[Marxism] Leftists, Wisconsin and OWS

audradavid at aol.com audradavid at aol.com
Sat Jun 9 18:14:08 MDT 2012

The following exchange took place between Pham Binh and myself on the listserv of the Occupy Wall Street Labor Outreach Committee


David Berger

During the events in Wisconsin, I was constantly in touch on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis through Paul Buhle. Socialists did raise a call for a general strike, over and over again. But it was lost in the throng. 

Compared to, say, Zuccotti Park, Wisconsin was 5-10 times bigger, sometimes with demos of 100,000 people in a state of only 5.7 million people. Attempts to leaflet, set up lit tables, give out papers, etc., by socialist groups were drops in a very large bucket. Yes the notion of a general strike was in the air. And yes it was accepted by radical circles in and around Madison, but it was squelched by the union bureaucracy and the Democrats more-or-less by ignoring it.

Nevertheless, the groups that called for one were correct to do so. Now, they can remind people that there was/is another choice besides the recalls.

Consider how easily, on the demo of Nov. 17 at Foley Sq., the union bureaucrats took it over. And consider how they formally endorsed May Day but did nothing to mobilize for it: not even the unions locked in struggles like the TWA, which could have dominated the march and which had ties with OWS.

A general strike would have been great on May Day, Who could deny that? But we also know that under those conditions, calling for one as a tactic was stupid.

Pham Binh

I was told there was no push by socialists for a general strike in Wisconsin. No one set a date, came up with aplan of action (everyone use one sick day on day XX), issued a slogan ("a day without union workers," for example), or created an all-embracing, inclusive popular body (like a General Assembly) that could make something like that happen. 
Are we going to blame Democratic politicians and union leaders for that?
Contrast Wisconsin to Occupy Oakland's general strike call for Nov. 2.
When are we going to get it through our heads that "calling" for things and putting forward the "correct line" isn't going to do a damn thing in the real world? The Dem. politicians were able to derail the occupation only because the left failed to do its job. We had the chance to lead, didn't, and got a failed recall when someone else decided to seize the initiative.

David Berger

Madison is not New York. (a) There are very few active socialists there; (b) events swept ahead very quickly. (c) Occupy Oakland (which was/is not a tiny socialist group) was in intimate contact with the Longshore unions and therefore (d) could realistically talk about a general strike.

You say that ""calling' for things and putting forward the 'correct line' isn't going to do a damn thing in the real world." True, but when you talk about setting dates, coming up with a plan, issuing a slogan, etc., that's exactly what you are doing.

I find it bizarre that you blame the course of events in Wisconsin on the Left. Who are you talking about? At best, in Wisconsin, there are perhaps a couple of dozen organized leftist activists and maybe a few hundred more independents. We are talking about a movement that rose up out of nowhere and ran its course extremely quickly. At times there was a hundred thousand people in motion, with a power. What do you expect?

Here in New York, where leftists were involved from the beginning, from the time of Bloombergville, and with a far larger group of leftists, and an independent radical movement [OWS], it has been a very difficult process of socialists working within the movement to influence its course. 

For example, take the Labor Outreach Committee of Occupy Wall Street (LOC). I think it's safe to say that for May Day, the LOC, with a concentration of experience leftists, was responsible for the unity of the labor forces, immigrant groups, leftist groups from previous May Days and OWS coming together for the march. This required a tremendous effort over a period of three months. Even so, we failed to produce a major labor mobilization. And we nearly got burned out.

I have learned to be very wary when I pronounce judgments on what happened in Wisconsin, even though I believe the course of events leading to the election is indefensible. I think that people who want to engage in extensive criticisms should have good sources or, better, be intimately involved.

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