Occupy the Crisis - how the WSM sees the Occupy Movement & the current phase of the crisis


It is becoming very clear is that there is no national solution to the crisis, even at the level of seizing the wealth of the 1% who live in Ireland. The debt is now too colossal and, in any case, the 1% have been given the needed time to move much of their liquid assets out of the country. The recent payment of a billion dollars in unsecured debt to those who gambled on Anglo is one of the final steps in that process. Confiscation of what they cannot move continues to be needed but there is no longer a radical social democratic solution based on taxing the wealth of the domestic 1%.

The left has failed to offer any convincing alternative solution as we enter the 4th year of the crisis. It has not significantly grown in numbers, whatever some organisations like to pretend - despite the transparent betrayal of the ICTU leadership. Far from radicalising the union rank & file, that betrayal has resulted in members leaving the unions or simply disengaging with the union at the local level. Meetings that two years ago would have attracted 150 or 200 members now see the same 40 or so ‘usual suspects.’ Left demonstrations have dwindled to mobilisations measured in the hundreds although larger numbers still come out on single issue campaigns e.g. against local hospital closures.

This failure of the left means that all sorts of weird and wonderful non-alternatives are now in circulation. Very often these are based on a conspiratorial analysis that accepts the basic precepts of capitalism but just imagines things have been led astray by shadowy interests. Very little is suggested in the way of solutions beyond exposing these interests and reforming banking - all mixed in with the more bizarre aspects of Irish nationalism (eg advocating a return to the pre-feudal Brehon laws!).

In terms of the more serious end of these musings a common idea is that there is a solution around withdrawing from the Euro. Withdrawal from the Euro is not only a dead end but counter productive as we need to make the cancellation of the debt a European rather than national struggle. We are not engaged in a national struggle but one that is part of a process of radically restructuring the European and global economy in the service of the people of the globe rather than the 1%.

Withdrawal from the Euro will not regain some mythical independence and will not cancel the debts, they would continue to be owed in Euro. In such an event, the inevitable currency devaluation that would follow withdrawal would in effect increase the debt as more ‘new punts’ would be required to service the same level of debt in Euros. In Argentina the 2002 devaluation against the dollar was used to impose the costs of the crisis on workers. A devaluation of 80% took place in 2002 and unemployment soared to 25% with up to 40,000 forced to scavenge for scrap cardboard to survive.

The hundreds of billions in debt now owed by the Irish state did not come from money taken from under Irish mattresses. Rather it arose from a huge inflow of money into Ireland taking advantage of the higher rates of return available during the boom than were available in France or Germany at that time. In turn the resultant availability of unregulated ‘cheap credit’ in Ireland was what continued to drive property speculation leading to a cycle where each jump in property values saw additional profits which in turn attracted even more investment into Ireland from the global 1%.

In that context the speculation was not ‘Irish’ or "German' or 'French,' it was global. The Irish 1% were part of that process but their money was not ‘Irish’ - as they were very quick to tell us it was their individual property. In that respect we could say all money is 'foreign’. The wealthy Irish 1% do not hold Irish money: during the boom they were the first to insist that their wealth was private. It was only with the crash that the Irish 1% wanted the debt to be public and the global 1% wanted the debt to be Irish.

The crisis is not simply a crisis of banking or speculation or 'corruption' even if all these elements are part of the trigger for it. Rather it is a crisis of the capitalist system, the other elements are integral parts of that system and not deviations from it. Reformist solutions, like more regulation of banking, simply repeat the processes that followed previous financial crashes, processes that we know now will be eroded over time to bring us back once more to another crisis of this type.

The debt was created by that capitalist system, it is an integral part of the functioning of that system and so if paid off it would simply be recreated by the system in a fresh round of speculation. That in fact is exactly the 'solution' aimed for by the capitalist class - a return to banking as normal.

The solution to the crisis is neither reformist nor nationalist - what must be built in Ireland and elsewhere is a co-ordinated struggle of the working class across Europe and beyond centered on the following points
- opposition to the idea that any national economy must bear the local costs of the crisis. The speculation that created the debt crisis in Greece or Ireland was international rather than national in character, the idea that Greek (or Irish) workers should bear the costs of that speculation must be opposed by radicals across the European Union.
- opposition to all attempts to put the cost of the crisis on working people, all the costs must be born by corporations and the wealthy 1%. Again this is a struggle that must be won at the European level and not just the Irish or Greek level.
- opposition to all cuts in benefits & services including those that are disguised under 'getting money to those who need it most’. The ruling class, the 1% in terms of the language of the Occupy movement, followed a successful strategy of dividing sectors of the working class against each other in the opening years of the crisis. This sowing of divisions must be opposed.

On the Occupy movement
In the last couple of months a new form of the protest camp movement that started in Tahrir Square has sprung up. This is the Occupy movement, beginning at the heart the of beast in Wall St.,New York. Over 1,100 such camps have come into existence including at least 5 in Ireland.

In Ireland and elsewhere the emerging Occupy movement has tended to be suspicious of the already organised left and union movement. We acknowledge that this has several causes, some of which are an understandable rejection of the record of both sectors but some of the reasons given need to be challenged.

The rejection of the organised left has been quite popular both because of the authoritarian baggage of the left and the weakness of analysis that the left has tried to import into the Occupy movement. Until recently the fact that left organisations tended to have a monopoly on mass communication resources and contact networks as well as an understanding of organisational practice (eg how to conduct meetings) meant that despite these negatives spontaneous movements were forced into a relationship. Today on the one hand, there is greater awareness of the negatives of left authoritarian practice and ideology then ever before. And on the other hand the internet means that the left no longer has the monopoly of mass communication and contact networks that it once had. This means the pressures that once forced emerging movements to form alliances with the organised left are very much less than was once the case and it is quite possible to refuse such alliances and still communicate and network.

This rejection of the left has problematic aspects as well though. There is potential for the rejection of left organisations to result in the rejection of broad left concepts and the limiting of debate around these concepts. Capitalism is the problem, the solution sought by Occupy cannot be allowed to stop at some reform of the capitalist system.

The blocking of joint work with the unions by some Occupiers, including that at Dame Street, needs to be treated separately to the suspicion of the left, even though it has some common causes. In the Irish context much of that rejection comes from the twin reality that the union leadership neither offer nor intend to offer any real opposition to capital and the state and that there is no substantial rank & file opposition within the unions that could change their direction. This understanding is an accurate enough snapshot at this moment. But the result reached by the Dublin assembly process, that work with unions at the Dublin Council of Trade Unions march on 26 Nov. should therefore be blocked, is a dead end. It has to be challenged because the unions, at the local level, can potentially and in some cases do offer the means for hundreds of thousands of workers to meet, discuss and organise. Achieving such mass activity in every union branch is far from being an easy task but if / when that happens the union leadership can be pushed aside.

Outside of these legitimate concerns however this attempt to exclude the left and the unions also provides a cover under which right populists, including various conspiratorial, racist and in particular anti-semitic attitudes, can attempt to operate. The historic dangers of such forces in the context of a global banking crisis are clear from the 1930’s. As such even if they are quite marginal now it is essential to oppose and expose them.

The role of anarchists
There is considerable anarchist involvement in the Occupy movement globally and here in Ireland. The role of anarchists in relation to the movement should be to aid the growth of the movement while making arguments for anarchist organisational methods and politics within the movement. WSM members have been involved in the movement in Dublin & Cork in particular with some involvement in Galway & Belfast as well as visiting Occupy London (at St Paul’s) and Occupy New York. Unlike the authoritarian left we haven’t had difficulty in working as individuals rather than WSM representatives as our anarchist politics are such that we favour the assembly model and reject representative democracy.

While we discuss the progress of the movement at our internal meetings and online, and these discussions inform our practice, we have no interest in the top down managed ‘interventions’ that have proved so disruptive to the Dame Street General Assembly in particular. Instead we have used the existing skills & knowledge of our members to help with the growth of the movement by helping it for instance to develop effective facilitation methods.

Alongside this we have been producing and intend to continue to produce articles for our press that report on and analyse the development of the Occupy movement and the various challenges it faces. This includes answering the attempts to promote pro-capitalist and conspiratorial trends within the movement.

The role of anarchists is not only to aid in building the Occupy movement but also as it succeeds to argue that when it is strong it must go beyond just putting the costs of the crisis on the wealthy. It must became a movement about reclaiming the wealth (that we created in the first place), ending capitalism and introducing libertarian communism. Any other outcome will simply see us or our children going through the next crisis two or three decades down the road, if we are lucky. If we are unlucky the failure of capitalism to curb the environmental destruction it is causing will reach a critical point ahead of the next financial crisis and result in an environmental collapse in which huge numbers of the poor & the marginalised will die and those of us left will inherit a planet very much less capable of sustaining human life for some time.

WSM Delegate Council - Nov 2011

Further reading on the Occupy Movement
urther reading on the Capitalist Crisis