but we have largely been unable to change the material reality and agenda of the 1%. That agenda has been decades in the making and encompasses dramatically lowering the standard of living of the 99%. US capitalism is in a life and death struggle to maintain its hegemony as an international empire with wars/occupations abroad and class war at home. It will take the power of the working class, organized in collective workplace struggle, to transform society in the fundamental ways Occupy is demanding.


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