Saturday, May 12, 2012

On the Anti-Capitalist General Assembly

Kwazi Nkrumah to
Occupy The Hood L.A. Action Assembly
 Any new social movement needs a rallying cry. This is usually a slogan or a demand that summarizes and connects with the collective consciousness of the times. In the early 1960's, the slogan "Freedom NOW!" announced that a new generation of Black people was on the scene, and that that generation had no intention of waiting forever for white America to recognize and stop denying the basic civil and human rights of Black people. In 1966, the developments of the Black struggle in this country for civil rights led to an entirely new formulation, a new battle cry, "Black Power!" Meanwhile, on the white left, the student movement, the peace movement and other forces were converging around the issue of the Vietnam War. In 1967, this movement raised the demand to "Stop the Draft". By 1968, the cry was "Stop the War" itself. By 1969, the slogan was "GET OUT NOW!" Side by side with the anti-war and student movements, the "counter-culture" became a mass phenomena, as more and more people, disillusioned with the false values of white middle America and the Cold War, rejected the pursuit of corporate upward mobility and began to get in touch with their true feelings about what was going on in the world around them and raising their consciousness. "Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll" were actually significant elements in the making of this counter-culture, and its best-known slogan was "Tune in, turn on and drop out!" The hard-core of the counter-culture was manifested in the "Hippy" movement, but it's impact spread into every nook and cranny of U.S. society (including, but not limited to the activist New Left).

Last year, the Occupy Movement appeared on the scene. The basic slogan of the Occupy Movement, as everyone knows, has been "We are the 99%!" This formulation correctly corresponds to the reality that at least 99% of the total population is experiencing greater and greater dispossession and political disenfranchisement at the hands of a small percentage of people who control more and more of the material resources and political power of society as a whole. It was the correct formulation at the right time, and millions of people, whether they were directly involved with the movement or not, responded to this potent political equation. But the Occupy movement is now facing the same necessity that confronts every social movement that captures the public imagination: Having put forth a broad, general assessment of "the problem" of this period, we must now more clearly define the roots, the nature and the fundamental solution to the problem, as we have identified it. This is where every new movement moves into serious discussion, debate and clarification of its methods, values and objectives; and the clarification of these methods, values and objectives become definitive of the movement..

The May Day actions have established that the Occupy Movement is here to stay; despite all the official attempts to crush and derail this movement. What's more, the movement is beginning to deepen its connections with working people and oppressed communities at the local level. We are still in the early stages of this, but it is clearly beginning to happen. Everyone and their little brother --- and sister--- is now talking about being part of the movement of the 99%. That includes not only millions of suffering people of every social background, but also legions of opportunistic politicians, scam artists and "poverty pimps", who see the motion set loose by the Occupy movement as yet another vehicle for promoting themselves and their personal agendas at the expense of our movement, as such. How do we determine who is genuinely part of the movement, or at least a genuine ally, if we haven't clearly defined our methods, values and objectives? How do we minimize the ability of the state, the corporate sector or other hostile forces to corrupt, disrupt or co-opt our movement, if we haven't laid a firm foundation of principles to guide our collective work???

For all of these reasons, I think it is very timely for the Occupy movement to have an open discussion about our position on, and relationship to, the capitalist system. I mean it's fine to say that "the 1%" is dispossessing the rest of us, but WHO ARE THE 1%??? What MAKES them the 1%??? What is the BASIS of their power??? Aside from protesting, what do we, as a movement, intend to DO about their power??? Are we a reformist movement or a revolutionary movement??? If we are a revolutionary movement, what actually makes us revolutionary, especially in regard to our current economic system??? If we are, in fact, an anti-capitalist movement, WHAT DO WE PROPOSE TO REPLACE IT WITH??? All of these are not only REASONABLE, they are NECESSARY QUESTIONS for us to discuss and come to some collective decisions about.

And, by the way, in addition to reaching much greater clarity about "the 1%", we need to continue to look at issues around the internal make-up and contradictions within our own ranks (the 99%). There needs to be greater attention paid to exactly how relative privilege manifests itself, socially, politically and ideologically within our movement; and in particular, how it impacts on those groups who are the hardest hit by the system.(The CAPITALIST SYSTEM.) What do the race, class and gender differences in our ranks have do do with our stance in regard to the capitalist system and the questions of reform vs. revolution??? What is the proper relationship between the Occupy Movement and organized (and UN-ORGANIZED) labor??? How does this movement relate to struggles against racism or for self-determination in specially oppressed communities???

I very much regret that I'm unable to be there for these important discussions this afternoon. But I look forward to joining in on these discussions when I return to L.A. and am able to participate. Meanwhile, according to yesterday's Huffington Post, CEO Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan-Chase banks "only days ago called criticism of banks a form of discrimination and suggested it was anti-American to criticize business at all." (Certainly makes ME want to smash capitalism!!!)

Yours in Struggle,