“I covered the street demonstrations that brought down Milošević, I’ve covered both of the Palestinian intifadas, and once movements like this start and articulate a fundamental truth about the society that they live in, and expose the repression, the mendacity, the corruption and the decay of structures of power, then they have a kind of centrifugal force, you never know where they’re going.”
He went on: “What happens, and it’s true in all of these movements as well, is the foot soldiers of the elite, the blue uniform police, the mechanisms of control, finally don’t want to impede the movement. At that point, the power elite is left defenseless. So, where’s it going? No one knows. Even the people most intimately involved in the organization don’t know. All of these movements take on a kind of life and color that in some ways is finally mysterious. The only thing I can say, having been in the middle of similar movements, is that this one is real … And this one could take ‘em all down.”
Despite the emphasis on avoiding ‘leadership’ in the traditional sense, there is an elaborate division of labour involving working groups on every area of the work that needs to be done to keep the thing going. These report back to the general assembly, which tends to be held at between 12-1pm and then again at 7pm each day. I won’t labour the details of process. The principles of consensual ratification and decision-making are familiar enough by now. Essentially, when asked to vote on a proposal, you can vote ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘block’. Only if someone ‘blocks’ a decision does a majority not result in a motion being passed. This means that if someone has serious objections, their ideas or interests have to be taken into account somehow. Of course, this is intended to frustrate the emergence of any kind of centralised leadership. “We don’t need another Scargill, or another Swampy, I was told. We don’t need another leader they can cut down.” At the moment, the swarm is prevailing over the vanguard. Naturally, I’m sceptical of all this, but it’s only fair to say that everyone I spoke to said it had worked quite well. At any rate, the occupation is digging itself in somewhat and it seems to be well enough organised for present purposes.
But where can Occupy London go? I wanted to dip my toe in the water of the politics of the occupation, so I asked about the heterogenous political elements present, and what people thought was the dominant tendency. There is an idea, which I heard a few times, that “this is not about left and right”. One person I spoke to said explicitly that it was not just a left-wing event, and explained that there were many present who wouldn’t call themselves left-wing. Strangely, this insistence sits alongside a set of classic left-wing ideological articulations. Catherine at the media centre said that “these old ideas of political divisions are not necessarily relevant,” before going on to add, “because this is about the 99%, this is about the have-nots, versus the have-yachts.”
The sign on the wall says ‘Tahrir Square, EC4M’. The sneering article on Huffington Post UK, observing this, quoted someone saying “it’s not remotely like Egypt”. Well, of course it’s not like Egypt. This isn’t a revolutionary situation, but merely a punctuating moment in the temporal flow of class struggle. But the purpose of slogans mentioning ‘Tahrir Square’ is to accentuate the internationalism of the movement, to point to its deep systemic roots, to express solidarity with the Arab Spring, to hope that this is the beginning of our own Spring, and to identify the commune as the political form of these aspirations. At the most prosaic level, it expresses the movement against austerity in its most ‘political’ moment, complementing the ‘economic corporatist’ moment of trade union struggle. It identifies the political class rule of the 1% as the key problem; the colonization of the representative state by big capital. And it proposes its own direct democratic answer. Of course, Occupy London is not yet a commune. But it is the germ of a commune. Perhaps its fruition will be when the germ takes seed in the heart of productive relations; when the commune is the workers’ answer to the power of the 1%.