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The Remaining Pitfalls | William Shaub

William Shaub discusses the future of OWS and the dangers historically faced by all revolutions:

[The] revolution faces what can be described as a parasitic internal threat, namely, that its own authoritarian streaks form a vanguard in the name of socialist, democratic, or necessary representation. Not only can the vanguard not sustain itself at the peak of capitalist exploitation by violent means (as formerly established), but may use this excuse to become the equivalent of a new bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the temptation to process a more efficient (faster) revolution is itself a credible threat towards a permanent revolution. Rosa Luxemburg elaborates on such attraction to a vanguard in her comments on the development of Soviet Russia, stating that “it is undeniable that a strong tendency toward centralization is inherent” in revolutionary movements. Of course, the greatest challenge that revolution faces, at all times, is the danger of sowing the seeds for the need of another.

It is certainly not far-fetched to look at the future of the Occupy movement and wonder if Luxemburg’s analysis holds value. Could the movement be ‘hijacked’ by a vanguard; does Occupy also have a tendency towards the centralization of its decision-making capabilities? The historical record exclaims “yes”, but Occupy’s actions—from the general assemblies to the free communities it sponsors—say “no”. But some on the left are questioning Occupy’s involvement with the Democratic Party, or perhaps more aptly, the Democratic Party’s involvement with Occupy.

Establishment liberal organizations, from the SEIU to MoveOn.org, are preparing a movement to fuse with Occupy called The 99% Spring. According to MoveOn’s Ilyse Hogue writing in The Nation, “the challenge is to use the fertile ground left by the transformed earth to foster a multitude of new growth.” The transformed earth is what Occupy created, while the new growth is what the 99% Spring is supposed to spark. The parallel to Luxemburg’s warning thus becomes abundantly clear, be it correct or not. Occupy is about to receive its marching orders—not from a single leader or a party, but by the establishment liberal organizers. Specifically what the marching orders are is irrelevant, because centralization of authority is displacement of participatory power, and is antithetical to democratic values.

But one should be careful, because as always, placing judgement is too easy in this situation. As Hogue points out, “Occupy is dead”, meaning it lacks resources, manpower, organizational skills, and faces an abundance of technical questions with regards to its structure. It needs help, in some shape or form. But have we learned from the past? Is it not too easy (and too damning) to overlook process, and to overlook who exactly is providing the help? In moments of dire need, of destitution, both individuals and movements subordinate themselves to external authority, which covertly justifies itself in the name of providing help.

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