Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 in class struggle

Even aside from the revolutions and the Arab Spring, 2011 was the year when the working class fought back globally. Most countries saw some kind of protest and demonstration, if not outright civil disobedience or direct action. Not a month seemed to go by without some kind of unrest or resistance.

In Britain, the official movement was defined by a series of set-piece actions - 29 January, 26 March, 30 June,  9 November30 November. But in amongst them, there were a myriad of other key moments which the professional left steadfastly ignored. The Stokes Croft riots, the repression around the Royal Wedding, the eviction of Dale Farm. We saw the state become increasingly repressive and intolerant of dissent, saw the sparks of discontent flaring up even before they exploded in the August riots.

Elsewhere, Spanish youth - the indignants - started occupying public space. Inspired by the Arab Spring, though operating in different objective conditions, they saw that bourgeois democracy wasn't working and set up their own committees, organising themselves and engaging in direct democracy. True, the movement was riddled with contradictions - such as an ostensibly anarchist form and largely social-democratic demands - but what spontaneous movement isn't? The point was that they were ready to rebel, and tired of the traditional methods of the left and the trade unions.

A similar movement soon emerged in Greece. However, this took on a more explicitly anarchist form given the revolt already taking place in the country. If anything, the Greek experience improved upon the Spanish one - as Syntagma Square became not the means of change but the hub through which militants could organise, the perfect compliment to the "organised lawlessness" that workers in the country undertook.

However, it was the Spanish rather than Greek form which spread around the world, first in the form of sit-in demonstrations largely led by Spanish ex-pats, then as Occupy. It was through Democracia Real Ya that the call for global occupations on October 15 came and, though the iconic Occupy Wall Street protest began a month earlier, the link between the Indignants and Occupy could not be clearer. At the time of writing Occupy Together reports that there are currently 21,896 occupiers in 2,564 cities around the world.

If the Indignants movement was fraught with contradictions, then Occupy magnified that a thousand fold. In some parts, the movement appeared to fetishise the occupation of public space and the tactic of non-violence, whilst unilateral declarations that the camps weren't anti-capitalist risked not only alienating those who were, but also shutting down the possibility of going beyond shallow liberal politics. On the other hand, we have also seen some truly radical actions emerge from Occupy, particularly in America. The three examples that I can think of being the call for a general strike in Oakland, the coordinated shut down of West Coast ports and the Occupy Our Homes initiative.

In the coming year, the task of militant workers will be to build upon the positives that the past year of class struggle has seen and learn from the negatives. There can be no doubt that, with so many people newly radicalised, and with liberals and leftists still trying to make their influence felt, there is a huge propaganda battle to be fought. If it is lost, the labour movement will almost certainly repeat the same mistakes that it always makes and the consequences cannot be understated.

The working class must take control of its own struggles. The actions of the Sparks this year offer just one example of how we can force militancy even where the leadership are trying to stop it. From here, we need to build - strike committees, mass meetings and direct democracy so that it is those taking the action who get to say how it transpires. And for the all-too-common accusation that we cannot fight this struggle without the resources of the bureaucrats, we have our answer - in a national strike taken after the union tops had backed down, in the move towards a general strike by Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, in the shut down of ports and the driving out of bailiffs. We can, if we only build from below.