Danger of Ultra-Leftism

  1. As the Occupy movement wanes in numbers and influence, there is a danger that ultra-left ideas will grow more prominent. This is a clear pattern in history: following the peak of every serious social movement, mistaken tactics can grow out of moods of impatience, frustration, and isolation. The most energetic layer of activists who, in the period of the movement’s rise, grew self-confident with the wind of popular support at their backs, suddenly feel their hard-won influence and power slipping from their grasp. Attempts to regain the initiative through overly bold or confrontational actions can gain support, especially among freshly radicalized youth who have not experienced the ups and downs of the class struggle.
  2. An important example that is provoking national debate within the Occupy movement is the January 28 clash between Oakland police and several hundred occupiers equipped with shields, firecrackers, and other projectiles, alongside the subsequent break-in and vandalism in Oakland City Hall. Their attempt to turn an empty building into a community space was overshadowed by the violent clash, and police used the incident to justify the arrest of 400 people later in the day at a separate peaceful march. Learning nothing, some of the organizers issued a public statement threatening “to make your lives miserable” and shutting down the airport if police continue to prevent the liberation of the abandoned building.
  3. While the severe repression deepened public anger at the Oakland police, the incident will almost certainly further isolate Occupy Oakland from the wider working class, reducing most ordinary people to the role of bystanders. Attempts by media and politicians to paint Occupy activists as “terrorists” will be laughed off by most thinking workers, but at the same time they will be far more hesitant to participate if such actions become the new face of the movement. Occupy achieved massive public sympathy, but to turn passive support into an active mass movement the organizers must adopt campaigning demands that connect with consciousness and methods of struggle that inspire the widest possible participation.
  4. Similarly, calls for a May 1 “general strike,” while well-meaning, are a completely premature ultra-left tactic that will not result in widespread workplace strikes. Despite the experience of Wisconsin, OWS, and other important steps forward in the last year, class consciousness, labor militancy, and strike activity remain at historic lows in the U.S. This, combined with Occupy’s lack of any real base in the unions or workplaces, means very few worker activists will take their call seriously, undermining the authority of Occupy activists urging the general strike. Of course, we cannot rule out a few workplaces (ILWU Local 10 in Oakland, immigrant truck drivers, etc.) taking strike action and some students, especially immigrant students, organizing walkouts, but all these could be accomplished without the discrediting effect of calling for a full “general strike.” The main dynamic of the “general strike” will most likely be large protests on May 1 by Occupy and the immigrants’ rights movement in a number of cities.
  5. The rise of ultra-left moods in the Occupy movement highlights the vital importance of building a genuine Marxist organization to equip the best workers and youth who want to overthrow the system with the necessary ideas, strategy, and tactics to be effective. If a strong socialist force with correct tactics is not built, it is inevitable that some of the best activists will be lost to various dead-end and self-isolating political trends, or to the opportunist forces that can grow in response to this.
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