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OWS vs. fraudulent capitalist democracy

Published Dec 19, 2011 9:50 PM

The police campaign to wipe out the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country should drive home a truth that has long been experienced by oppressed communities, workers on strike, fighters for civil rights, immigrant workers and many others. The regime of capitalist democracy in the United States has a violently repressive character — side-by-side with its controlled “democratic” institutions.

This latest wave of police assaults demonstrates in particular the profound fear among the “1%” of an attempt by any genuine grassroots movement to establish even the most rudimentary network of popular democratic forums outside the framework of the corrupt political system — especially when they are directed against the rich.

In city after city there has been harsh, violent police suppression of Occupy Wall Street sites. Batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, bicycles, horses and helicopters have been used by battalions of cops dispatched by mayors in a nationally coordinated effort to destroy peaceful occupations of public spaces. More than 5,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured, pepper sprayed or gassed in police assaults.

Tents, sleeping bags, personal belongings, kitchens, medical stations and libraries have all been illegally confiscated and/or destroyed. Even the capitalist media have been put behind barricades and prevented from covering the brutality brought down on occupiers. In the style of the Pentagon during its wars, embedded reporters approved by the city and the cops are sometimes allowed coverage — but from afar and only in the aftermath of the attacks.

OWS stronger than ever

To be sure, OWS has not been defeated by a long shot. Police repression has failed to halt the movement. In fact, OWS has only expanded, both in the number of active locations and in its many targets.

OWS has invaded housing auctions, protested and stopped foreclosures, defended immigrant workers, engaged in union and strike support, showed the connection between banking and the prison-industrial complex, showed solidarity with the Egyptian revolution, and engaged in many other areas of solidarity. And of course it has continued its campaign against the banks and other symbols of the “1%.”

In places, the OWS movement has reoccupied areas cleared by police. In most places, it has kept General Assemblies (GAs) going. It has camped on streets and met in parks. It holds meetings, workshops, teach-ins, marches, demonstrations and direct action across the country.

But with all the movement’s resiliency, a major political question must not be lost sight of. Why has this powerful ruling class, with all the force it has available to it — the FBI, Homeland Security, the National Guard, state and local police forces — been seized by a wave of fear when confronted by unarmed, peaceful groups who are doing nothing more than setting up camps in public spaces and discussing politics? Why have the democratic rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech been trampled under police boots using the completely manufactured pretext of protecting public health and safety?

Establishment fears popular democracy

The reason is that the OWS movement burst onto the scene with an indictment of the rich and with the creation of a nucleus for a popular form of grassroots democracy outside the framework of the top-down, completely controlled and orchestrated political system that prevails in the U.S.

The prevailing system has been an un­obstructed vehicle for the millionaires and billionaires to completely control the poli­ti­cal, economic and social agenda of the country — to pile up trillions of dollars while impoverishing the people, to throw people out of their homes, to lay off workers, to break unions, to set the cops on the oppressed communities, to build the high-school-to-jail pipeline, to superexploit and deport undocumented workers at will and — above all — to shut an entire generation out of the labor force or condemn them to low-paying, low-skilled jobs without a future.

The OWS movement has declared that enough is enough! The occupations are a rebuttal to the sham of the elections and the two capitalist political parties. The General Assemblies, the open exposures of the domination of the rich 1%, and above all the open invitation to the masses of people to witness or participate in the deliberations, for free, at any time of day, on their lunch hours, before or after work, without any restriction, is a bold challenge to the fraudulent “democracy” rigged up by the millionaires and billionaires who control Congress.

In other words, in addition to trying to stop agitation against the “1%,” which is really shorthand for the rulers of this country, the establishment is afraid of the very form of the protest as much it wants to silence the content. OWS is counterpoising an elementary form of popular democracy to the democracy that serves the rich in this country.

Lenin on capitalist ‘democracy’

In this connection, it is worthwhile to recall some key passages written by V.I. Lenin, the leader of the world’s first successful socialist revolution, which occurred in October 1917 in Russia.

The revolution was vilified by the world capitalist press from day one. And in 1918, Karl Kautsky, a former socialist leader who turned against the revolution, wrote a slanderous pamphlet attacking the right of the workers and peasants to defend their victory from what amounted to the “1%” of Russia – the capitalists and landlords who had exploited and oppressed the people mercilessly. Kautsky did this in the name of defending “democracy,” without saying democracy for which class: the oppressed who had taken power, or the oppressors who had been ousted?

Lenin, in his pamphlet, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” described the state under capitalist democracy:

“Take the structure of the state. … Under bourgeois democracy the capitalists, by thousands of tricks which are the more artful and effective the more ‘pure’ democracy is developed — drive the people away from administrative work, from freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc. … The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles, and the workers know and feel, see and realize perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority.” (Emphases in original.)

Lenin went on to show how under capitalism the rich control the state bureaucracy. They have all the connections and privileges. They own the great buildings and mansions. Freedom of the press is pure hypocrisy because the rich own the printing presses, the publishing houses, the paper supplies.

Wherein is this any different from so-called “democracy” under present-day U.S. capitalism? The bosses own and control radio and television, the newspapers, the magazines and the educational institutions.

They own all the meeting halls, stadiums and even the smallest gathering places. This all costs money — unlike the occupations set up by OWS. No workers ever get to have nightly talk shows on prime-time television, with the right to invite their own guests and to expose the evils inflicted on the people by the rich.

The two capitalist parties are wholly bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists. This can be seen in all the pro-big business legislation passed, year after year. The Congress is notoriously a millionaires’ club.

The workers and the poor are shut out of the electoral process by extreme, obstructive ballot requirements, by lack of access to publicity, by lack of funds for significant campaign organization. All of this is reserved for the Republicans and Democrats — each serving the rich in the long run, despite their different styles.

Lenin continued: “Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or ‘equality of all citizens before the law,’ and you will see at every turn evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar. There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”

The occupations have been attacked so furiously by the ruling class precisely because they hold the potential to become centers of genuinely popular democracy. They very quickly became magnets of attraction for workers, the unemployed, students and youth who have been shut out by the system. They have already spread to the campuses and have the potential to expand into the oppressed communities, e.g, “Occupy the Hood,” or into factories and working-class neighborhoods.

As such, they have the potential to go far beyond their modest beginnings and beyond what anyone intended or could foresee. In the midst of a gigantic, unsolvable and deepening capitalist economic crisis, the occupations, especially in the giant urban centers, could take on a truly mass character.

The ruling class fears the embryo of a rival authority that is inherent in the form of the General Assembly, open to the masses with the freedom to denounce and expose the rich and the capacity to launch actions that challenge the rule of the “1%” – the capitalist class.