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Published on March 1st, 2012 | by David Christie
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Protesters at the first Occupy London demonstration on 15 October last year. Image from xpgomes8's photostream"]Protesters at the first Occupy London demonstration on 15 October last year.  Image from xpgomes8's photostream[/caption] Now that the Occupy London camp outside St Paul's has been evicted, the outlook for the Occupy movement in the UK looks rather bleak.  Many other Occupy camps across the country have already dispersed voluntarily.  However, Occupy Wall Street carried out a ‘Shut Down The Corporations’ day of action yesterday in the US, which suggests that the international movement as a whole has not completely run out of steam.  The overall impact of Occupy London should also not be written off.  On the surface, it may appear as if the movement has achieved little.  But recent pronouncements by politicians demonstrate that it has had an effect on our political culture.  Until relatively recently, mainstream politicians liked to defend unrestrained capitalism and the right of individuals to get ‘filthy rich’; now, they talk about the need to crack down on excessive pay, and are falling over themselves to declare their belief in ‘responsible capitalism’. In addition to this shift in the perception of capitalism, there are two campaign groups loosely connected to Occupy London which have achieved clear victories: UK Uncut and the Right to Work campaign.  UK Uncut have forced tax avoidance onto the political agenda, and were vindicated in December last year when MPs on the Public Accounts Committee claimed that HM Revenue and Customs have failed to collect £25 billion in unpaid tax from large companies.  Earlier this week the Treasury also ordered Barclays bank to pay £500 million in avoided tax.  The Right to Work campaign have been successful in forcing the government to back down on workfare: after their demonstration in the Westminster branch of Tesco spooked many of the companies involved in the workfare scheme, the government has changed its policy, so that jobseekers who withdraw from the scheme after the first week will no longer face benefit sanctions. There is probably a certain degree of overlap between these two campaign groups and Occupy London.  UK Uncut have taken part in joint actions with Occupy, and members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who are heavily involved in the Right to Work campaign (the group has been accused of being an SWP front), have also been involved in the camp at St Paul's.  Therefore many of the activists who have been involved in the Occupy movement will no doubt continue to protest in the future, whether under the ‘Occupy’ banner or not.  So for the activists involved, the eviction of Occupy London is most definitely not the end, regardless of whether the movement continues in its current form. However, comparing Occupy London with these campaigns shows that protest is most effective when it is has clear objectives and is well organised, characteristics which Occupy seems to lack.  In particular, the movement's inability to settle on a clear set of demands has been its biggest drawback.  But this is not entirely its own fault.  The movement's ideological incoherence is a reflection of the overwhelming defeat suffered by the left in the 80s and early 90s.  During this period, both Communism and social democracy collapsed, and free market capitalism emerged victorious.  Since then, the left has not come up with an economic programme with which to challenge either the free market model of capitalism, or the capitalist system itself.  This is why the Occupy movement, while expressing a mood of discontent with capitalism, is unsure what the solution is. Contrary to the wishes of over-excited revolutionaries (such as the SWP), the wave of global unrest which started with the Arab Spring a year ago is unlikely to lead to the overthrow of capitalism.  But there is a chance that it will lead to the creation of a more equitable model of capitalism, in which the system is made to work better for the world's poor, and in which the gap between rich and poor can be reduced.  Constructing this new model is therefore the challenge which faces the global left.  Whether the Occupy movement continues, or whether its activists put their energy into new campaigns instead, it will not have been a failure.  This is because it has represented a crucial moment in the wave of protest which is still transforming the world.

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After the eviction: reflections on Occupy London

Protesters at the first Occupy London demonstration on 15 October last year.  Image from xpgomes8's photostream

Protesters at the first Occupy London demonstration on 15 October last year. Image from xpgomes8's photostream

Now that the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s has been evicted, the outlook for the Occupy movement in the UK looks rather bleak.  Many other Occupy camps across the country have already dispersed voluntarily.  However, Occupy Wall Street carried out a ‘Shut Down The Corporations’ day of action yesterday in the US, which suggests that the international movement as a whole has not completely run out of steam.  The overall impact of Occupy London should also not be written off.  On the surface, it may appear as if the movement has achieved little.  But recent pronouncements by politicians demonstrate that it has had an effect on our political culture.  Until relatively recently, mainstream politicians liked to defend unrestrained capitalism and the right of individuals to get ‘filthy rich’; now, they talk about the need to crack down on excessive pay, and are falling over themselves to declare their belief in ‘responsible capitalism’.

In addition to this shift in the perception of capitalism, there are two campaign groups loosely connected to Occupy London which have achieved clear victories: UK Uncut and the Right to Work campaign.  UK Uncut have forced tax avoidance onto the political agenda, and were vindicated in December last year when MPs on the Public Accounts Committee claimed that HM Revenue and Customs have failed to collect £25 billion in unpaid tax from large companies.  Earlier this week the Treasury also ordered Barclays bank to pay £500 million in avoided tax.  The Right to Work campaign have been successful in forcing the government to back down on workfare: after their demonstration in the Westminster branch of Tesco spooked many of the companies involved in the workfare scheme, the government has changed its policy, so that jobseekers who withdraw from the scheme after the first week will no longer face benefit sanctions.

There is probably a certain degree of overlap between these two campaign groups and Occupy London.  UK Uncut have taken part in joint actions with Occupy, and members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who are heavily involved in the Right to Work campaign (the group has been accused of being an SWP front), have also been involved in the camp at St Paul’s.  Therefore many of the activists who have been involved in the Occupy movement will no doubt continue to protest in the future, whether under the ‘Occupy’ banner or not.  So for the activists involved, the eviction of Occupy London is most definitely not the end, regardless of whether the movement continues in its current form.

However, comparing Occupy London with these campaigns shows that protest is most effective when it is has clear objectives and is well organised, characteristics which Occupy seems to lack.  In particular, the movement’s inability to settle on a clear set of demands has been its biggest drawback.  But this is not entirely its own fault.  The movement’s ideological incoherence is a reflection of the overwhelming defeat suffered by the left in the 80s and early 90s.  During this period, both Communism and social democracy collapsed, and free market capitalism emerged victorious.  Since then, the left has not come up with an economic programme with which to challenge either the free market model of capitalism, or the capitalist system itself.  This is why the Occupy movement, while expressing a mood of discontent with capitalism, is unsure what the solution is.

Contrary to the wishes of over-excited revolutionaries (such as the SWP), the wave of global unrest which started with the Arab Spring a year ago is unlikely to lead to the overthrow of capitalism.  But there is a chance that it will lead to the creation of a more equitable model of capitalism, in which the system is made to work better for the world’s poor, and in which the gap between rich and poor can be reduced.  Constructing this new model is therefore the challenge which faces the global left.  Whether the Occupy movement continues, or whether its activists put their energy into new campaigns instead, it will not have been a failure.  This is because it has represented a crucial moment in the wave of protest which is still transforming the world.

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