Cruickshank: Occupy is only part of what’s needed

I’ve been operating at the 15,000 foot level lately, discussing constitutional coups and rule of law (one of which we have, and one of which we’d like to have).

But there are many layers below that. One is the presidential layer — whom to vote for, whether to primary Obama or support him, whether to push for a 3rd party challenge or not. (I’ll have more on that shortly.)

The layer below that — the organizing layer — is Robert Cruickshank’s specialty. He’s a California-based organizer who understands winning coalitions and how to get things done at the state and local level.

He’s recently written about the Occupy Movement, what its effect has been and what steps are needed next. The whole article is well thought out (and is being studied in a number of quarters).

Cruickshank’s bottom line is that to really fix the country, we need an “inside game” and an “outside game” (not his language, though the meaning is the same).

While the whole piece should be read (it’s clear and not that long), I’d like to point you to this. In arguing that office-holders are needed to implement policy, he says this:

[I]t is those who are best organized who will prevail even if street action leads to major political change.

That is the key lesson of history. In February 1917 a mass movement took to the streets of the Russian Empire and overthrew the tsar. But because they were the best organized, it was the Bolsheviks who ultimately prevailed, even though most Russians seemed to prefer a more moderate and democratic outcome. In February 1979 a mass movement that had been in the streets of Iran for nearly a year finally toppled the shah. Many of the leaders of that movement wanted Iran to become a western-style liberal democracy. What they got was the Islamic Republic, because the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers were by far the best organized group in the country.

In February 2011 a mass movement took to the streets of Egypt and overthrew Hosni Mubarak. But because they were the best organized, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that won the fall elections and is now poised to govern Egypt. The people of Tahrir Square are struggling to maintain their vision of the revolution and are finding that taking to the streets is a tactic that can work at times, but isn’t enough to produce long-term change. If it were, the occupations of Syntagma Square would have stopped Greece from imploding on austerity, and would have brought down the neo-Thatcherism of the Cameron-Clegg government in the UK.

Progressives were not wrong to care about winning elections and making sure the right people were in government. That matters a great deal. Who controls the levers of government, whose ideas prevail in a campaign, which ballot initiatives win and lose, which budgets get cut and which budgets get increased – all of these things are crucially important. And ultimately, if we are going to take our money back from the 1%, it’s going to require governmental action.

What progressives were wrong to do was to make electoral organizing such a central focus of their work, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

This makes two points. One, that office-holders — for example, Darcy Burner, whom he endorses — are needed. (I’d add Ilya Sheyman in Illinois as well, and will offer a full list in due course.)

But the other point is about cadre revolutions. Cruickshank is not the first to note that Lenin didn’t topple the Czar, he toppled the movement that toppled the Czar. (My thoughts here.)

His question is important — if the Occupy Movement does destabilize the regime (or “elite establishment” if that term is more comforting), who will pick up the pieces?

Cruickshank’s answer is exactly right: the most organized group will win the round after that.

Offered for your consideration.

GP


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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