With the recent eviction of the Occupy LSX camp, it seems that the Occupy movement in the UK, for the time being, is winding down. The fact that there was little resistance to the eviction was a clear sign of this.
Occupy London Stock Exchange came in the wake of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ in the USA, which itself followed on from the protests and occupations across north Africa, in Greece, Spain and also in the wake of the student protest movement against increased university fees. The main positive factor in the occupation movement, both in the UK and internationally, has been having a physical presence in a public space. Most demonstrations, marches, pickets etc tend to be ‘closed’ affairs with pre-determined routes, barriers separating people on the march from others and so on. By contrast the occupations have been open to all and sundry. A whole range of topics have been presented at the St Paul’s occupation’s Tent University, amongst other places, open to members of the public to take part in. We ourselves have presented three meetings there – one on the contribution of Rosa Luxemburg, one on the ecological crisis, and another about communism.
The occupation has been presented in the mainstream media as ‘anti-capitalist’. However even a short survey would show that the vast majority of the meetings and discussions have tended to be of a ‘reformist’ nature, mainly presenting the idea that particular reforms or policy changes, or the application of pressure on the government, can lead to a more ‘democratic’ form of capitalism - that the 1% can be convinced of sharing its wealth and power with the other 99%. Political discussion on actual revolutionary alternatives was much rarer, although it certainly did happen.
In truth, a movement which was generally ‘against capitalism’ without reference to a specific struggle, would have difficulty maintaining itself. This was the contrast with the movements in north Africa, especially in Egypt, where we could see a number of sections of the working class becoming increasingly mobilised. In Spain and Greece, public meetings have been linked with the movement of the ‘Indignants’ (Spain) and with the savagery of the austerity demanded by the EU paymasters (Greece). In the absence of a real focus for the struggle, it would also tend to become the preserve of ‘professional activists’ separated from the population at large.
This is not to say that these occupations are useless, far from it. But we have to recognise their limitations.
Undoubtedly a few people influenced by them have been led to question the entirety of capitalism as a social and economic system. Many others, by contrast, would have come away thinking that significant change could come about ‘If only the government would nationalise the land/banks/railways/industry…’
It’s clear that ‘occupations’ as a tactic are not going away. It’s also clear that, however uneven it is in different countries, the response of the employed working class is beginning to show itself. So there is a significant potential for the two movements to become complementary in future struggles both in the UK and internationally.