Workers' Liberty at Occupy London

Submitted by Matthew on 26 October, 2011 - 12:25

Workers’ Liberty members have been participating in the Occupy London protest camps (some staying semi-permanently and others visiting) at St. Paul's and Finsbury Square.

The atmosphere at the camps is incredibly febrile — all sorts of politics and perspectives are buzzing around, with impromptu meetings and discussions springing up all the time, and the daily General Assemblies taking in everything from how to liaise with trade unions to setting up “healing spaces”.

Some ideas in the camp AWL members disagree with — there is a religious and spiritualist element, a strong presence from the crypto-anti-Semites of the “Zeitgeist Movement”, and lots of people who think that the camp, rather than a symbolic protest and space for discussion, is the actual embryo of a new society (effectively modern-day utopian socialists). But our presence at Occupy London isn’t about hectoring people we disagree with; it’s about adding our own — working-class, socialist — ideas to the mix and attempting to persuade people about them.

On Saturday 22 October, when a zero-hours worker told the General Assembly that her employers had stopped giving her work with the claim that the toilets she cleans are blocked by the camp, AWL members helped facilitate a large discussion about the occupation’s relationship to workers in nearby workplaces and workers more generally.

The following night, we participated in a working group on worker outreach and helped draft a leaflet for workers in the cafés and restaurants (including multinational chains like Starbucks) around the occupation.

The group also agreed to seek links with RMT Stratford No. 1 branch, which organises workers at the nearby St. Paul's tube station. In discussions, there was substantial agreement for our idea that capitalism fundamentally “happens” in the workplace, and that while the occupation was hugely important, the system it sought to protest against could ultimately only be disrupted and overthrown at its nucleus — by workers, in workplaces.

As well as participating in that kind of practical activity and discussion, we’ve also held pop-up meetings to discuss Marxist ideas. AWL members drew a crowd of nearly 50 people for a performance of the “Great Money Trick” from Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. We think this neat exposition of how capitalist exploitation works can help occupiers build an understanding of what exactly it is we're fighting against.

The occupation is in many ways redolent of the Climate Camps at their best. But while that movement contained an organised core of ideologues with an ingrained hostility to Marxist ideas and Trotskyist organisations (selling newspapers or other literature was formally forbidden), people at Occupy London are open and keen to discuss ideas.

The common criticism of the movement — that it is negative and vague, positing only catch-all opposition to “the system” (undefined) without proposing concrete alternatives or any agency to achieve change — is not without legitimacy, but it is not the case that occupiers want to turn that lack of concrete politics into a permanent state of affairs. Talking about ideas is very much the order of the day.

• To join AWL members at the occupation, please email hlthompson87@gmail.com or ring 07527 064326. For updates from the protests, see: twitter.com/occupylsx and http://twitter.com/occupyfs

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 27/10/2011 - 10:37

The characterisation in the article of the "Zeitgeist Movement" as having "crypto-anti-Semitic" politics bears some substantiation.

This article, by the Scottish Socialist Youth group, offers a comprehensive demolition of the politics of ZM (and the documentary which is its flagship propaganda), including explaining in detail how they explicitly plug into a hoary anti-Semitic discourse about "finance" and "bankers". Early 20th century racist Senator Louis MacFadden is quoted approvingly in the film, and noted anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche also appears. This article from the left-wing blog The Third Estate is also useful in understanding how Zeitgeist uses anti-Semitic discourses.

From that article:

"It is important that as widely as possible we can expose the anti-Semitic subtext to this film [Zeitgeist The Movie]. We must expose the film as being cynically positioned to influence liberals and lefties. In targeting the ideas presented by Zeitgeist it is not enough to just quibble over details, rather we must be trying to understand the politics that this film overall is trying to portray. We need to read through the many layers of conspiracy theories here, and understand that there is one in particular that they want us to believe, and that this one is, of course, the most dangerous and pernicious.

"It is important to understand that the type of critique of society offered by the Zeitgeist movement cannot be separated from the Jewish conspiracy theory. One cannot take classic anti-Semitic texts, replace the word “Jew” with “international bankers”, or “international finance capital” and then believe that your theory is no longer anti-Semitic."

Zeitgeist Movement supporters may find these descriptions of their politics "offensive" or "insulting" (indeed, a few have told us so). Firstly - tough; no-one has any right not to be offended. Secondly, if you don't want to be called anti-Semitic you should have a longer look at the political discourses your movement explicitly utilises and perpetuates.

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