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John Spritzler, Turn the World Upside Down: From Occupation to Revolution

Turn the World Upside Down:
From Occupation to Revolution
John Spritzler

If OWS decides explicitly that its goal is revolution, it would transform the OWS movement. It would be a qualitative leap and set the agenda for the coming years: a national and international conversation about how to make a revolution and what a post-revolutionary society can be like. If OWS does this, then folding the tents in the heart of winter (or losing them to a police raid) won’t matter because the revolutionary strategy can be carried out even without them. What OWS will gain is what does matter: a whole new level of consciousness, determination, and ties to the community and each other internationally.

But what exactly does it mean to make revolution our goal? How is that different from what OWS is already doing? Does it mean picking up a gun or smashing more windows or attacking the police? No it does not. It means doing what is discussed below.

One of the most popular chants of the Occupy Wall Street occupations is, ‘The banks got bailed out; we got sold out.’ People want a more equal and democratic society and they know that the 1% with the real power in our country want the opposite. How can the OWS occupiers make society more equal and democratic?

On this, opinions vary widely. While everybody wants more people to join and support the occupation, there is presently little agreement about what ‘joining and supporting the occupation’ should mean in practice. What, exactly, do occupiers need to do in order to achieve a more equal and democratic society?

Some believe that if occupiers keep their tents at the various parks around the country long enough, then the desired changes will happen. Others believe that if enough people get themselves arrested in civil disobedience actions to demonstrate the sincerity of our convictions, that will exert ‘moral suasion’ (as Gandhi called it) on the rulers and make them change their ways. Some think that if everybody can agree on a few realistic demands and communicate them clearly, that will do it. And some believe that electing different politicians to office will solve our problems.

None of the above actions, however, will achieve the desired goal, because these actions don’t remove from power the plutocracy that wants America to be undemocratic and unequal, and they don’t abolish the capitalist system from which the plutocracy derives its power based on concentrated wealth.

Tents in parks won’t stop a ruling class that commands the greatest military force on the planet.

The plutocracy already knows we are sincere, and they don’t care if we offer ourselves to be arrested to make the point.

Any ‘realistic’ demands we make will have to avoid challenging the power of the plutocracy or the capitalist system from which it derives its power, or the demands will be dismissed as ‘unrealistic.’ Defining our goal as a set of ‘realistic’ demands means declaring that we will stop bothering the plutocracy when it makes the demanded changes. Our movement will then be over; the plutocracy will remain in power, able to take back whatever it gave; and before long we’ll be back where we are today.

The plutocracy was never elected, and cannot be un-elected. Politicians in our society only have the power that the plutocracy delegates to them; they most certainly do not have the power to remove the plutocracy from power.

It will take a revolution to remove the plutocracy from power, and to begin creating a new kind of society based on equality and mutual aid and genuine democracy. The strategy and tactics of the OWS movement should be directed towards building a huge, popular revolutionary movement, one that explicitly aims to remove the plutocracy from power, that has a vision of a new and better kind of society that can inspire hundreds of millions of Americans to fight for it. This kind of movement can win the support of soldiers and sailors so that, when the ruling class orders the military to attack the revolution, they will disobey and instead join and help defend the revolution with their weapons. This is how a revolutionary movement, when it reaches critical mass, will be able to prevail even in a contest of violent force with the ruling class.

The world does not have to be a capitalist one, based on class inequality and the glorification of self-interest. Most people want a very different kind of society. We can create a society that is the way most people want it to be, in which the economy is based on sharing, from each according to ability and to each according to need, where products and services are provided according to need, not according to who has money to buy them. We can create a genuine democracy in which all law-making power resides in local community and workplace assemblies that all adults who support the principles of equality and mutual aid can attend. Instead of social order on a large scale being imposed by a centralized government democratic in name only, it can be achieved in a truly democratic manner by voluntary federation of local assemblies. (This is discussed in some detail in ‘Thinking about Revolution.’)

The key to building this revolutionary movement is to first explicitly declare that building a revolutionary movement is the strategic goal. Then tactics can be evaluated with respect to how well they serve that goal. The chief element of the strategy is spreading the revolutionary ideas–that the ruling class has no legitimate right to rule over us, that revolution is necessary, that it is possible, and that it is the way to create a far better society based on equality and mutual aid and democracy. Tactics would emphasize communicating these ideas to the wider public: chants during demonstrations, leaflets passed out wherever the public is, talks by us where people live and work, teach-ins, interviews given to whatever media will do them. And tactics would include various creative ways to involve the public in actively discussing and developing revolutionary ideas, and recruiting others to help spread the message.

What about confrontational actions? These tactics also should be evaluated the same way. Do they spread the revolutionary message? Sometimes a confrontation with authority can indeed bring wider attention to our revolutionary message. But this depends on how we engage in the confrontation. A confrontation that exposes the illegitimacy and immorality of the rulers, for example when people pack a courtroom to protest eviction proceedings against a family, is good. A confrontation that gives the rulers what the public will perceive as a legitimate reason for using police force against our movement is bad. Confronting the police, in and of itself, does not help, and can backfire if it enables the rulers to paint a false picture of us in the public eye.

What about violence? Violence in self-defense may not be tactically wise in a given situation, but it is not immoral. The philosophy of nonviolence is wrong to say it is. Violence against property, when it is not clearly in self-defense, serves no good purpose and makes it easy for the rulers to turn the public against us. Violence against unarmed civilians has nothing to do with self-defense, and it is immoral.

If we focus on spreading the revolutionary message, then there will come a time when the revolutionary movement is large enough and has the support of sufficient numbers of soldiers and sailors to successfully defend itself against violence by the forces remaining loyal to the ruling class. At this time we should use whatever force, including violence, that is necessary to defend ourselves.

But we are not yet at the point when we can actually prevail in a contest of violent force with the ruling class. Therefore it makes no sense to pretend that we are and to deliberately get into violent fights with the police that we have no way of winning. When the police attack us violently, we should do our best to make an orderly tactical retreat. Our strategic offense is what is most important: to spread a message about what we believe and what we want. The message isn’t that we can defeat the well-armed police today; it is that the movement we are building is for values and objectives that most people share, and it can grow large enough one day to win a contest of force with the ruling class.

We need to keep our eye on the revolutionary strategy. Let us not get deflected from it by wishful thinking of the sort that says that ‘moral suasion’ or ‘enough tents’ or ‘better politicians’ or ‘reasonable demands’ will make the rulers change their ways.

Let us neither be deflected from the revolutionary strategy by those who propose tactics that have nothing to do with spreading revolutionary ideas. There is a totally false Hollywood image of what it means to be a revolutionary, made up of images of Che Guevara and black-shirted bomb-throwing (or window-breaking) ‘anarchists’ who strike a revolutionary pose and talk tough with bravado. Police provocateurs, agents of the ruling class, try to get us to act this way, or themselves act this way in our name, because they know that as long as we equate our movement with such actions we will not be thinking about how to spread revolutionary ideas and mobilizing the public around those ideas, and the public will be turned against us.

The rulers have many agents with many different disguises, all pretending to be our friends, trying to persuade us what to do. They can be very persistent–that is their job! They appeal to our wishful thinking, or our desire to view ourselves as courageous, or anything else that will work, as long as it prevents us from understanding what a real revolutionary strategy is, and carrying it out. Now, more than ever, we need to think carefully about strategy and tactics. Just doing what seems to be ‘in the air’ or whatever the most persistent individuals advocate is not good enough to win. It will take a huge revolutionary movement to win, which can develop if, and only if, we aim to make it happen.