A struggle is taking place for Occupy Wall Street. Activists created a site, and now there is a battle over the meaning, direction, and future of the site.
We know that different unions have started supporting Occupy Wall Street--Steel Workers, Transit Workers, Nurses. And, we also know that a wide range of voices from progressives, liberals, and Marxists have sought to advise the movement, to direct it, to push it in one direction or another.
Today I got email requests for support and contributions from MoveOn, Working Familes Party, and Liberty Tree (which I don't think I'd heard of before). All these emails were pitched as supporting and encouraging Occupy Wall Street. All asked for money to help them help support Occupy Wall Street. They recognize, rightly, that Occupy Wall Street has the imagination of the left, and many who are angry and discontent, and they want to claim some of that energy for themselves.
From the initial phase of "no attention" and "this is pointless," we've move to phase of "this matters" and "what is to be done?" I say "what is to be done?" because what's happening over Occupy Wall Street isn't something brand new or unforeseeable. Lenin already describes it as he concerns himself with the growth of the workers' movement and the repercussions of that growth. As Lenin sees it, the more expanded the movement (in terms of groups/sectors and over space), the more important the need for professional revolutionaries, that is, for a core group of committed revolutionaries whose knowledge builds and accumulates over time. The benefits of more people (winning hearts and minds, building the support to make change, having enough cadres to fight and win a revolution) also brings together different views, different levels of class consciousness, different degrees of cooptation and compromise.
So there is a battle over occupy wall street. That's good. It means that the people who were there from the beginning started something that has re-energized the left.
Yet if this is true, then some problems appear.
First, Ron Paul supporters. To the extent that Occupy Wall Street remains open to and for multiple political persuasions, it is not a left movement at all. There is a difference between left and libertarian. The easiest rough initial cut is between those who begin with an emphasis on equality and those who begin with an emphasis on freedom; another crude cut would distinguish between those who begin from an emphasis on individualism and those who begin from an emphasis on collectivity, solidarity, and a commons. I am not saying that there are not ways to reconcile equality and freedom and individuality and collectivity. I am saying that they are different starting points and that these points influence the kinds of politics that end up being supported. As I understand it, Ron Paul supports an odd notion of free markets; he thinks that individuals make better decisions than groups and that a social safety net damages freedom. If there is space for this view in Occupy Wall Street, then that's not my revolution. In fact, it seems like a version of the one that hijacked the country in the 70s.
Second, the language of occupying occupy wall street that I am using suggests that any attempt to hegemonize the space will be a problem for the 'movement.' That is, to remain the movement it is (18 days in), it has to resist any and all efforts to channel the message. But that then implies not that the priority is a contestation among people to forge a way ahead but instead that openness and indeterminacy are themselves the goal, that which is to be protected. If that's the case, then there is something wrong, a kind of built in (self-deceiving?) confusion: the goal is just to keep the occupation going, not to use the occupation to overthrow capitalism or bring down the banks, or redistribute wealth at all. In fact, it's probably wrong for me to call this confused or self-deceiving: it's explicit in a number of different statements about democracy and discussion and raising questions. This language is a language of process rather than ends. Or, the process is the end. To the extent that this is the goal, rather than a means of overthrowing capitalism and working toward putting in place a communist solution, then that's not my revolution.
But, third, neither one or two are given. They are elements in the battle, issues and sites to be fought over and won. Lenin emphasizes finding and using opportunities, compromising when necessary, all with eye to (now my language, via Alvaro Garcia Linera and Bruno Bosteels) the communist horizon. With respect to Occupy Wall Street, it seems to me that the keeping the building phase alive is crucial while at the same time pushing for the exclusion of some views--no Ron Paul, no compromise with and support of the Democratic Party, no narrowing to a focus on campaign finance or corporate personhood. So, keeping alive, supporting, and growing is crucial, and this needs to be combined with work to hone the message.
For those of us who think of ourselves as communists, Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, and socialists, our challenge is finding ways to work within and together with the movement, which can well mean not pushing too quickly for something for which the proper support has not yet been built. It also means not sticking to the doctrinare party lines that, for all their rich and interesting histories, have resulted in a situation of tiny, ineffective, and infighting parties.
Some who have been active in occupy wall street since the beginning emphasize the democratic process and discussion, the conversations that have opened up. This same process can also be understood as a struggle that is ongoing. And this is good--the struggle provides the training, the forging, the strength. Through it, new ideas and alliances emerge.
So, struggle, not conversation. Toward a goal, not for its own sake. Through the struggle, the specific shape of the goal will start to unfold and the people who can pursue it will be created.