Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New York Mayor evicts Occupy Wall Street protesters

Send to Printer, PDF or Email The New York City Police raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment last night and evicted the protesters who had been there since Sept 17. This followed by one day the eviction of protesters at Occupy Oakland in what was acknowledged by police officials as a carefully coordinated assault undoubtedly stemming from the White House. But by this afternoon (Nov 15) the protesters were back at Zuccotti Park, though without their tents or their property, which had been confiscated and wantonly destroyed by the NYPD during their carefully planned raid in the middle of the night.

Protester shouting at police

The scene at Zuccotti Park was at once both tense and hopeful. The protesters were not demoralized by the loss of their encampment. They have once again shown their capacity for inventiveness and organization by reconfiguring their governing bodies so that they could continue their functions under the new circumstances. The kitchen was back in operation, this time from the back of a truck parked in front of the Trinity Church cemetery two blocks south on Broadway. Housing arrangement were being made for hundreds who need a place to sleep for the night. Most of the housing arrangements are in the homes of sympathetic New Yorkers but some might be going to other encampments in other cities. Whether the encampment reemerges at Zuccotti Park or elsewhere, the protesters are not going away. A statement from one of the speakers made it clear that they see their struggle as transcending the immediate symbol of an encampment in downtown Manhattan:

“Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces – our spaces – and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people – all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe this idea resonates with so many of us because Congress, beholden to Wall Street, has ignored the powerful stories pouring out from the homes and hearts of our neighbors, stories of unrelenting economic suffering. Our dream for a democracy in which we matter is why so many people have come to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.”

Protesters clash with New York Police after being removed from Zuccotti Park Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The General Assembly at Zuccotti Park tonight was much larger than recent ones. I would estimate the crowd at between 1000 – 3000 people. One ironic outcome of Mayor Bloomberg’s eviction is that now that tents are gone there is plenty of space for holding a public meeting in this square. The General Assembly resolved to stage a massive march on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, Nov 17, the two month anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street.

Today’s meeting took place as the square was surrounded by hundreds of police, many of them wearing riot helmets. It was also barricaded so that the police could closely monitor the one entrance point protesters were allowed to pass through. Dozens of police vans and news trucks surrounded the square.

One curious fact that I noticed both today and on previous occasions is the almost complete absence of any of the left groups. To be sure some of them are there as individuals and occasionally as Internet "journalists",  but they hardly ever have any sort of organized presence. I did see literature tables from two small groups representing different factions of what used to be the “Militant” group in the UK, lead by the late Ted Grant. One would think that if a socialist political movement was interested in battling over its ideas among the Occupy Wall Street protesters it would have at least set up a literature table.  But groups like the SWP, Spartacist, or the Socialist Equality Party are nowhere to be found.

The idea of the 99% comes out of America’s populist and radical traditions. But given the absence for at least two generations of a tradition of Marxism and socialism, and the quiesence of the labor movement, it was all but inevitable that the idea of the 99% would be articulated as an initial, if vaguely formulated stand in for the working class. Nevertheless the articulation of widespread sentiment against social inequality marks an important step forward in the American political psyche. It means that the myth of America as a society that has escaped the class systems of the older countries of Europe, and where anyone, as long as they apply themselves with hard work and energy, can become the next Warren Buffet, is once and for all put to pasture. The remarkable thing about the Occupy Wall Street movement is that despite all the political confusion its leaders evince, it has placed capitalism itself on the agenda of political discourse. That is no small accomplishment considering that the full weight of the ideological and state apparatus has worked overtime for decades to keep that question off the agenda. Suddenly there is an openness to a consideration of an alternative economic system the likes of which have not been seen since the 1960s.

The movement as it stands now is still far from being able to induce fundamental social change. That will require the entry of the working class onto the political stage and a break from the two party system that has trapped politics within the confines of capitalism. It will also require the conscious articulation of socialist policies and the development of a revolutionary leadership, something that is currently anathema to the anarchist-minded leadership of Occupy Wall Street. However, these are mostly young people who are still developing their political outlook. Whatever differences we Marxists have with them, we do not place them in the same camp as the professional political operatives and cynics who populate various left and liberal organizations. Outfits like the Nation Magazine and as well as the bureaucrats of unions like the UAW come to mind in this context. In short, what we have in this movement is just a beginning, but one that has already captured the imagination of millions and has the capacity to spread and mature politically.

The following are interviews at Occupy Wall Street that I conducted this past Saturday, prior to the eviction.

Alex Steiner, Nov. 16, 2011 


Thomas Cain said...

Alex, (or Mr. Steiner if you prefer)

Thanks for the writings you have contributed that pertain to the Occupy movement. Reading through all the other negative articles can, whether one tries to stay objective or not, rub off on the reader. I really appreciate the optimism that you display, despite the political limitations of the protestors.

I just have a quick question about a previous comment of yours in another post. You said that in order to build a revolutionary movement,

"...we must find the bridge between where they are and the objective requirements of the situation."

I apologize if I am displaying ignorance, but can you explain that a bit?

Alex Steiner said...

The reference to a "bridge" is an allusion to the Transitional Program of the Fourth International, written by Trotsky:

"It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.

Classical Social Democracy, functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its program into two parts independent of each other: the minimum program which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum program which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future. Between the minimum and the maximum program no bridge existed. And indeed Social Democracy has no need of such a bridge, since the word socialism is used only for holiday speechifying."

Link to Transitional Program

One can add that it is not only the Social Democracy and its descendants that have no use for transitional demands. Sectarian abstentionists have no use for them either. We previously reprinted an important essay by Trotsky on this topic:

Sectarianism, Centrism and the Fourth International

Alex Steiner