This document analyzing the historic struggles of 2011, particularly the Occupy movement, and putting forward perspectives for struggles in 2012, was unanimously agreed by the National Committee of Socialist Alternative, which met February 18-20. It has been slightly updated and amended since then to reflect new developments.

  1. Over the last year a sea change in both U.S. and international politics took place. Faced with a spiraling capitalist crisis, and with the traditional political parties of the “left” and “right” offering only deeper misery as their “solution,” tens of millions of ordinary people forced their way onto the stage of history in bold and desperate attempts to change its course. Early last year, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave confidence to the workers and youth of Wisconsin, who consciously emulated their tactics of continuous protests and occupations. Then, the mass revolts across Europe – in Greece and Spain in particular – directly inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in a few short weeks dramatically changed the face of U.S. politics, ushering in a new era of protest and open class conflict.
  2. The Occupy movement gathered together the pre-existing activist layer in U.S. society while simultaneously birthing a new and self-confident generation of activists, thereby laying the basis for new upsurges of struggle and radicalization in 2012 and beyond. The Oakland “General Strike” and port shutdown on November 2, the December 12 West Coast Ports Shutdown, and the preparations for a showdown at the Longview, WA port between the ILWU and EGT underscore the growing militancy and political development of the Occupy movement, as well as its impact within the ranks of organized labor.
  3. Working out clear perspectives for how Occupy and wider struggles will develop in 2012 is difficult, particularly with the complications created by the elections. In part, perspectives hinge on the economic crisis now engulfing Europe and China, which threatens to send the entire world into a new recession and reverse the feeble economic recovery in the U.S. Renewed recession would dramatically sharpen class tensions but, whether the economy slumps or not, the experiences of the last year have educated the activists, alongside the wider working class and youth, laying the basis for even more advanced class battles in the coming period.
  4. Political attitudes underwent a transformation in 2011, as popular consciousness began to catch up with the reality of an enduring social, political, and economic crisis of capitalism. After the sweeping victory of Tea Party Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, many on the left, especially apologists for the Democratic Party, placed the blame on “apathetic” workers and predicted a sustained right-wing shift in U.S. society. However, we explained the election mainly reflected an anti-incumbent “throw the bums out” attitude toward Obama and the Democrats after two years of broken promises, pro-corporate policies, and failure to resolve mass unemployment. We anticipated that new events and the experience of having the Republicans in power would rapidly undermine support for the Republicans and provoke fresh struggles. The February “Battle of Wisconsin,” provoked by Governor Walker’s attacks on the trade unions, confirmed our perspective more rapidly and thoroughly than even we anticipated.
  5. Now the Occupy movement has compelled everyone, including all the presidential candidates, to respond to issues of class inequality and corporate domination. Obama and the Democrats have attempted to co-opt the movement and the language of the 1% vs. the 99%, but their deep ties to Wall Street do not go unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates are forced to argue against class ideas, denying even the existence of the 1% or class divisions in society. In the run-up to the New Hampshire primaries, Rick Santorum blasted Mitt Romney for using the term “middle class,” saying he preferred saying “middle income,” while Gingrich enraged Republican strategists by successfully painting Romney as a “vulture capitalist” and soundly defeating him in the South Carolina primary.
  6. Meanwhile, a Pew Research poll released in January shows a rapid rise in class tensions, with 66% of Americans now saying there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor, which is a significant rise since 2009 when only 47% saw “strong conflicts.” While we cannot yet speak of widespread class consciousness in the Marxist sense (i.e., understanding of the potential power and historic role of the working class), the rapid growth in “class feelings” creates fertile ground for class consciousness to develop. Already in the last year, the idea of a general strike has twice been seriously posed in actual struggles in the U.S.: first in the Wisconsin struggle, when our organization played a key role in popularizing the idea of a one-day public sector general strike, then in Oakland, when Occupy’s call for a “general strike” brought tens of thousands into the streets, including important contingents of organized labor.
  7. Parallel with rising class anger, sympathy for socialist ideas is also on the rise. Half of young people aged 18-29 view socialism positively, according to a Pew poll in December. This is six percentage points higher than 20 months ago. Meanwhile, support for capitalism continues to decline, with 47% having negative views of the system. At present, of course, understanding of socialism remains quite low, with many vaguely looking toward more regulation, social democratic reforms, or a “mixed economy” rather than a planned economy under democratic workers’ control.
  8. Nonetheless, levels of socialist sympathies this high are significant, especially given the nearly universal condemnation of socialism by the corporate media and both parties, backed up by deep reservoirs of anti-communism built up in the Cold War era. The poll further underscores the growing objective space for building a mass socialist movement in the U.S., even if the subjective factor – organized Marxist forces – remains extremely weak.
  9. A central factor impacting mass consciousness and perspectives for struggle is the fate of the U.S. economy. Headlines in December and January announced the economy was “gaining steam” based on fresh job creation and corresponding declines in the unemployment rate. From October through December, the U.S. economy grew at 2.8 percent, the highest rate since the second quarter of 2010, but overall GDP growth in 2011 was just 1.7 percent.
  10. The fourth quarter growth prompted many to once again begin celebrating a sustained recovery. However, more serious analysts point to recurrent weak spots in the U.S. and world economies, including the anemic housing market, persistently high unemployment, continued budget cuts and layoffs by federal, state and local governments, threats from the eurozone debt crisis, the slowdown in China, and so on. The conclusion of serious capitalist strategists is that the U.S. economy remains extremely vulnerable to fresh economic shocks, both internal and external.
  11. Even if some level of anemic economic growth continues through 2012, budget cuts, layoffs, foreclosures, and growing inequality will also continue. For working people, there remains no recovery. It is worth remembering that many times in history, including in the U.S. in the 1930s, the periods of economic upswing following recessions provided more breathing space and confidence for workers to fight back. However, if a new global recession sets in this year – a widely discussed possibility in the business media – the impact on consciousness and struggle could be explosive. The U.S. and world working class now have the experience of 2011 under their belt, and they will not be in a mood to quietly submit to even deeper miseries.