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Strike Debt – Revolutionary or Reformism?

Strike Debt is one of the main offshoots of the Occupy Movement which arose out of Zucotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street Actions in the Fall of 2011. Strike Debt was formed out of meetings between people in Occupy who struggle with debt of many forms – mostly medical, consumer, student, and housing debt.

Strike Debt developed and released a Debt Resistor’s manual a several months ago, a sort-of how-to guide for individuals to resist and refuse to pay debt. The manual provides some information on the state of the debt crisis on several fronts. The information is pretty comprehensive in outline the basics of the crisis, and as such is an excellent read for anyone who struggles with debt burdens.

The solutions offered in the manual, however, are incredibly limited, focused on the individual, and offer terrible advice like demanding change from the system reliant on the status quo and “dropping out of the system” – the sort-of adventurist isolationism that has hut the anarchist-influenced left for decades.

Strike Debt’s first major action was the Rolling Debt Jubilee, a fund-raising concert and event designed to raise funds to purchase commercial debt from the stock market. They raised over five hundred thousand dollars to purchase and abolish millions of defaulted debt. Strike Debt sent out thousands of debt relief letters informing people of their abolished debt.


This is a decent idea in concept, though it relies on fundraising and does not empower anybody. It turns an activist organization into a service organization, a type of social service effort not much different than a community organization that offers after-school programs, but never fights for the community in the political arena. This type of organizing takes all of the teeth out of movements in response to a massive debt crisis. There are many concerns regarding the legality and possible tax conflicts that could put Strike Debt at risk of being targeted by the IRS. This strategy does little to mobilize anybody and could compromise itself by making themselves a target of the IRS.

The name “Strike Debt” may seem to imply a fairly radical position, may seem to suggest that they are organizing a debt strike, ie organizing people to refuse to pay debts. Strike Debt, however, suggests quite a different model, based largely on individual actions, and not focused on building mass debt resistance.

Strike Debt is reformism pretending to be revolutionary action. It is similar to non-profit leftism, a form of radical liberalism that pulls aspects from anarchism and anarchist power structures while refusing to collectively confront capitalism and the ruling classes that govern the state. They focus on individual actions in the form of debt resistance and the purchasing of individual debts. They do not seem to understand the amount to which the system relies on debt. The economic collapse that began in 2008 is almost entirely based on debt, the selling of debt, and the commercialization of debt.

Granted, this commercialization does not include all debts that Strike Debt aims to address. However, all of these debt crises can be confront in innovative and unique ways that build collective power, empowering people in a community that can actually confront the state and the crises in a meaningful way. This requires a collective vision, however, instead of the limited vision of individualism presented in most radical liberal circles.

Individualism is a plague on left politics. It is manufactured by a state that teaches youth that this nation is exceptional, that the individual is more important than the whole, and to idolize the rich capitalist class from Bill Gates to David Koch. The history taught in schools is mostly a history of rich, white men, and often ignores the struggles that speak to the contradictions of the capitalist white patriarchal system of oppression that represents the collective consciousness of many in this nation.

The struggles of the individual are critical to the collective whole, but when those struggles are reduced to actions of separated individuals and not driven towards a a collective response that can challenge the state and capitalism itself, then your achievements will be limited and largely superficial, failing to address the heart of the crisis.

Strike Debt is an interesting development and extension of the Occupy-related uprisings that occurred in the fall and winter of 2011, yet it falls quite short of being the revolutionary change that we truly need. Debt is present in every worker’s life in many different ways. Most debt is incurred because the system forces us to pay for things that should be guaranteed by right.

We need housing. We need education. We need medical care. We need food and nourishment. Capitalism forces us to pay for things that should be guaranteed, that we should be providing to each other for free through our collective efforts, not by incurring debt to enrich the ruling classes. Strike Debt does little if anything to help s confront this crisis, and just like Occupy, comes quite short of building a true revolutionary situation by refusing to build a mass movement, by employing tctics that individualize the problem, and often becoming demobilizing.

Strike Debt does raise some incredibly important questions about the role of debt in modern society, however, they lack the considerable critique needed to step beyond their limited response and attack the heart of the debt crisis – Capitalism and the class system.


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