CD Conversation on the Occupy Movement

Saul Landau: Are we witnessing a new agency of social change? Is the multitude in OWS the beginning of the replacement for the Working class and its party as the new actor to bring history to its next stage? Or am I dreaming?

Ken Kalturnyk: I think there needs to be some evidence of actual social change achieved by the “multitude” before such a thesis can be seriously considered. To date we have seen regime change but no real social change in the Arab world, and no change of any kind in the US. I personally believe that unless the US working class takes a leadership position in the movement the OWS movement will have no lasting impact.

Corvin Russell: I think it largely represents a potential force at this time. While for the moment, its lack of definition is one of its greatest strengths, it will not continue to be so indefinitely. The greater its success, the greater the likelihood of co-optation and a reformist response that can preserve capitalism for the time being without fundamentally challenging the system. As yet, I do not see a level of strength (e.g. the ability to cause serious economic disruption) that could even force serious reforms on finance capital, let alone overthrow the system. If we start to see factory occupations and economic disruption as part of this, and the articulation of a clear anti-capitalist, democratic politic, perhaps there will be enough pressure to force reforms that have yet to be mooted in the legislative arena and which Wall Street shows absolutely no sign of being willing to accept. If, on the other hand, Wall Street remains intransigent, and the political system is incapable of acting against its interests, and if the Occupy movement sustains itself, there could be a serious delegitimization of the total system and then I think many things are in play. The US is a country with a lot of guns and right wing ideology has a profound hold on a large proportion of the gun carrying population. If capital were to be seriously threatened, and if there were any serious prospect of left-wing “revolution”, the end game would not likely be pretty. But I think we are still very far from that potential scenario.

Matthew Brett: I believe that the occupy movement is indeed a source of fundamental social change. In order to make concrete change, it is necessary to change the way people think as well. The occupy movement has very effectively brought capitalism and its neoliberal variants into question. And it has done so across a fairly broad stratum of society. This is very encouraging.

For example, the introduction of neoliberal policies back in the 1960s and ’70s was only possible in places like Canada and the UK because neoliberal ideas were fostered and resonated with broad segments of the population, including the so-called multitude. We may be witnessing a pendulum swing away from these ideas, and the occupy movement has fostered this change in thinking to a considerable degree. It also continues to do so. For that, I do regard the occupations as an incredible source of social change. Wrenching away neoliberal ideas is necessarily a long and difficult process.

Regarding the latter half of the question, I do believe that the working class remains effectively decimated in places like Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. Organized labour remains weak and on the defensive, waiting to resist the next wave of austerity. Organized labour has a very long and painful road of rebuilding ahead. I do not regard the occupy movement as a replacement to organized labour by any means. But these non-hierarchical groups are presently the most active, radical and inspiring at the present moment. I¹m encouraged by the thought that they will grow stronger with support and time.