Occupy Belfast: The Beginning of the Resistance and the Republican Socialist Alternative.
A former Bank of Ireland building, situated at the foot of Belfast’s Royal Avenue, has been liberated for almost a week. Activists from the ‘Occupy Belfast’ movement, the local manifestation of this global anti-capitalist movement, have taken the necessary direct action to reclaim this building in protest at the cycle of housing repossessions and worsening unemployment crisis the youth and working class people are facing.
Statistics released this week project upwards of 27,000 jobs to be lost in the public sector within the north, and youth unemployment to exceed 20% over the next few years. Similarly there is a crisis of social housing up and down the country waiting to spiral out of control; upwards of 50,000 people are on the social housing waiting list in the north alone. As a result, such direct action is a predictable and necessary response to the worsening housing crisis and that of the capitalist system in general. The political process offers no solutions, only false promises which mislead people to believe that the nature of the crisis lies not in the existence of the system itself, but within a temporary or short term flaw. ‘Get a job, stay at home or emigrate, and this will all blow over’, is the message we are told. However as Lenin noted, ”One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself”.
The liberation of this building is set amidst this, but also within the context of actions taken across the country to reclaim empty, unused properties by and for the use of the people, an example being the action taken in Cork to reclaim a NAMA property on Christmas Day last year. Whilst the occupied Bank of Ireland is not a NAMA property itself, the use of this listed building by and for the people, is both a symbolic statement and a practical step to reclaim the right to common ownership, and to strike a blow against the predatory speculation on land and property which has contributed to this crisis.
The IRSP fully supports this action and encourages all working class people to involve themselves in the movement. After arguably years of boardroom negotiations, token gestures from the trade unions and other so called ‘leaders’ of the class, they have failed to provide an alternative solution to the crisis and have failed in the face of a growing radicalisation amongst the ruling class, to combat it’s attacks on workers through harsh ‘austerity’ programmes. The occupiers seek to build a movement that will challenge this.
The actions of the occupiers have struck a note with the most radical sections of workers and students and have left the reactionary politicians, media pundits and hostile classes either silent or dumbstruck. However they are mostly concerned about it’s potential, and so they should be!
The IRSP argues however that for this movement to grow and succeed, that it must in the short term, build strong relationships with similar groups such as the aforementioned Cork occupiers. Secondly, despite the diversity of the occupy movement, students of revolution will know only too well that only the working class has the energy and determination to carry through a revolutionary movement until its realisation. Other sections of the population such as small business owners, small farmers and other sections of the lower middle classes may be sympathetic to the demands of the occupiers, however at the first mention of the negation of property rights they will proclaim, ”No, you’re demands are unrealistic, you are going too far etc.” These reactionary views stem from their semi-privileged position within the capitalist state and are opposed to the progressive nature of the working class movement. Such is the position of the IRSP: we are out for revolution and no half measures will suffice.
However all acts against the state and the ruling classes in themselves will not lead to a revolutionary transformation of society: this is an erroneous position that is encouraged by philistine elements and by sections of the ultra left. The occupation of this building is only one step on the road to building a socialist alternative. It has allowed us the space to open a debate in the public sphere on the right and validity of property ownership and speculation in a time of crisis where young families are facing repossessions and a dearth of social housing exists to meet the needs of vulnerable working class and unemployed people. The existence of the space has also allowed us to form a network of dedicated revolutionary activists who are intent on using the bank as a space to formulate political solutions to the crisis, the IRSP will be arguing that there is only ever one solution: revolution!
We should use this position we are in now to consolidate the gains we have made and to organise a strategic way forward for the movement. People are full of enthusiasm and willingness to act and although this spirit is to be commended, action simply for action’s sake will far from weaken the power of the propertied classes, but conversely provoke a reaction which we cannot absorb at this moment. Our base of support and participation is limited although expanding; as a result an escalation of the movement would be akin to spreading ourselves too thin over the field of battle by deploying forces that are not currently in our arsenal. The socialist republican position is that the movement has been presented an opportunity to dictate the course and direction of the struggle on its own terms. It should therefore use this time accordingly to sharpen its ideas and to build up its support base. Whilst we are not advocating remaining stationary, which would lead to a general stagnation of the movement, we would argue that actions or demands that are not realisable by the movement or relevant to the mass of workers at this stage should be cast aside to be reconsidered at a more mature stage of the struggle.
Whilst on the one hand the populist rhetoric of the 99% may explain the level of mass participation globally in the occupy movement and on the other, a determined revolutionary vanguard may already be forming around it, this is no substitute for a politically organised working class movement and as such the occupiers must take steps to establish support amongst militant sections of workers and the unemployed. We would argue further that while only the mass organisation and participation of the militant working class has the ability to bring about real revolutionary change, the role of the party is still a relevant and necessary tool in the revolutionary movement.
A certain hostility has arisen to the role of the party in the course of the occupy protests, this has as much to do with the inability of the establishment parties to offer any solutions or leadership to the people, but is not a good enough basis alone on which to reject the need for a disciplined revolutionary party. A party that is able to provide leadership when necessary, to formulate the correct tactics and strategy and to challenge the power of the state effectively is needed so long as the forces of counter revolution exist, i.e. the state apparatus (police, intelligence services, judiciary prisons etc.) and reactionary classes who defend bourgeois property against the common property of the working class. The experience of history tells us that the capitalist state cannot be swept away in one blow overnight, there exists a protracted period where the working class has to consolidate and maintain it’s power whilst limiting the power of the reactionary classes. Such a stage is known as socialism and is the transitional phase on the road to full emancipation which is known as communism.Whilst the composition of the occupy movement is extremely broad ideologically and does not have a uniformity in terms of its class basis, it argues through this first action that property is not a commodity to be speculated on and sold for a profit, this has to be the baseline realisation of any anti-capitalist movement; that collective ownership of society by the people is the only truly permanent solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. We have a long way to go, but we must learn to walk before we can run. This stage presents to us a valuable opportunity to educate ourselves, organise and expand the movement and to argue the case for the socialist republican alternative.
Chris Donnelly, Belfast IRSP