Movements thrive on long series of small successes. Examples are the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Squatters Movement. Women got a better place in society and young people a place to live. All successes remained inside the possibilities of the present society, there were no revolutionary goals. Occupy started with revolutionary ideas (Occupy the Financial Centres!) but soon these goals were replaced by small political demands. By lack of successes Occupy withered away.
Is it a success when there are 10,000 strikers, 20,000 protesters or 100,000 signatures under a petition? Tremendous efforts and a lot of money are used to activate people. The higher the number the greater the success, according to the organisers. The number of houses squatted or the number of discriminatory laws changed is a success, not the number of people that participated. Without visible successes many activists will retreat from any activism.
Occupy seemed a new movement but suffered from the number argument. “We are strong, we are revolutionary because we occupy many squares!” The number argument disappeared when the squares were cleared and Occupy had no further successes. The top of society was not impressed by many people on squares in town centres, they lived elsewhere and were not disturbed. There had hardly been discussions about what to do. Past movements were not analysed and most actions were copies of unsuccessful events from the past. The lack of successes is the reason why the number of strikes goes down and why movements virtually ceased to exist after 1985.
Instead of moving Occupy became a sitting duck. New slogans that gave enthusiasm, inspiration and hope were discarded. “Occupy the Financial Centres” pointed to the culprits of the economic and financial crisis but actions against bankers were rare. The second slogan, “We are the 99%”, included the idea that there was thus a 1% that was different and should be the target. Soon the term 1% disappeared from discussions and attention was directed on political lackeys.
New ideas to attack the centre of power were replaced by old ideas that had not prevented that the 1% got richer and more powerful. A central guiding slogan could be: “We must take the power and the money away from the 1%”. But Occupy restricted itself to partial political demands or helping people in hurricane areas who should be supported by the government. The top of society was not impressed by out-dated actions or by people on squares in town centres.
It is success when leading people change decisions. The Anti-Nuclear Movement did not achieve this target. After a fairly short existence the movement nearly disappeared. Even after Fukushima it did not resurge. A long series of victories occurs when the 1% start to complain in the media they are prevented to make money with their activities that should bring humanity further. But with humanity they mean their own group, with progress the thickness of their wallets. What happens to the 99% is secondary. The media promote this idea by saying that economy is booming though incomes of the 99% go down.
Anti-Monsanto actions or the struggle against the exploitation of scale-gas are also not very successful. Action leaders still hope the 1% listen to their complaints. There is hardly pressure on politicians and none at all on the 1%. In secret backrooms the 1% instruct political servants to give free way to GM-food and environmental damaging exploration of scale-gas. There is no influence of common citizens.
In the last years there were massive demonstrations in developing and South-European countries. Austerity measures were not stopped and actions as the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine or the Arab Spring did not improve the situation of the 99%. The old 1% remained in power and it became difficult to make the 99% enthusiast for new massive actions. Because of lack of successes and small victories through old-fashioned actions people withdrew in their private living situation. Even when there are some successes, protestors may hesitate to return to the streets. The damage to the 99% is too big and they feel they remain outsiders in all decisions.
To get another society, we need successes that accumulate over time and then suddenly we jump to a different world. A Revolutionary Movement has no demands, it has the goal to bring a Humane Society nearer by changing power relations. A first success is when decision-takers start to react defensively on pressure from unknown assailants, a second when they start to change decisions. Activists remain mostly anonymous and do not tell which decision should be taken. They only control, veto and punish faulty leaders. There are no negotiations because the most powerful party can manipulate any negotiation.
In the new society decisions are not dominated by money but by the idea that all people have the same status. Actions and successes should be connected with this idea. Leading people take decisions. When pressure from the 99% increases the 1% are forced to change decisions in favour of the 99%. That is a success. Other leaders oppose this change and the homogeneous elite starts to fall apart. Now leaders find themselves high above the 99%. They decide. Their status goes down when activists intrude in their world and force them to listen. The status of the 99% rises by seeing that the 1% and their lackeys react.
Past movements moved within the borders of the present society. Activists had specific demands and lost sight on the great line, getting a better society in which problems are easily solved. Trade-unions demand a wage rise of 5%, get 3% but in the meantime wages of the management rise 20% but that is not the problem of the union. When activists start to negotiate with leaders they become part of the decision-making process and lose sight on a society beyond the borders of the present one.
A movement to change society only demands that decisions do not hurt the freedom and well-being of common citizens. Jean-Paul Marat said that an Autonomous Club is ”never be a club that is involved in the process of making decisions. That should be a serious mistake: a free union of citizens is not allowed to meddle in public affairs, to govern or to administrate”. Another society cannot come into being via negotiations. A Revolutionary Movement forces leaders to take different decisions. Successes must not be found in the number of activists but in reactions and a different behaviour of leaders enforced by activities of common citizens.
Success is never instantaneous, leaders have many methods to cope with pressure from below. The first line of defence is to remain silent. Do not tell that you are pressured. Most protests are short-term and soon life retakes its normal course. This happens with demonstrations. Leaders know that big mass actions occur only a few times and then activists concentrate on other demands in which other leaders are involved. Any pressure on rulers by such old-fashioned actions is short-lived.
When the pressure continues leaders react in the media. Something happens and they use the media to call for support. Reaction can also be seen in their own privileged neighbourhood. In one case a pressured leader installed floodlights around his house and his neighbours did not like it. His behaviour started to change, he became jumpy and started to complain about his situation.
When actions last a few months, leaders start to deny that better decisions are possible. Their decision was the only right one to solve the problem. This denial is a success because leaders defend decisions by reacting on actions of the 99%. Activists who only write letters full of arguments are disregarded. Leaders are not forced to read such letters.
There is now hardly pressure on the top. Most actions are crying out loud in the hope that someone listens. Politicians and other decision-takers listen primarily to the 1% and not to the 99%. In my country hundreds of petitions send each year to Parliament remain unanswered. Petitions, demonstrations, boycotts or strikes do not pressure people who live far up. Actions are too short-lived and not directed at leaders. The desperate crying-outs get lost in the parliamentary desert.
Leaders take decisions about the personal situation of citizens. The 99% do not penetrate in the minds of the top by carrying placards or by crying-out loud in demonstrations, even when tens of thousands of people participate. There are hardly positive results and a next time the 99% remain at home, convinced that nothing helps.
Isolated one-time actions against leaders can be shrugged off. It is a nuisance but it belongs to their profession. When their private life is intruded over a longer time, they are forced to react. Everyone sees the small victory when leaders react and change decisions to alleviate the pressure from unknown assailants. Then it becomes clear that decision-takers give attention to lower-downs. It is the beginning of real change.
Joost van Steenis