Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the Origins of the Occupy Movement

Reading this New York Times editorial, "Occupying the National Debate," it's becoming increasingly clear that very few people now contributing to the mainstream discourse have a clue as to the occupy's movement's raison d'être. I started dealing with the media's cluelessness yesterday at my post, "Hypocritical Occupy Oakland Supporters Denounce Anarchy and Violence of Occupy Oakland Protesters."

The occupiers are fundamentally anarcho-communist revolutionaries. My friend Tania Gail was out to Occupy Philly today, and she comes back with a powerful black-and-white photo-set that captures the more raw collectivist ideologies of the protests:


The Toronto Star has a report up that gets closer to the theme I'm working on here. See: "Occupy Wall Street: The Origins of An Occupation." But as I noted last night, I've been writing on this movement for a couple of years now, since student activists in California and New York appeared to be mobilizing an anti-capitalist revolutionary occupation program. Here's one of the essays I pulled up from some of my previous blogging. See Take the City!, "Let Them Bury Their Dead":
As far as we can tell, the coalition of movement-builders (hereafter abbreviated CoMB), consists of assorted Trotskyists, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists (MLM), anarchists, and radical liberals. While their ideologies are diverse, the CoMB insist that the student movement requires leadership, transparency, clearly-defined goals, and democracy. Their ultimate criterion is quantitative: numbers of protesters, numbers of rallies, numbers of newspapers sold, numbers of endorsements, ratios of disadvantaged to privileged, dollars of damages, etc. They privilege form over content, while largely ignoring the qualitative aspects of collective action and its potential for a revolutionary trajectory. As for the various Leninists, their idealist conceptions of the ‘necessary’ forms of struggle are a-historical caricatures that suit their ideological hang-ups. They would superimpose patterns of revolutionary struggle borne against a Czarist regime almost a century ago onto the decadent capitalism that exists today in New York City.

The CoMB’s elevation of ideal structures and concepts results, at best, in call for a rally or demo with large numbers – at worst, in full-on counterrevolutionary policing of the movement. Leadership of the CoMB kind can just as easily manipulate and suppress as it can do any “good”. The formal preoccupation with transparency, which for many in the CoMB is just a call for democratic-centralism, has the potential to undermine more militant and forward-thinking action, especially in an epoch of growing state repression. The insistence on defining goals often forces people to think within the realm of reform, thereby legitimating bankrupt power in a time of crisis when militancy and direct action are crucial. The fetishization of formal democracy (especially in an environment dominated by ‘experienced organizers’) can undermine autonomous endeavors that may point to novel and potentially effective forms of struggle. And yet, these abstract ideals are accepted without question within the CoMB. We believe that, as always, self-organized workers, students, and the unemployed — in solidarity with one another — will figure out these issues through the course of struggle itself, through their own successes and failures.

In focusing on quantitative criteria as the sine qua non of effective action, the CoMB tow the same line as bourgeois politicians, social scientists and statisticians, and miss the real point. What is far more important than the question of “how many” is the question of “how”: How are these actions manifesting the antagonisms of class society? How is this activity building the preconditions for greater collective action? How are these modes of struggle confronting real material and social needs? How are they contributing to a new repertoire of tactics that address the unique conditions of this era? These lead to other questions: What good is an enormous rally if everyone feels less powerful once it’s over? When does “movement building” actually build movement as opposed to suppressing it? If we apply a critical reading of history, we can see that in many instances more people have been mobilized far more quickly and passionately through collective militant action than through teach-ins, rallies, panel discussions and newspaper articles. The recent uprisings in California are a good example of this.
I think you can see what I mean. I'll be looking around and writing more about this, because the mainstream press sure doesn't get it. And while folks from Barack Obama to Richard Trumka might not know the specifics of these revolutionary collectives --- and they probably don't much care --- they're all too ready to exploit the occupiers to further consolidate and entrench the left-labor coalition and expand middle-class entitlements (which will of course bankrupt the state). These people aren't much better than the Chinese Communist Party elites now getting air purifiers installed at the CCP headquarters in Beijing. Statist leaders simply rape the movement they ostensibly claim to represent. And as for the student anarchists and genuine occupation forces, their movement will last only so long as it doesn't get co-opted and become mainstream. After that, their spontaneous collectives will become institutionalized tyrannies and genocidal bureaucracies. The alleged anti-statists will become statists. Ideologies of pure human freedom will soon give way to the blood of terror. There is no other long-term trajectory. Idealism descends to the misery of death and violence soon enough.