‘The day dawned radiant, but with no ray of hope for the commune.’ Or so said Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, of a very different occupation –the troops were moving in on the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune of 1871 shaped the face of left-wing politics for over a hundred years; it defined the split between anarchist and socialist factions that was to recur time and again throughout leftist struggle, in Berlin, in Barcelona and in Russia. Perhaps Occupy once had a chance to define the leftist struggle of the future; one against privatised profit and Government backed risk, against Government Goldman, and against the brutal austerity programs, but that’s long gone now.
I don’t necessarily mean to trivialise Occupy, but as I quipped to some of my friends who did camp out at St Pauls, ‘Are you sleeping under canvas until capitalism comes crashing down?’ The fact is that Occupy has been a movement without an analysis of the problems it challenges. They talk of the 1%, as much an image as a statistical reality, and the 99%; both in their own ways heavily romanticised by a movement with no coherent explanation of how we arrived at the current scenario, not any coherent solution to propose – all of these problems stemming from the intellectual underpinning and discipline that the camps inherently lacked.
This essentially all stems back to the horizonalist, leaderless approach that the camps across the world have taken to their organisation – though it rather pains me to call it that at times. A system such as Occupy St Pauls operates, where one vote becomes a veto, is far from a democratic one, a tyrannical one ruled by minorities, and prone to taking the road of least resistance. Without leadership or voice, it has been a movement that has dwindled rather than expanded, a problem compounded by the inherently time-consuming nature of taking part in an occupation. The fading of Occupy is partly, as I say the result of the nature of the protest movement, but it’s also partly the result of the tyrannical collectivism of it, they can’t devise a clear exit strategy because almost inevitably, someone opposes it. For the same reason, they lack the clear analysis that past movements have had at least some sign of, and instead, Occupy seems to campaign on the vague feeling that something is wrong.
The Occupiers, of St Pauls, and all around the world, had a chance to do so much, but in the end, they because inward looking, and democratic in the worst possible way, the movement stalled. Whilst perhaps in the United States, with the violence of the riot police against a still flourishing movement, there some equivalent of Lissagaray’s Balance Sheet of Bourgeois Vengeance; the moments when the troops moved in, and the utopia ended. But, when this occupation reaches its innocuous end in the bittle cold of London, there won’t be any need to draw up a Balance Sheet of Bourgeois Vengeance. Occupy St Pauls will probably just fizzle out like the others; the same quiet, ignimonious end that met Sheffield, Bristol and countless other camps – there’s no sign of a clever, media friendly exit strategy – just decay, decline and imminent defeat.