Occupy Wall Street: Revolt of the Ninety Nine Per Cent
After the Arab Spring and (South) European Summer, now it is the turn of American Autumn to unfurl the banner of resistance. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) or the “99 per cent” movement (a reference to the deprived Americans who find the going increasingly tough even as the top 1 per cent control 40 percent of US wealth) is fighting, in the words of its website, “against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. Inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, Italy and the UK, it aims to expose how the richest 1% of people who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neoliberalism and economic inequality that is foreclosing our future.”
The protest was not planned by any political party or group, nor was it proposed by some charismatic personality. It had its origin in a suggestion mooted by a Canadian anti-consumerist online magazine that was endorsed by a group of computer hackers and then spread via Twitter and Facebook across America. The whole thing is run by consensus through a loose, horizontal system comprising a General Assembly, a number of Working/Volunteer Groups and a Direct Action Committee comprising, for the most part, the original organizers of the protest and other full-time activists.
Given the fact that both Republicans and Democrats coddle Wall Street and rely on campaign contributions from top corporate honchos, and with hardly any organised Left or consistently democratic political formation in sight, it is but natural that any genuine mass struggle against corporate power in the US would be avowedly independent, non-party (and also non-political, as many participants in the current movement insist). The spontaneous evolution from grassroots, the broad-based non-party character and the method of direct democracy have no doubt helped earn the trust of people from myriad political/apolitical trends and ensured their active and energetic participation.
At the same time, in the absence of a well-knit and ideologically coherent leading body the OWS runs the risk of losing focus, failing to formulate specific demands and appropriate policies at different junctures. Thus it is that the otherwise excellent Declaration of the New York City General Assembly does identify the class enemy – which by itself is a very big thing, particularly in the American context – and vividly expresses the grievances of broadest cross-sections of people; but does not specify any immediate demands (say higher taxes on the rich or a financial transactions tax or a cap on executive pay) nor declare how, through which steps or measures, the angry protesters propose to achieve their goal.
However, one should understand “the inevitable confusion of the first start” and “give the movement time to consolidate”, as Frederick Engels advised a comrade in New York way back in 1886, when the American working class was embarking on the path of organised agitation. Today’s multi-class popular struggle too is young and unique and needs time to learn from experience. We have reason to be hopeful, for the OWS has already proved itself the most sustained popular agitation since the one against Vietnam War and earned the support, according to a Time poll, of some 79% of the people of America and evoked tremendous international response.
Whatever be the immediate outcome of this particular battle, with the economic outlook darkening further the war will rage more fiercely on. Let us express warm solidarity to the American “99 per cent” exactly the way the people in Italy, Greece and other countries have done – by intensifying our own ongoing battle against our increasingly unjust social order.