Saturday, 13 December 2014

Do The Right Thing - Occupy Everything

In the last few months, the US has been rocked again by demonstrations, reminiscent of the Occupy Movement, of a few years ago. But, this time, the demonstrations have been about the fact that the US state continues to oppress black people, despite the election of a black President. In many ways, the demonstrations are more reminiscent of the original “Occupy” movements, those that arose in Tunisia, and Egypt etc. against oppressive, Bonapartist state regimes. The spark for the demonstrations has been a series of murders of black people by the police, which have failed to even provoke legal action against the officers responsible. The murder of Eric Garner by police in New York, by the use of an illegal choke hold is reminiscent of a scene from Spike Lee's 1989 film, “Do The Right Thing”, provoking Lee himself to do an edited version of the footage of the Garner murder, spliced with the scene from his film.

The US is different to Britain. Not only does it have an elected black President, it has many black senators and Congress men and women. It has many black mayors, governors and other elected officials. One of its top generals, and former Secretary of Defence, Colin Powell has said that had his parents turned right rather than left when they left Jamaica, and come to Britain, he might at best have hoped to have achieved the rank of sergeant in the British army. Yet, despite all that, the extent to which the US state continues at various levels to act independently of the political power, i.e. the elected representatives, is demonstrated by these repeated events of murders of black people by police, by the fact that black people form a disproportionate number of the people in US gaols, and on death row.

For Marxists, the election of Obama could never be seen as having the kind of epochal change that it was seen as being by liberals, and reformists. Indeed, at the time of his election  I wrote that, whilst his election was to be welcomed, on the one hand because of what it represented, in terms of a barrier being breached, no one should see it as having any significant affect on the lives of the millions of black men and women in the US, who would continue to suffer disproportionately, both economically, as workers and in a continuation of that oppression.

At the time, I pointed out that the approach of those liberals and reformists to expect such top down reforms from enlightened politicians, even if they happened, were not the means by which workers, black or white, can advance. Those kinds of reforms only tie workers more tightly to the existing system, making them ever more reliant on aspects of that very state, whose real purpose is to keep them in their place, and oppress them when necessary. It is to keep them in the same kind of position of the serf and vassal of feudal times. Only by taking matters into their own hands could workers begin to change that situation.

Its an idea that was actually advanced in the past in the US by black militants like the Panthers – See Stand Up, Say It Loud. I'm Working Class and I'm Proud.. The problem with the “Occupy Movement”, whether it be in its original version, as seen in Tunisia, Egypt etc. or in its US version, is that it was essentially a middle class movement, whose form of protest, the street protest, is typical of the form of protest of its predecessors, the protests of the archetypal middle class, the peasantry. That is not to belittle in any way those protests, it is simply to speak honestly about their limitation, and thereby to try to point to what must be done to remedy those limitations.

In both cases, the warnings I gave about the limitations of those protests - Don't Just Occupy The Streets and Egypt - What Is To Be Done? proved correct. In both cases, the failure of these mass movements can be put down to a failure to link up with the organised working-class, and to develop a political programme based on providing immediate political solutions that can be created by workers and their allies themselves, rather than relying on the capitalist state and bourgeois politicians to implement on their behalf. We need to talk about what we are in favour of far more than what we are against, and we should devote more energy to action to create the former than simply protesting about the latter.

As Marx put it in relation to industrial struggles,

“They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”

(Value, Price and Profit)

What is required in the US, and elsewhere, is a rejuvenation of that spirit created in the Occupy Movement, but to link it together with the organised working-class. We need to pursue the idea I put forward in that blog about the Occupy movement, not just to occupy the streets, but to occupy everything.

The problem of racist cops in the US will not be cured by having more enlightened, and even black politicians elected; it will not be resolved by having endless enquiries, such as that into the death of Stephen Lawrence in the UK, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police suffered from “institutional racism”, any more than the issue of illegal actions by the CIA, British Special Branch, and Security Services and so on, will be resolved by further inquiries, scrutiny and reforms. Those issues will only be resolved when the capitalist state itself is disbanded, and indeed when all states are disbanded.

Immediately, in the US what is required is to get the racist cops out of black neighbourhoods. What is required in every neighbourhood is a replacement of policing by the capitalist state, with self-policing by the community itself, under the control of democratically elected community councils. If people have a civic duty to serve on juries, they have an equal civic duty to police their own neighbourhood, and they should be provided with the time off work by their employers for doing so.

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