A Time for Direct Action

Posted on November 4, 2011 by


by Schuyler Kempton

The occupation movement that is currently sweeping the nation most likely represents the Left’s best hope for making progress in years. Although the movement has no demands, nor leaders, the movement does have an abundance of potential. The movement has the makings of an impressive movement. It has already written the first chapter in its history. And, it will be quite some time before it’s last chapter is written.

I made my pilgrimage to Zuccotti Park, which was renamed Liberty Plaza for the occupation. I stayed long enough to attend an open forum on participatory economics. Once someone manages to get a foothold in the tiny, utterly packed square, you are transformed. Your mind is devoted to activism. Your hands devote themselves to sign-making and related work. And, your voice becomes the amplifier for the speaker on the soapbox. (The City will not allow the movement to use a public address system, so the people near the speaker repeat whatever is being said so that people in the back can hear).

The speaker on participatory economics was a younger man who had to scurry off prematurely to “serve the 1%.” He explained that he worked as a waiter at a fancy restaurant. While he was there, he spoke of a new economic and political system employing the philosophy of workplace democracy and direct democracy.

He believed:

A new society should be made up of worker councils and consumer councils made up of every member of society. The consumer councils, he asserted, should decide what work needs to be done in a society, and the worker councils should decide how best to carry out this work without violating the rights of the worker. Every working age member of society would be on both councils, while the retired would be only on the consumer council. Every member of society would be required to perform various different jobs, thus enabling all to work both “crappy” and “empowering” jobs.

The man on the soapbox also had a solution to the concept which I had been struggling with: incentives. He believed that a worker should be able to work as long as they wanted, though they would, in return, consume accordingly. Those who wanted many material possessions would have to work long hours, while those who were content with few would not have to work as long.

Though the specifics of the idea can be debated, the plan gives a good general outline of what the Left wants:

  • Direct Democracy: Councils in which all members of a society are members of the council. (Although, Marsha Feinland believes workers and consumers need not be separated).
  • Workplace Democracy: Equal say in what our labor is to entail.
  • Economic Equality: Not necessarily equality in wealth, but the ability for every worker to determine how wealthy we can be by the amount of labor put in.

The occupation movement largely defines long-term goals. Nobody has any clear idea as to how those goals should be achieved. Consequently, there are legitimate fears withing the movement. The speaker yesterday warned against Leninism and a vanguard party. Whether Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat in any form is required is another question not clearly answered. Nor is a Marxist influence clearly present in these demonstrations.

I believe that if the Left can agree on a general outline for a future society, and if a general political slogan can be created to inspire more immediate action among the general population, the demonstrations cannot fail.

This is only the beginning, the last chapter is far away…

Thank you for taking the time to consider my opinions.

Editor’s Note: To read more from Schuyler Kempton, visit United Left

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