Tag Archive: occupy


VOAG Logo (Brick)5High Court rules the police have no powers to force people to give their details, when held in a kettle.

From Netpol.org, June 2013
For years it has been common practice for protesters held in a kettle (police containment) to be forced to submit to police filming and/or provide their details as a condition of leaving.  There have been countless incidents in which protesters who have tried (lawfully) to refuse these demands have been threatened with arrest, or told they could not leave the kettle.   

This should now change, as the High Court has today ruled that the police have no powers to force people to give their details, or comply with police filming and photography, simply because they are held in a kettle. Lord Justice Moses criticised police practice in no uncertain terms.  He stated,

It is unacceptable that a civilian photographer on instruction from the police should be entitled to obtain photographs for investigation and crime investigation purposes…as the price for leaving a containment. Although the common law has sanctioned containment it has done so in only restricted circumstances.

It was not lawful for the police to maintain the containment for the purposes of obtaining identification, whether by questioning or by filming. It follows that it was not lawful to require identification to be given and submission to filming as the price for release.

 The case was taken by Susannah Mengesha, who had attended a demonstration called by Occupy/UKUncut in Picadilly after a trade union march in 2011.  Susannah was there as a legal observer, and became caught in a kettle the police imposed after protesters had moved to the headquarters of Xstrata, a mining corporation in nearby Panton Street. 

After a lengthy period of time, the police containment manager decided it was no longer likely that there would be an ‘imminent breach of the peace’ and began a ‘controlled dispersal’.  Protesters were funneled through lines of police officers to a dispersal point where they were stopped and searched then allowed to leave.  Before reaching this point, however, people were forced to undergo close-up filming by police cameramen, and were told they must provide a name and address or face arrest. 

Both Susannah and other legal observers recorded that the police had told protesters they were using section 50 of the Police Reform Act.  This gives police powers to demand details on threat of arrest, where they reasonably believe a person has been engaging in anti-social behaviour.

In court, the police denied using this power, presumably aware of the difficulties in asserting that a peaceful protest equated to anti-social behaviour.  Instead they tried to defend their actions by claiming that protesters gave their name and address and submitted to filming voluntarily.  A police video was given to the judges to evidence that Susannah had complied freely – but Lord Justice Moses considered that “the video showed the contrary”.

Susannah has stated that she is ‘very happy’ with the judgement, which should change the way the police operate.  She has also forced the police to remove any record of her attendance that night from their databases. She said,

I am deeply concerned by the increasing criminalisation of protest. I do not accept that by choosing to express political dissent people automatically volunteer away their rights to personal privacy and freedoms.

Freedom of protest is under relentless attack from the state. Under the new legal aid reforms, protest law judicial review cases such as mine, which are usually the last refuge against oppressive state behaviour, would not have been possible.

Any other protesters wishing to remove data collected in similar circumstances are invited to contact Netpol or their lawyers for advice.  To contact Netpol in strictest confidence, e-mail info[at]netpol.org with a contact telephone number.Egypt, Syria, London, Liverpool, Birmingham: Join The Resistance!

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The Friern Barnet library victory shows the way to
campaign against cuts

Local residents, Occupy activists and squatters have worked together to force the council to re-open Friern Barnet library.Friern Barnet library

The Guardian, Nov 15th, 2013
Local residents, Occupy activists and squatters have worked together to force the council to re-open Friern Barnet library.

When Bob Marley and Peter Tosh wrote the classic protest song Get Up, Stand Up they could not have envisaged that it would be adopted by a group of mainly white, middle-aged, middle-class north Londoners who have formed a remarkable alliance with a group of squatters and members of the Occupy movement to oppose a library closure.

On Tuesday, all of the above joined hands in a human chain around Friern Barnet Library in north London. It was closed in April 2012 due to council cuts, and occupied by squatters five months ago, who reopened it with the help of local volunteers almost immediately.

Needless to say the council was not pleased. It has now reopened as a community library with financial input from the council who shut it down. Together, the disparate group of library fans sang an adaptation of their song that Marley and Tosh would probably have approved of – Get Up, Stand Up, Save Our Libraries.

The council threatened to close the library in 2009. Residents and Labour councillors staged various protests, including leafleting, a five-hour sit-in and the temporary establishment of a pop-up library. When the library closed the council brushed off the pleas to reopen it on that site.

When the squatters climbed through an open window in September and began working with local residents to restore a library service in the building the council was stymied.

Officials had to lodge court proceedings to evict the squatters, and as the weeks ticked by before the case was heard the disparate groups forged genuine and trusting relationships and the initially empty library shelves swelled until they had more than 10,000 donated books on offer to lend.

The library became a community hub with events for children, yoga classes and book signings with the likes of Will Self. Barnet county court granted an eviction order in December. But local residents speedily formed a legally constituted group of licensees who offered to take over the running of the library when the squatters moved out on Tuesday. They are now negotiating a long-term lease with the council and plans to sell the site off to a developer have been shelved – for now at least.

When David Cameron put forward his “big society” idea he probably wasn’t advocating unusual alliances of people working together collaboratively to overturn closures of public services implemented by radical Tory councils such as Barnet. But, arguably, this is the big society in action.

The Occupy movement has raised a great deal of awareness of global inequality but has not focused on or achieved small, concrete wins such as this one. The Barnet residents’ protests fell on deaf ears until the squatters supported by Occupy moved in. Squatters have had an opportunity to rebrand themselves as socially responsible, community minded individuals who are working to restore closed-down public services. The local residents are clear that without the input of the squatters and Occupy, the library would not have reopened.

The squatters know that without the huge support from residents they would have been unceremoniously evicted from the library premises much sooner and Barnet council would have gone ahead with its plans to sell the site to a commercial developer. But together the different groups formed a potent alliance. Assisted by a strong legal team they were able to argue in court that they were providing a greatly valued public service. Their arguments were reflected in the judge’s ruling. While granting Barnet council an eviction order, district judge HHJ Pearl recognised the right to protest and said of the occupied library: “There is no suggestion that this is anything other than a happy, pleasant, well-run place.”

The relationship between the various groups involved in the library protest and occupation has been characterised by gentleness, mutual respect for the range of views put forward and a very sincere spirit of collaboration. The residents have become more tuned in to the issues raised by the squatters and Occupy, and the latter have worked sensitively with the locals to help them achieve their objectives of restoring a much-loved public service.

As those gathered to celebrate the establishment of Friern Barnet community library on Tuesday lit candles on a very long cake modelled on Eric Carle’s classic children’s book, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, the unity of purpose resonated around the room. Could this kind of unusual alliance be the future of campaigning against cuts in services and other matters of public concern? This unprecedented reopening of a closed down library suggests that it could.Voag-Logo-Darker

The VOAG is watching - The VOAG is everywhereOn why we must vote by simple majority and why this protects the rights of the minority. And why the Occupy movement are wrong.  

 GERALD DOWNING , Nov 28 2011  
On consensus: excerpts from Murray Bookchin’s “What is Communalism? The Democratic Dimensions of Anarchism” by Ozaki Takami

‘Libertarians commonly consider democracy, even in this sense, as a form of “rule” — since in making decisions, a majority view prevails and thus “rules” over a minority. As such, democracy is said to be inconsistent with a truly libertarian ideal. Even so knowledgeable a historian of anarchism as Peter Marshall observes that, for anarchists, “the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority”. Scores of libertarians have echoed this idea time and again.
 
What is striking about assertions like Marshall’s is their highly pejorative language. Majorities, it would seem, neither “decide” nor “debate”: rather, they “rule,” “dictate,” “command,” “coerce” and the like. In a free society that not only permitted, but fostered the fullest degree of dissent, whose podiums at assemblies and whose media were open to the fullest expression of all views, whose institutions were truly forums for discussion — one may reasonably ask whether such a society would actually “dictate” to anyone when it had to arrive at a decision that concerned the public welfare.
 
How, then, would society make dynamic collective decisions about public affairs, aside from mere individual contracts? The only collective alternative to majority voting as a means of decision-making that is commonly presented is the practice of consensus. Indeed, consensus has even been mystified by avowed “anarcho-primitivists,” who consider Ice Age and contemporary “primitive” or “primal” peoples to constitute the apogee of human social and psychic attainment.
 
I do not deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar with one another. But to examine consensus in practical terms, my own experience has shown me that when larger groups try to make decisions by consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest common intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizable assembly of people can attain is adopted — precisely because everyone must agree with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue. More disturbingly, I have found that it permits an insidious authoritarianism and gross manipulations — even when used in the name of autonomy or freedom.

To take a very striking case in point: the largest consensus-based movement (involving thousands of participants) in recent memory in the United States was the Clamshell Alliance, which was formed to oppose the Seabrook nuclear reactor in the mid-1970s in New Hampshire. In her recent study of the movement, Barbara Epstein has called the Clamshell the “first effort in American history to base a mass movement on nonviolent direct action” other than the 1960s civil rights movement. As a result of its apparent organizational success, many other regional alliances against nuclear reactors were formed throughout the United States.
 
I can personally attest to the fact that within the Clamshell Alliance, consensus was fostered by often cynical Quakers and by members of a dubiously “anarchic” commune that was located in Montague, Massachusetts. This small, tightly knit faction, unified by its own hidden agendas, was able to manipulate many Clamshell members into subordinating their goodwill and idealistic commitments to those opportunistic agendas. The de facto leaders of the Clamshell overrode the rights and ideals of the innumerable individuals who entered it and undermined their morale and will.
 
In order for that clique to create full consensus on a decision, minority dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called “standing aside” in American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of the dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the decision-making process, rather than make an honorable and continuing expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings — so that a “decision” could be made. More than one “decision” in the Clamshell Alliance was made by pressuring dissenters into silence and, through a chain of such intimidations, “consensus” was ultimately achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as participants in the process.
 
On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of all dialogue, dissensus. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority decision, was replaced in the Clamshell by dull monologues — and the uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making, the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have been defeated — they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honors no minorities, but mutes them in favor of the metaphysical “one” of the “consensus” group.
 
The creative role of dissent, valuable as an ongoing democratic phenomenon, tends to fade away in the gray uniformity required by consensus. Any libertarian body of ideas that seeks to dissolve hierarchy, classes, domination and exploitation by allowing even Marshall’s “minority of one” to block decision-making by the majority of a community, indeed, of regional and nationwide confederations, would essentially mutate into a Rousseauean “general will” with a nightmare world of intellectual and psychic conformity. In more gripping times, it could easily “force people to be free,” as Rousseau put it — and as the Jacobins practiced it in1793-94. 
 
The de facto leaders of the Clamshell were able to get away with their behavior precisely because the Clamshell was not sufficiently organized and democratically structured, such that it could countervail the manipulation of a well organized few. The de facto leaders were subject to few structures of  accountability for their actions. The ease with which they cannily used consensus decision-making for their own ends has been only partly told,6 but consensus practices finally shipwrecked this large and exciting organization with its Rousseauean “republic of virtue.”

It was also ruined, I may add, by an organizational laxity that permitted mere passersby to participate in decision-making, thereby destructuring the organization to the point of invertebracy. It was for good reason that I and many young anarchists from Vermont who had actively participated in the Alliance for some few years came to view consensus as anathema.
 
If consensus could be achieved without compulsion of dissenters, a process that is feasible in small groups, who could possibly oppose it as a decision-making process? But to reduce a libertarian ideal to the unconditional right of a minority — let alone a “minority of one” — to abort a decision by a “collection of individuals” is to stifle the dialectic of ideas that thrives on opposition, confrontation and, yes, decisions with which everyone need not agree andshould not agree, lest society become an ideological cemetery. Which is not to deny dissenters every opportunity to reverse majority decisions by unimpaired discussion and advocacy.’
Gerry Downing is the editor of Socialist Fight magazine.The VOAG

Workers Power Conference 2012: Divisions, Expulsions, & Appeals – The VOAG Investigates. 

Workers Power, a small communist group had its conference over the weekend. The conference was dominated be factionalism and division. Two people were expelled, and although as yet there have been no formal splits, resignations from the National and Political Committees surely herald one in the coming days.

The conference began on Saturday 24th, March with two members formally appealing against their expulsions. In true Weekly Worker style, the VOAG (Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford) publishes the first of the two expulsion appeals – Delivered to the conference as a speech.    

Bureaucrat Expulsion
I went to two meetings in Manchester where I met with half a dozen people from the RSO, Socialist Fight and others. There were two subsequent meetings in Manchester, but neither I nor Cde B. attended them.

Like all members of Workers Power, I attend meetings organised by a number of different groups. I didn’t consider my attendance at this meeting any different than attending an SWP or SP meeting or indeed holding discussions with local Anarchists or anti-cuts campaigners.

There was a variety of attitudes regarding what might be achieved by the discussions. Opinions ranged from formalising a new group to continued informal discussions. I made it clear that my interest in the meetings was from within the framework of an Anti-Capitalist project

I recall prior to joining Workers Power, speaking to the 2009 Anti-Capitalist event. I told the conference:”What we really want is local groups, we have to come together at a local level because we don’t believe that political groups are capable of achieving a meaningful unity on a National basis”. “An Anti-Capitalist Party must be built from below, as an umbrella organisation connecting local Anti-Capitalist groups with the flexibility and freedom to react and adapt to local conditions”.

“However “, I added: “The Anti-Capitalist Party was not a replacement for existing groups, but a way for existing groups – along with non-aligned activists and anti-cuts campaigners – to work together” It was the feeling of the Surrey United Anti-Capitalists, “that a federal approach to a new Anti-Capitalist Party may provide the break-through to a successful ‘unity project”. This continues to be my belief. It is surely imperative to maintain ideological coherence by struggling for a clear programme via democratic centralism, a paper and our identity.

Late in the evening before the NC meeting in January, I received a phone call from Cde B. He told me he had received an email from the NC regarding the meetings inManchester. He forwarded an email to me, which had been sent from Simon Hardy to the members of the NC. The email contained correspondence between Cde B. and Gerry Downing. The emails addressed issues that arose out of the Manchester meetings and included a discussion about what kind of an organisation, if any, might arise out of them.

I too have had similar discussions. If the Anti-Capitalist Party is to be a Party of the working class, it must encourage the entire labour movement to sign up- and be a forum where theories and practices are put to the test. As Richard Brenner asked rhetorically in Workers Power 341, (Winter 2009): “Do we say that we want it to be a pluralist party? We want a democratic party in which everyone can say what they think. But another feature is that we want to win the argument in the party for revolution”.

It should be obvious that winning the argument for revolution requires a functioning group, faction or caucus to consistently argue for revolutionary Trotskyist politics inside the Anti-Capitalist project. Only Trotskyism has the programme that can defeat and replace the existing leadership of the working class by the method of the transitional programme. Bringing down the government and leading the working class to a socialist future.

I was aware that discussions were continuing between the participants of the Manchester meetings. Naturally, I too discussed these meetings. However, neither I nor Cde B. participated in the e-group where the emails Simon presented to the NC originated. Indeed, I didn’t know of the existence of the e-group.

Simon Hardy was leading the proposal for my expulsion. No accusations regarding a breach of discipline were leveled against me. Simon’s sole charge was that I “attended a meeting of a group hostile to Workers Power and the Anti-Capitalist project”.

My answer to Simon was, and still is: “that we all attend meetings with groups hostile to Workers Power. However, I didn’t discuss or impart any privileged information regarding Workers Power and I don’t believe Cde B. did either”.

I must add to this now, that Simon is wrong regarding the caucus’ hostility to “Anti Capitalism”. It is my understanding that Socialist Fight, and the other participants in Manchester, with the exception of the RSO, were in favour of joining an Anti-Capitalist project.

Cde B. may have made references to divisions in Workers Power, but I do not believe any details beyond what was in the public domain, were ever discussed. I do not accept Cde B. or I broke discipline or any democratic-centralist principle.

Cde B. has consistently been one of the most active members of Workers Power inLondon. He is well known and respected for his work within the GRL. He has been involved in numerous campaigns, the electricians and bus drivers’ disputes being recent examples. Billy is also the most consistent recruiter. There are people in this conference today that Billy either recruited or introduced to Workers Power. Indeed, I believe it would be foolish for any rump that may continue after this conference not to actively recruit Billy to it.

No, I think it is obvious to us all that the real splitters are those who have finally broken cover at this conference to propose liquidation. It is they who have been undermining Workers Power, and as we shall see – in their rush to promote their vision of an Anti-Capitalist formation – have already broken from democratic centralist methodology. Far from seeking to split Workers Power, Cde B. was looking for ways to save its politics and programme, the very reason Cde B. and I joined the group in the first place.

Libya
The first major retreat from the programme was over Libya. Unlike the majority of Workers Power, I saw no basis to believe that a popular or progressive uprising was unfolding. Indeed, behind the headlines there was plenty of reason to assume the opposite. Whilst Workers Power rapped their support for the NTC in the flag of Permanent Revolution, I felt those same arguments correctly applied to the forces supporting Gadaffi.

The most disturbing aspect of Workers Power’s support for the NTC was that the NTC was openly courting the patronage of the imperialist powers. It even promised western companies “preferential treatment” in what amounted to another arms for oil deal.

Leon Trotsky, “On the Sino-Japanese War”, wrote: “The Trotskyists, they say, ‘want to serve Chiang Kai-shek in action and the proletariat in words’. To participate actively and consciously in the war does not mean ‘to serve Chiang Kai-shek’ but to serve the independence of a colonial country in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. And the words directed against the Kuomintang are the means of educating the masses for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek”. “You cannot advance Imperialism’s victory and the victory of the working class at the same time”.

The leadership’s justification for their Libyan position was in the name of democracy and abstract liberal freedoms. In the early days of the conflict, I questioned the leadership about the lack of reliable evidence substantiating claims that it was a genuine popular uprising. Where was the general strike? Where were the mass demonstrations? In terms of numbers, it appeared that the rallies in support of Gadaffi were always larger than NTC organised events. Indeed, apart from a couple of small demonstrations, the only forces that the NTC commanded were rag-tag militias backed up by a few tribes and foreign interventionists”.

I find it Ironic that I’m appealing my expulsion, when those that are most keen on it are seeking to dissolve Workers Power anyway. It appears I am accused of breaking democratic centralism. However, it is my feeling that democratic centralist discipline broke down in WP some months ago.

The paper has ceased to be a coherent representation of the group. Under Simon Hardy’s editorship the paper has become the arena for internal differences between an old guard, and a middle class clique, running to the right and away from the working class. Their duplicity and dishonesty is exposed by their inconsistent and ever rightward stances in the paper.

Occupy – The 99%
With regards to the Occupy movement: Sceptical comments such as “the 1% as they have been called by the occupiers”. Criticisms such as “[occupy’s] limitation of always talking about “the people”. And calls for “discussions as to who constitutes the main agency of change”. (November’s issue of WP) have disappeared from the pages of WP.

Such comments and criticisms have been gradually replaced by a populist, un-critical support for the Occupy movement. And has led to a banner reading “We are the 99%” on the top of the South London Anti- Capitalist Network blog.

In contrast, on the WP blog last week, Dave Stockton, referring to ‘Occupy’ notes the: “necessity of working class direct action –that is, strikes – seemed to escape the more doctrinaire horizontals”…”In fact horizontalism- is an expression of layers and classes whose position in capitalist society gives them no natural unity: the lower middle classes, students, long term unemployed and intellectuals, who seek to escape cut-throat capitalist competition but at the same time feel collectivity, especially discipline imposed by a majority, an intolerable violation of their freedom”.

Compare that to March’s Workers Power, ‘Next steps for the Occupy movement’ in which Anton Solka writes “We are the 99% has brought the issue of class to the fore, there really is an us and them.”

Personally, I consider myself to be working class and not one of the 99%. My interests run contrary to many of the 99%. – And I would expect Workers Power to argue for class politics; warn of the dangers and Stalinist origin of popular frontism, and expose the contradictions within the 99% movement.

As with Libya, elements of Workers Power, with scant sources of information provided by the bourgeois media, has jumped on to the populist bandwagon of democracy and freedom. Support for the autonomist, environmentalist and horizontalist forces – those that are described by the clique struggling to break up our group as ‘New Left’ – may have temporarily grown, but there is nothing qualitatively new in Occupy. This ideology and methodology has been part of the political scenery for decades. The leaders of London’s Occupy are not just of the same milieu, but in many cases are the very same people that were on the peace camps and convoys of the eighties, on the road protests of the 90’s, and on the occupations and climate camps of the naughties.

Anti-Capitalism
As far as the Anti-Capitalist project goes; the Workers Power paper rarely repeats the same line twice. In February’s Workers Power article, “Labour in the Unions” Dave Stockton appeals to the unions to “put their money behind building a new fighting, Socialist Party”…”It must be a party whose aim is not to court the selfish individualism of the middle classes, but to lead the working class in a struggle for power”.

Simon Hardy writes in February’s paper “It is the battle to unite the anti–cuts movement, to create a new sense of energy and activism that UKUncut and Occupy exemplified. Although in the Editorial of the same month he writes: “In Britain, too, after an initial breakthrough, Occupy has reached a dead end”. Such is the retreat to the right, that even the name Anti-Capitalist is too radical for some in Workers Power. The group set up in Brighton is called the New Left Initiative.

In Conclusion
In conclusion, there are several common threads running through Workers Power at present.
In Libya WP elevated bourgeois democratic demands over the economic needs of the working class. With little information to support the position, WP opportunistically rode the wave of populism and supported the NTC. Its position sacrificed the security of the Libyan people, its welfare state, and its resources for democratic freedoms that will never be achieved and for the illusion of parliamentarianism.    

Again in the paper’s coverage of the Occupy movement and its 99% slogan, a faction of WP showed itself to be impressionistic. With little first-hand experience of the occupations, WP used second hand reports to analyse occupy. Here again elements in WP bent to populist sentiment and degenerated into uncritical support for the occupy movement. They sacrificed class analysis for democratic demands, popular frontism and horizontalism. As Dave Stockton said above: “These are the politics of the petit-bourgeois”.

It seems to me that the reason for the inconsistencies in the paper of late is not just the result of arguments on the PC, largely hidden from the membership. It is the result of a middle class clique in Workers Power looking for a way out and using Anti-Capitalism as their vehicle. Why else are they suddenly so enthusiastic about a project that’s been talked about for years. Why else would they be rushing headlong in to forming Anti-Capitalist groups before WP has decided the nature of this Anti-Capitalist project?

The rub, the elephant in the room, is finally exposed on paragraphs 20 and 21 of the draft proposal to the NC (included in the pre-conference IB.). Regarding Anti-Capitalism it says: “We will not declare a formal tendency or platform” – [But somehow] “will remain members of the League”. I don’t really think these people have thought this thing through. Does this clique really expect to reconcile plurality and democratic centralism within the same organisation? Or indeed, expect to remain members of the League, whose rules of affiliation insist on a regular paper. Read the rules of the League! You’re so gone. It’s these inconsistencies, and there are many, many, more, that make me realise the clique’s sudden enthusiasm for Anti-Capitalism is an unprincipled retreat into petite-bourgeois acceptability. We’re lefties, but harmless, and oh so intellectual they tell their peers. After-all, they’re reaching that age.

A post-script: Today – 9th April
It’s just two weeks after the above speech was delivered to the WP Annual Conference. News is reaching the VOAG that Workers Power is splitting. The VOAG believes that it totally vindicates everything that the two comrades who were expelled told the conference.  It follows a complete breakdown in the democratic centralist principles professed by Workers Power, mentioned above. Those of the ‘central tendency’ who claim to remain Leninists, saying they want to continue to build WP as a tendency in the worker’s movement, could have and should have put a stop to the machinations of the right-wing splitters long ago. Their refusal to do so shows their opportunism, and has led to this unnecessary impasse.  The right-wing, liquidationist splitters should have been expelled long ago for breaches of discipline and democratic centralism. The fact that they were not proves the degeneration and right-wing,
petite-bourgeois
trajectory of the entire group.    

We’ve Occupied – Now Try Revolution

This article is a contribution from an activist in Occupy Dame Street in Dublin. The opinions reflect his and other people’s experiences and how they see and understand what is happening within Occupy Dame Street.

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice, Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) publication. November 2011
ON 9 October 2011 a group of people pitched tents
on the plaza outside the Central Bank in Dame Street and began a protest against Irish and international finance. Inspired in part by events in New York, as well as the M15 movement in Spain, the Occupy Dame Street protest has become not only a physical stand against bank bail-outs but also an exercise in participatory democracy.

And it is the latter, rather than the former, that has so far managed to hold the disparate group together. The almost  complete lack of democratic engagement by the state with its citizens in relation to the banking crisis is the issue that gives the action coherence.

From the start, Occupy Dame Street adopted a “no banners” approach. This is in tandem with similar calls made by the M15 movement and by Occupy Wall Street. The move has been called counterproductive, short-sighted, and naive, and the criticisms are not without justification. Yet the decision to ban overt political and trade union connections at the Dame Street protest has less to do with a rejection of ideology and more to do with the realisation among the participants that the Socialist Workers’ Party is aggressively pushing to take over the occupation—and is using the call for
trade union banners as its Trojan horse.
 
Bizarrely, the SWP has openly admitted to participants that this is its objective. Whereas other political and trade union groups have respected the “no banners” approach—including the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, Workers’ Solidarity Movement, Unite, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, and the Communist Party of Ireland— the SWP remains committed to infiltrationism. Until that issue is resolved, the distrust of left-wing political groupings will remain.
 
Unfortunately, the ban has left the Dame Street camp exposed to the ideas and conceptual frameworks of conspiracy theorists, who have descended on the camp like locusts. It is not uncommon to hear at ODS that the world is run by Jews and the Bilderberg Group, that fluoride is a mind-control drug, and that 9/11 was conducted by the American government itself. During the first week of the occupation I was informed by a gentleman that Barack Obama was kidnapped from the Kenyan jungle by the Bilderberg Group when he was four, who then raised him to be president of the United States. In the spirit of the premise that it is pointless to argue with a madman, I patted him on the shoulder and quickly walked away.
 
More recently, a group of conspiracy theorists tried to hijack an open assembly. These are held twice daily and are open discussion forums. The pressures facing the camp extend beyond the weather and logistics.Occupy Dame Street is best described as social-democratic in outlook and orientation. There is a istinct lack of class analysis, for example; and a core belief is that the problems facing Ireland have come about through the actions of individuals or politicians rather as a result of the dynamics of the economic and political system itself. The phrase “We are the 99 per cent” is a reflection of this, with the implication that a small group of greedy bankers and financiers are the root cause.
 
This is changing as the occupation progresses, with more focus and debate on the economics of  banking and speculation in Ireland, and the role of the IFSC as a pivot point in international finance. For now, though, class remains a taboo topic at the camp—that is, the idea of class as a power relation. When class is discussed it is usually portrayed as an affliction of the working class and the poor. The view of Ireland’s middle class at ODC is one that sees the middle class as benign participants in Ireland’s class system—not surprising, as the majority of the participants at ODC are middle-class themselves.
 
In general, the Occupy Dame Street camp is a positive development. It may be social-democratic, but such is the paucity of democratic engagement in Ireland that even such a stance has radical undertones. Long may it continue.

From Socialist Fight. January 2012
Occupy movements have sprung up all over the world attracting large swathes of society, and while we see homeless people, the unemployed, regular workers through to concerned clergy, hippies and even disaffected bankers affiliating themselves with this trend it is largely middle-class in character, at least in Britain and Ireland anyway.

We have posters reading ‘Reform Now!’ and projections telling us to ‘Occupy your mind!’. There is a strong bent towards education, with a library and ‘tent univer-sity’ at St Paul’s. They even have a regular newspaper, ‘The Oc-cupy Times’. General assemblies are held: everyone with a right to speak, some on the left could learn here, and democratic votes are held to solidify positions. Anti-violence is key, as the protesters seem to be on the whole very media savvy and PR aware. But how dedicated are these protest-ers to the eradication of poverty? Is their cleverness and education of the right sort, and are they really the 99%?

This media-relations side to things is telling: the prevailing hope is that through being inoffensive they can convince an electorate of their position, which will in turn sway the government (their suggested vehicle for change) which will then start behaving itself properly. Little need be said about the fruitlessness of this liberal and reformist approach.

In Leeds however public relations took on a darker note, as when someone offered the Occupy Movement there a wood-burning heater, it was rejected for fear it would attract the homeless. Whilst we wish upon these people the most profound frost-bite, it is indicative of a certain mode of thought. In some ways these protests are analogous with the punk movement, once the middle-class discovers something they begin to believe they invented it and then quickly set about cleaning it up, sani-tising it into New Wave. The roots of protest can be found in class conflict and the working-class have made it what it is today; a tool which pro-motes solidarity, a mechanism for raising class-consciousness and massive bloody megaphone. The middle-class may borrow use this, of course, but we still retain the accreditation.

So far so harmless, but danger lurks. When the middle-class claims to be the majority, watch out! Class consciousness is severely lacking in #Occupy: a person distributing a paper claims that we’re all working-class now, an inversion of the often bandied about New-Labourish idea that the working class no longer exists in this country, ‘we’re all middle-class now’. The for-mer sentiment is born of bust times and the latter of boom, but both are unremittingly neglectful of vital social distinctions. A poster reads ‘Tarhir Square’, as though these protest-ers are facing the same challenges and are fight-ing the same fight as those brave Egyptians. The problem is that the squeezed middle does not face the same challenges as workers here and abroad, and whilst they are actively trying to avoid becoming working class, they arguably do not see the situation of working class people worldwide as unacceptable, but merely see that situation as unacceptable for themselves.

When they talk for us, they have their own interests to look out for, and we know all too well from the lessons of history how quickly and viciously the middle-class can swing to the right. Herein, for example, lay the roots of fascism. Low and behold, our man Trotsky has some-thing to say on the matter in “Thälmann and the ‘People’s Revolution’”

Now the new turn: the people’s revolution in-stead of the proletarian revolution. The fascist Strasser *leader of the ‘left’ Nazis+ says 95 per-cent of the people are interested in the revolution, consequently it is not a class revolution but a people’s revolution. Thälmann *German Stalin-ist leader] sings in chorus. In reality, the worker-Communist should say to the fascist worker: of course, 95 percent of the population, if not 98 percent, is exploited by finance capital. But this exploitation is organized hierarchically. He goes on to explain that the middle-class are what we might class sub-exploiters, or sub-subexploiters.

Events unfold, Otto Strasser was the ‘workers representative’ in the German fascist move-ment. His ‘left-wing’ faction, which included Joseph Goebbels, was in favour of strikes, nationalising the banks and industry, was not anti-Semitic, admired Stalin and wanted to ally with the Soviet Union. He was expelled from the NSDAP by Hitler in 1930, his brother Gregor was killed and his faction wiped out in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Hitler then became the undisputed party leader.

The subsequent demonization of the working-class and its organisations becomes entrenched, and minorities were scapegoated in the most staggering manner. (As a side note, there is practically nothing said in defence of Muslims against the ever-growing acceptability of Islamophobia by this movement, apparently it is not a key enough issue). What is evident how-ever, and which seems to be sneak-ing into lefty news outlets, is this false notion of ‘the people’, Stalinist in tone and mis-educated in content. As any fool knows – we’re not all in the same boat, and it’s frankly insult-ing to suggest we are.

With such a broad range of ideas and opinions it becomes awkward to offer a critique of this trend as it manifests itself in these Isles, one minute someone suggests we ‘grow our own future’ and the next that a Rothschild lizard blew up the twin towers as a double-indemnity insurance scam. But the character of the thing as a whole is middle-class, probably the better part of this entity, perhaps exempli-fied by their sterling organisational skills. We cannot let them speak for us however, for not only does it rob the true majority of a voice, but also misrepresents our interests. Note that the Glasgow Occupiers have now declared them-selves not anti-Capitalist at all and in Dublin members of the far right have been spotted acting as stewards.

Censorship should always be approached with utmost caution, because the old adage ‘I may not agree with what you’re saying, but I’ll de-fend your right to say it’ is defiantly in play here. These are on the whole nice people with good intentions, despite being ultimately clueless.

Maybe in this light it’s lucky that this movement is going nowhere quick, because occupying a park is hardly the strategy of the century, this thing is not Tiananmen Square, and it’s defi-nitely no industrial strike action. In short I suggest that when a middle-class person from this movement invites you to occupy your own mind, nod and smile, suggest some reading material, but find something better to occupy yourself with instead.

Leon Trotsky on the Sino-Japanese War – An Example of the Anti Imperialist United Front

Written: September 23, 1937
First Published: Internal Bulletin, Organizing Committee for the Socialist Party Convention
(New York), no. 1, October 1937. 

Dear Comrade Diego Rivera:
During the past few days I have been reading some of the lucubrations of the Oehlerites and the Eiffelites (yes, there is a tendency of that sort!) on the civil war in Spain and on the SinoJapanese War. Lenin called the ideas of these people “infantile disorders.” A sick child arouses sympathy. But twenty years have passed since then. The children have become bearded and even bald. But they have not ceased their childish babblings. On the contrary, they have increased all their faults and all their foolishness tenfold and have added ignominies to them. They follow us step by step. They borrow some of the elements of our analysis. They distort these elements without limit and counterpose them to the rest. They correct us. When we draw a human figure, they add a deformity. When it is a woman, they decorate her with a heavy moustache. When we draw a rooster, they put an egg under it. And they call all this burlesque Marxism and Leninism.

I want to stop to discuss in this letter only the Sino-dapanese War. In my declaration to the bourgeois press, I said that the duty of all the workers’ organizations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. But that is “social patriotism!” the Eiffelites cry. It is capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek! It is the abandonment of the principle of the class struggle! Bolshevism preached revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist war. Now, the war in Spain and the Sino-Japanese War are both imperialist wars. “Our position on the war in China is the same. The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.” These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason.

We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy . . . at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war.l77 Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.

In the Far East we have a classic example. China is a semicolonial country which Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. Japan’s struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China’s struggle is emancipatory and progressive.

But Chiang Kai-shek? We need have no illusions about Chiang Kai-shek, his party, or the whole ruling class of China, just as Marx and Engels had no illusions about the ruling classes of Ireland and Poland. Chiang Kai-shek is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants. But today he is forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only cowards, scoundrels, or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in that struggle.

Let us use the example of a strike to clarify the question. We do not support all strikes. If, for example, a strike is called for the exclusion of Negro, Chinese, or Japanese workers from a factory, we are opposed to that strike. But if a strike aims at bettering— insofar as it can—the conditions of the workers, we are the first to participate in it, whatever the leadership. In the vast majority of strikes, the leaders are reformists, traitors by profession, agents of capital. They oppose every strike. But from time to time the pressure of the masses or of the objective situation forces them into the path of struggle.

Let us imagine, for an instant, a worker saying to himself: “I do not want to participate in the strike because the leaders are agents of capital.” This doctrine of this ultraleft imbecile would serve to brand him by his real name: a strikebreaker. The case of the Sino-Japanese War, is from this point of view, entirely analogous. If Japan is an imperialist country and if China is the victim of imperialism, we favor China. Japanese patriotism is the hideous mask of worldwide robbery. Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive. To place the two on the same plane and to speak of “social patriotism” can be done only by those who have read nothing of Lenin, who have understood nothing of the attitude of the Bolsheviks during the imperialist war, and who can but compromise and prostitute the teachings of Marxism. The Eiffelites have heard that the social patriots accuse the internationalists of being the agents of the enemy and they tell us: “You are doing the same thing.” In a war between two imperialist countries, it is a question neither of democracy nor of national independence, but of the oppression of backward nonimperialist peoples. In such a war the two countries find themselves on the same historical plane. The revolutionaries in both armies are defeatists. But Japan and China are not on the same historical plane. The victory of Japan will signify the enslavement of China, the end of her economic and social development, and the terrible strengthening of Japanese imperialism. The victory of China will signify, on the contrary, the social revolution in Japan and the free development, that is to say unhindered by external oppression, of the class struggle in China.

But can Chiang Kai-shek assure the victory? I do not believe so. It is he, however, who began the war and who today directs it. To be able to replace him it is necessary to gain decisive influence among the proletariat and in the army, and to do this it is necessary not to remain suspended in the air but to place oneself in the midst of the struggle. We must win influence and prestige in the military struggle against the foreign invasion and in the political struggle against the weaknesses, the deficiencies, and the internal betrayal. At a certain point, which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed conflict, since the civil war, like war generally, is nothing more than the continuation of the political struggle. It is necessary, however, to know when and how to transform political opposition into armed insurrection.

During the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 we attacked the policies of the Comintern. Why? It is necessary to understand well the reasons. The Eiffelites claim that we have changed our attitude on the Chinese question. That is because the poor fellows have understood nothing of our attitude in 1925-27. We never denied that it was the duty of the Communist Party to participate in the war of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the South against the generals of the North, agents of foreign imperialism. We never denied the necessity of a military bloc between the CP and the Kuomintang. On the contrary, we were the first to propose it. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organizational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism, as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hold the same policies in the present war. We have not changed our attitude one iota. The Oehlerites and the Eiffelites, on the other hand, have not understood a single bit of our policies, neither those of 1925-27, nor those of today.

In my declaration to the bourgeois press at the beginning of the recent conflict between Tokyo and Nanking, I stressed above all the necessity of the active participation of revolutionary workers in the war against the imperialist oppressors. Why did I do it? Because first of all it is correct from the Marxist point of view; because, secondly, it was necessary from the point of view of the welfare of our friends in China. Tomorrow the GPU, which is in alliance with the Kuomintang (as with Negrin in Spain), will represent our Chinese friends as being “defeatists” and agents of Japan. The best of them, with Chten Tu-hsiu at the head, can be nationally and internationally compromised and killed. It was necessary to stress, energetically, that the Fourth International was on the side of China as against Japan. And I added at the same time: without abandoning either their program or their independence.

The Eiffelite imbeciles try to jest about this “reservation.” “The Trotskyists,” they say, “want to serve Chiang Kai-shek in action and the proletariat in words.” To participate actively and consciously in the war does not mean “to serve Chiang Kai-shek” but to serve the independence of a colonial country in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. And the words directed against the Kuomintang are the means of educating the masses for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek. In participating in the military struggle under the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, since unfortunately it is he who has the command in the war for independence—to prepare politically the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek . . . that is the only revolutionary policy. The Eiffelites counterpose the policy of “class stroggle” to this “nationalist and social patriotic” policy. Lenin fought this abstract and sterile opposition all his life. To him, the interests of the world proletariat dictated the duty of aiding oppressed peoples in their national and patriotic struggle against imperialism. Those who have not yet understood that, almost a quarter of a century after the World War and twenty years after the October revolution, must be pitilessly rejected as the worst enemies on the inside by the revolutionary vanguard. This is exactly the case with Eiffel and his kind!
L. Trotsky