The Occupy movement through a Marxist lens

By Jason Devine

From the perspective of an adequately informed Marxist — or to this Marxist at least — the Occupy movement’s emergence is no surprise. Capitalism, as a system with cycles of boom and bust, is inherently crisis-prone. Whenever capitalism, globally or nationally, is in the doldrums, the working class and the growing unemployed (not to mention the middle class) begin to protest.

But the spectrum of protest is broad. It includes actions and views that are easily integrated within the current web of socio-political and economic relations, and those that point beyond them. As a contradictory, still developing movement, Occupy contains both.

The significance of the movement though, is that it represents a real shift in class consciousness among American workers. This is seen in the antagonistic duality proclaimed by the movement: the 99 per cent versus the 1 per cent.

This crude and basic dichotomy reveals a developing grasp of capitalist reality: there are classes that exist and have opposing interests. Yes, there is a tiny rich minority and a vast majority that labour for a living, in one form or another. In the context of America, where the myth is peddled that either most people are middle class or there are no real classes, this is truly monumental, especially as America has no working-class political parties of significance.

Thus, there is an increasing level of radicalisation among the American working class. The question is, where will it go? Will it be co-opted by the Democrats? Will it lose steam, with its remains being picked over by left-wing sects? Or will it be the basis for a new third party?

These are questions on which a Canadian can only speculate. Currently, the movement shows no sign of slowing down, but rather it continues to grow. What we can be sure of, as a general perspective, is that as the ongoing crisis of capitalism continues the Occupy movement will radicalise further.

As for the Occupy movement in Canada, some dynamics here are similar, but the situation is not exactly the same. Undoubtedly, our country is an imperialist country that is well-integrated with the global economy, and political corruption and poverty exist here too. But the truth is that Canada has its own specificities and the different provinces and cities have their own histories, traditions, economy, etc.

Thus, for example, Occupy Calgary has focused on corporate greed like their sisters and brothers elsewhere. But in Calgary, homelessness, with its attendant ills, and the lack of affordable housing are among the most pressing local issues.

It is precisely because it has been so vocal regarding inequality that it has been vilified by sections of the media. It is incumbent upon all Calgarians dedicated to progressive social change in our society to support Occupy Calgary’s efforts. And, importantly, it is the duty of those Calgarians who are opposed to the movement to actually investigate the real situation.

Occupy Calgary has not yet started a revolution, but it has ensured that poverty in this bastion of western capitalism will not soon be forgotten.


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