Confused Consciousness

  1. The Occupy movement is characterized mostly by the raw anger of young people and their determination to struggle. The idea that one-off days of protest are not enough, that constant resistance is necessary, is a huge step forward. Most importantly, the idea that a radically different economic and political system is both possible and necessary was at the heart of the Occupy movement.
  2. At same time, consciousness generally and among those actively involved in Occupy is starting from a very low level. This echoed our experience and analysis of the huge struggle in Wisconsin earlier in the year. Still, despite the low consciousness and the lack of organized political forces (and in some ways because of these factors), there is widespread openness to and interest in anti-capitalist and socialist ideas in both these movements, especially among youth.
  3. Deep confusion prevails about the way forward, what approach can mobilize wider layers, and what a viable alternative to capitalism might look like. In the early stage of Occupy Wall Street, this ideological vagueness allowed it to attract all manner of support, with each political trend projecting its own ideological stamp onto the movement. However, this approach rapidly hit limitations as the size and potential power of the movement developed.
  4. The ubiquitous debate within the Occupy movement over adopting demands revealed some of these limitations. Virtually nowhere was the movement able to concisely put together a basic fighting program or set of rounded out demands. Yet the most serious activists everywhere recognized the practical need to adopt fighting demands on issues facing working-class communities, and in practice certain demands were adopted. Focused protests to stop budget cuts, foreclosures, tuition increases, and union busting forced the movement to adopt demands, though these demands were often framed in weak, muddled, and limited ways as a concession to the prevailing “no demands” consciousness.
  5. This sort of stumbling, pragmatic, empirical development of consciousness is a window into how ideas will continue to be clarified as wider struggles erupt in the U.S. The fact that the active elements in Occupy Wall Street were disproportionately middle class youth – with the core heavily influenced by anarchist ideas – was not an accident of history, but rather a necessary stage through which consciousness had to pass. When the winds of history blow, “the tops of the trees move first,” as Trotsky put it when referring to the role of the middle-class youth of Russia in the early stages of their revolutionary movement.
  6. Now, circles of left activists based around clear political trends, including organized socialist and anarchist groups, are partially filling the vacuum of ideas within Occupy in a whole number of cities. In some cases this has been a healthy influence, encouraging a more working-class orientation and bringing the experience of basic community organizing methods into the movement. But sometimes, in combination with these positive influences, some left and anarchist forces have encouraged ultra-left and adventurist methods which are causing problems and reinforcing the “anti-political” mood.