Posts By Cathal Larkin

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Unveiling Capitalism at Occupy

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[From the Forthcoming Autumn 2012 Irish Anarchist Review]

If the normal way revolutionaries engage in politics is to go to people suffering a particular injustice or oppression, fight it alongside them, and raise their consciousness of the systemic change necessary to end all oppressions; then Occupy was a movement that seemed to be happening the wrong way around. Occupy started with the broad systemic critique and desire to put it into action, but never made the critique more coherent, nor translated it into the political activity necessary to effect social change at anywhere close to the scale initially hoped for. Obviously the 99%/1% critique was quite vague and ambiguous, but the movement placed central importance in open discussions about big societal issues and its goals and strategies. Despite this being an ideal situation for revolutionaries, our radical analyses didn’t win many supporters. A year on from participating in Occupy Cork I ask why, and hope to aid the learning of theoretical and practical lessons for future social movement engagements.

The approaches to consciousness raising vary for revolutionaries of the Marxist-Leninist and anarchist-communist variety. For Leninists, the only correct analysis for overcoming the oppression of capitalism lies in their party, therefore recruitment is central. Once in the party, recruits didactically receive the party analysis, with those not agreeing with it presumed to be labouring under a false consciousness. Anarchists tend to be uncomfortable with such an infallible and hierarchical epistemology, and instead prefer to focus on empowering people to organise and think for themselves. This tends to work very well in aiding understanding of the interpersonal aspects of power relations, and the way oppressive power can manifest itself in groups and through gender, race and other privileges – areas where we have seen huge advances against oppressive power since Marxism lost its hegemonic position as the way to do oppositional politics in the sixties. But with the more impersonal oppression of contemporary capitalism in the West, we see both that less people have a critical understanding of it, and that the gains made by the workers’ movements of the post war era have been pushed back for several decades. The logic of the commodity has expanded its control over more of our lives, while its further reification [1] has immunised it from critical scrutiny.

Soon after Occupy Cork started it was noted in our local Workers Solidarity Movement [2] branch discussions that the arguments for internal democracy we’re used to having in campaigns wouldn’t be as much of a preoccupation in this case. The Occupiers were, so to speak, “even more anarchist” than us in their conception of democracy; but the problem was that they didn’t see this conception extending to the realm of economic production. Consequently we saw as one of our key tasks the promotion of the communist part of anarchist-communism. Like other anti-capitalists at the camp, I tried this in various ways: doing some talks and articles, bringing trade unionists and various left-wing and anti-capitalist academics and activists to speak, and in general conversations and discussions making radical arguments and pushing for a further development of the 99%/1% analysis. While the strategy did have some positive effects on the overall consciousness of the camp, it wasn’t unproblematic, as radicals in many other camps have learned. Helena Sheehan in her essay, “Occupying Dublin: Considerations at a Crossroads”, talked of the hostility against the “intellectual elite” of the camp, who she indicates were vaguely defined as “people who read books, write blogs, organise talks and articulate criticism” [3]. Similarly, other Occupy writings have talked about the divide that developed between the experienced activists and the newcomers to social movements. Of course radicals could arrogantly discount this as a manifestation of bourgeois liberalism, but we could obviously learn a lot more by subjecting our own political strategies, methodologies and theories to critical scrutiny. In that spirit of revolutionary praxis being a constant process of action and reflection, it is to the work of the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, that we will now turn.

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