We need to look beyond the ballot box if we are serious about real change.
The Occupy movement has made impressive and inspiring progress in just a few short weeks. It has spread to over 90 countries and over 1000 cities and, despite attempts by governments and the corporate media to 'shut it down', it continues to grow.
In the United States, the country that champions 'democracy' elsewhere, the police have roughed up and intimidated protesters and arrested nearly 2000 of them. The man who promised 'real change', Barack Obama, has said nothing.
it is not hard to work out why the movement has made such rapid progress.
All around the world people are fighting a common enemy, namely an economic and political system bent on surviving and it is of no consequence how many ordinary people will have to be sacrificed in order to save capitalism. That is why the slogan 'We are the 99 percent' has had such resonance. We know, instinctively , who we are and who our real enemy is - the capitalist elite and its governments.
As Richard Seymour writes on Lenin's Tomb:
'The reason we have seen a global movement erupt is because capitalism is an international system, and it's doing the same thing to all of us, everywhere. What was done to the Third World in terms of structural adjustment is now being done to the working classes in advanced capitalist societies.'
The movement has arisen at a time when ordinary people have effectively been shut out of a political system that claims to do things in our name. Indeed we have, for decades, lacked a political voice while the zealots of neoliberalism have crowed in our faces about 'personal choice' and 'personal responsibility'. The empty slogans of the venal.
It is of no surprise that the number of people who bother to vote has continued to fall worldwide.
Why vote when nothing changes and more shit happens? Why bother to vote for another set of bastards to replace the set of bastards you've already got? Who is going to get excited about a political party whose leader says there is 'no alternative' to the 'free market' and whose finance spokesperson says he 'wants to work alongside business'? Ladies and gentlemen - I give you Phil Goff and David Cunliffe.
Representative democracy has failed. Utterly. This won't come as any surprise to anyone but the academics and the commentators who drone on in the media and in the blogosphere as if voting mattered. But, in the end, its just a race for votes and it always leaves the fundamental economic and political structures unchallenged and intact.
We have an elected elite, with the electorate reduced to election fodder, whose only function is to endorse one of the near identical corporate controlled political parties at election times.
The social democratic parties, that once were vehicles for mild reforms, surrendered to Big Business many years and many betrayals ago. These parties, whether its the Democrats in the United States or the Labour Party in New Zealand, are parties dominated by spin and riddled with cronyism and allied to the capitalist elite . The (declining) memberships of these parties have little say in the making of policy. Their job is to do the donkey work like delivering leaflets and raising funds.
And tragically, but also not surprisingly, is that complacent and conservative union leaderships have chosen - without consulting their grassroots memberships - to support these dismal parties. They have abandoned any form of emancipatory vision to play, frankly, a despicable role in maintaining the rule of capital.
It is in this political vacuum that the Occupy movement has emerged, giving voice to the demands of ordinary people that have been for too long silenced by politicians and trade union leaders who have masqueraded as our friends and defenders.
The movement is, of course, in the embryonic stage, and I think the calls for organisational structure and specific demands are, at the moment, well wide of the mark. It is enough that discussions and debates are taking place. A diversity of views is the movement's strength and not its weakness.
But we do need a movement that does not fall into the trap of fighting merely the symptoms of the capitalist crisis rather than the root causes.