Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 2, 2011

Encounters with Occupy Wall Street

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 11:02 pm

These are some very provisional thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, which is showing signs already of having a rippling effect across America. With recognition by both the protesters and commentators sympathetic and hostile that the Arab Spring has inspired the movement, we are dealing once again with the phenomenon of movements that cross borders, and that can even become global. This is not just something that the Internet has spawned. Back in 1968, when I was about the age of the people occupying Liberty Park, the May-June events in France were midwifed by the American antiwar movement and eventually served as a model for the movement for a “red university” in Yugoslavia.

The most notable aspect of this movement is that is the first to confront the new realities of the economic crisis and to articulate the grievances of the American people without being subject to the constraints of a reformist leadership. Obviously Wisconsin erupted over the same sense of economic resentment but the movement suffered from being under the control largely of the trade union bureaucracy and local Democratic Party officials. Instead of taking on the system full-bore, activists were diverted into a sterile recall campaign. As the activist I interviewed in the video that accompanies this article stated, he is not that interested in “politics”. I had asked him what his political experience amounted to before coming down to Wall Street, assuming that he would talk about Amnesty International or Greenpeace. It turned out that he understood “politics” to refer to ringing doorbells for candidates and he was not having any of that.

The intuition that the activists of Liberty Park had that they were speaking for the “99 percent” of Americans has resonated with the working class in a way that the organized left has never achieved. Starting with the traditionally left-of-center TWU leadership, the OSW activists are on the verge of winning over the heavy battalions of organized labor to their side. This is not because they have any special skills at winning over workers to their side. Rather it is because their action has resonated with deep grievances among working people.

It is also significant that the movement has developed just at the moment that Obama has launched his faux left turn clearly intended to persuade the “professional liberals” that he derided only a year or so ago that they still had reason to “hope”. The young people (and not so young) at Liberty Park appear to have given up on men on horseback.

Much of the left, both of the organized variety and nonaffiliated variety, has voiced qualms of one sort or another about OWS. Mostly they are based on the protesters’ failure to articulate any kind of program or set of demands. To some extent, this is based on their own misgivings about traditional political approaches. You can find the best example of this “reviewer” approach from the ISO’s Lee Sustar who seems to regard the occupation in Liberty Park the way that a professor grades a term paper. To his credit, he gives them what appears to be a B+ but one can’t shake the feeling that he is a bit disappointed:

Nevertheless, there is a question that must be tackled by all participants in the movement: Can the “no demands” approach sustain and develop a movement that’s rapidly spreading across the U.S.?

There are, of course, crucial differences between the global justice movement and the today’s occupations. The late 1990s were years of an economic boom, and those drawn to activism were often students and youth who focused on the environment and the struggles in developing countries against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Unions, focused on trade issues, were also involved. But the alliance of “turtles and Teamsters” didn’t withstand the political pressures of 9/11.

Today, young activists and veteran union members alike confront the prospect of a pathetic economic recovery lapsing back into full-blown recession. Today’s activists aren’t struggling on behalf of their brothers in sisters in Africa or Latin America, the chief focus of the global justice struggle. They’re fighting alongside them against the ravages of a crisis-wracked international capitalist system.

Left-wing writers are therefore right to link Occupy Wall Street with the mass struggles taking place on the streets of Athens, Cairo and Madrid. But it is important to remember that those movements took off as the result of years of smaller struggles–from militant walkouts and workers’ demonstrations in Egypt to the series of general strikes in Greece to the general strike in Spain.

In the U.S., by contrast, the weakness of the labor movement–and the ties of union leaders and liberal groups to the Democratic Party–have led to a low level of struggle in recent years. Demonstrative action by a minority, no matter how committed, can’t substitute for mass action.

So while the creativity, flair and visibility of the occupation movement has been crucial to spreading the struggle, a lot of patient and systematic organizing is necessary, too–as any Egyptian or Greek activist will tell you.

All of Sustar’s points are correct but somewhat beside the point. In all of the struggles he alludes to above, including the ones going back to Seattle, there is a real disconnect between young activists who are seeking fundamental social change and groups like the ISO that see themselves as somehow better qualified to lead such struggles because they have achieved some kind of superior understanding of Marxism or because they are consciously following the example of Lenin or Trotsky rather than the stumbling and tentative experiments of the young people in Liberty Park.

There is a very strong possibility that over the next five years or so the mass movement that is taking shape today might take on epic proportions and mount a serious challenge to the powers-that-be. It will be absolutely incumbent upon Marxists to figure out a way to relate to that movement not as learned professors chiding it from above but as dedicated participants whose loyalties are to the movement rather than their own group. If they can meet that challenge, the movement will be all the more powerful as a result. If they function in a narrow and self-interested manner, they will have nothing to offer. As someone who has been impressed with the relative open-mindedness and transparency of the ISO, I wish them well.


  1. I went down down to the encampment today. It was really exciting and inspiring. Recommended for all NYCers.

    Comment by ish — October 2, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  2. Hey it’s Binh, I thought he died.

    Comment by Marcell Rodden — October 2, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

  3. That’s wonderful and I hope it goes national.

    It’s a great day for us dissenters.


    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 2, 2011 @ 11:28 pm

  4. Occupy Nashville just had its first organizing meeting. That’s right. Nashville, Tennessee! My cynical heart melts.

    Comment by Edward — October 3, 2011 @ 12:29 am

  5. Nashville really? I have high hopes it will reach my bourgeois state of Connecticut.

    We have a growing homeless and food bank client population so it is very possible.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 3, 2011 @ 12:39 am

  6. Deborah-

    Two events are being planned for CT. http://www.occupytogether.org/events/northeast/connecticut/. If you spend even half the time organizing as you do commenting on Louis’s blog, I know the event will be a success.

    Comment by justin — October 3, 2011 @ 2:12 am

  7. [“…this movement… is the first to confront the new realities of the economic crisis and to articulate the grievances of the American people without being subject to the constraints of a reformist leadership.”]

    It’s that fact that portends the potential of the beginning of the most epic social transformation of our lifetimes.

    What’s increasingly becoming clear to the 99% today is that it’s an ultimately unavoidable fact that the sustainability of life on this planet requires the immediate curtailing of the madness of military industrial complex and profit driven environmental degradation integral with the current order of crony corporate capitalism.

    With the savings of $2 billion a week for the current foreign wars there’d be even billions more a month saved from the domestic wars on drugs & immigrants & the prison industrial complex with which true deficit reduction can begin alongside the financing of public works projects unprecedented in human history, which owing to modern productivity, will achieve results greater than the pyramids in a tiny fraction of the time.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 3, 2011 @ 3:26 am

  8. Will the movement be able to solidify around a definite programme for change and stand behind a leadership able to effect that change? Here in Greece popular participation in protests is slowly growing (and might explode soon given the obscene tax demands coming into effect now), but my feeling is that people just want to express their anger. They seem to be so disillusioned with any kind of organised politics that I doubt whether they could remain unified if they had to agree on specific policies going forward.

    The idiocy in 2008 was that governments just tried to get back as quickly as possible to how things were before the crash. The problem with the protests now (at least in Greece) is for most people they are all about defending what they had, and insisting on a return to the status quo before the crash. That is impossible.

    How about this as a plank for a genuinely revolutionary movement? An insistence upon a rolling back of affluence in the West (because lets face it, affluence in the West is only possible because of immiseration elsewhere. So we insist on an international system that benefits all and that is sustainable, even if it means we have to make do for the time being with a bicycle, a notebook and pencil in the place of our car and our iPad.

    Comment by Torn Halves — October 3, 2011 @ 11:05 am

  9. Love your conclusion, however preliminary.

    Comment by Cecilieaux Bois de Murier — October 3, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  10. Louis, of course the far left is very small in most countries, we all know that– there are big historical reasons for that which nothing to do with self-isolation but with neoliberalism, the legacy of Stalinism, anti-communism, etc. But small doesn’t necessarily mean disconnected. The Revolutionary Socialists group in Egypt, which is part of the IS tendency, has played a modest but extremely valuable role in the Egyptian revolution and they continue to. They are deeply rooted in the workers’ and youth movement and helped start the Democratic Workers Party.

    On still quite pre-revolutionary terrain, the ISO in NYC has worked very hard from the very beginning in Occupy Wall Street, and ISO members are doing their best to help initiate OWS in many cities. The ISO has helped OWS get labor support and connect with the fight to stop Troy Davis’ execution. You talk about the “next five years” and this is *exactly* what Lee has in mind as well, I think. Part of the job of socialists is to help people understand that building a mass movement is about the long haul– we can’t get discouraged by setbacks or expect the revolution next week. I think it’s useful to try to help people have some perspective about that.

    The debate over making demands is a serious live debate in OWS. Go to the GAs and talk to people about this, please. The “no demands” current is a minority but a very hardcore anarchist current indeed exists that we need to fraternally debate with. Taking a position and debating within the movement, as Lee– and Binh, and many others–have done, is not the least bit elitist.

    As for your accusation about the ISO’s “superior understanding,” can we please put a moratorium on cheap-shots? Really, this is not the way to draw ISO members into a real dialogue, I promise. We can learn from both the Marxist tradition and a new radical movement, we do not need to counter-pose them.

    Comment by Andrew — October 3, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

  11. The debate over making demands is a serious live debate in OWS.

    There is a problem, however. The OWS activists expect their decisions to be based on discussions/debates that the General Assembly hosts. But the ISO makes its decisions internally and then presents them to the OWS. This is at the heart of the “Marxist-Leninist” problematic that can only be resolved on a higher level. If and when a real mass movement evolves nationally, the ISO will be challenged to rethink its organizational principles. I honestly hope that it makes the right decision.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 3, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  12. Looks like their grade has gone from B+ to A:

    The professorial tone Louis touches on is just a symptom of the disconnect. S.W. does not even have visible links to the national Occupy (fill in your town here) movement on its website, nor anything pointing people to the General Assembly where the minutes of its meetings are posted. It was almost two weeks after the Saturday September 17 demonstration when the first mention of the protest appeared on their website: http://socialistworker.org/2011/09/28/spotlight-on-wall-street-greed

    Much of what I have read from Doug Henwood, Richard Seymour, and groups like the ISO falls into the category of “beside the point.” The discussion around demands is a case in point.

    Most or half of the people who spoke “against” demands in the working group meeting were in favor of what they termed goals, but we, on the Old Left, use the word “demands” for what they call “goals.” They see demands as begging the powers that be to take action on our behalf, whereas goals are something we set for ourselves and that we achieve by our own actions, our own self-activity. We don’t beg for change, we make it, we take it, we are it. That is the sense of it. And that is where the whole element of “prefiguring the new society” comes in. This is the closest thing any of us have experienced to mass democracy, to what the Russians called soviets, the Iranians called shoras, etc.

    Can we blame people who have spent their whole lives listening to professional liars (i.e. politicians like Obama) tell us to vote for them so they can “fight for the middle class” once they get into the White House declare that General Assemblies are direct democracy, without leaders, without any checks and balances against what we, the people, want? If we do, we deserve to be ignored.

    As I said in my first report on Occupy Wall Street, the important thing is that people are in motion. Who set them into motion? Experienced activists coming out of Bloombergville organizing, most of them influenced by anarchist ideas. Given the sterility of the Old Left and its inability to get larger, newer forces into motion in a meaningful, it’s not hard to see why this it the case. Not having demands from the outset was a brilliant move to draw people in, give them ownership over a developing movement, let them participate and shape the thing as they see fit. The statement of grievances is magnificent, all-encompassing, but at the same time, not exclusive: http://www.dangerousminds.net/comments/first_official_statement_from_the_occupy_wall_street_movement/

    One thing I left out of my “Two Rallies” report is that I spotted the ISO “intervention” near the 1 Police Plaza train station. They had a meeting to discuss their “intervention” (nothing screams outsider like “intervening;” imperialists intervene in Third World countries, Democrats intervene in our movement) and began walking towards Liberty Plaza. By the time they did that, the front of the march was making its way up Broadway past part of City Hall. In terms of an organized presence, they missed both the 1 Police Plaza rally and the human subway car that was Liberty Park, at least from what I saw. Maybe they led the “students and labor can shut the city down” chant at the end of the merger of the two rallies, I don’t know.

    I don’t know how involved they have been in OWS, but it is not readily apparent. I don’t think they were central to OWS taking up Troy Davis — I saw Troy Davis signs at the protest on the first Monday they were in the park (an International Action Center sign I think). A young black woman led chants for him on the Tuesday or Wednesday after that when I was walking by after work.

    The real danger is that the Old Left’s preconceptions and stubbornness will become a real block to the movement as it is being born. I have heard that there have been some very divisive fights in other cities at organizing meeting over whether or not to have demands and how radical they should be. Should we debate anarchists and liberals on these issues? Of course. But not at the movement’s expense. Sometimes you just have to accept that people coming into motion for the first time are going to have positions that to us seem awful. So what. The only people who don’t make mistakes are the ones who don’t get out there and fight these things out and learn from the mistakes. The biggest mistake the Old Left can make is to fight to the death over an issue that will arise organically down the road, after the movement has been born and learned to take some baby steps. The last thing we need is an abortion due to insufficiently socialist/Marxist positions.

    Comment by Binh — October 3, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  13. ^- To be clear, I’m part of the Old Left even though I’m “only” 28. I think 12 years (many of them inactive due to life circumstances) qualifies me for this designation.

    Comment by Binh — October 3, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  14. Also worth considering that there has been an emerging protest movement in the prisons, with another hunger strike in the California prison system, after an earlier one this year and one in Georgia last December. It is being reported that prisoners in states other than California are now participating in it. I consider this development as equally significant as what is transpiring in NYC.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 3, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  15. Binh I’m not going to enter into a long exchange with you about the ISO, I think both of our time can be better spent building the movement. But thanks for your really solid reporting. Louis, it seems you’re steering back to well-rehearsed arguments. I disagree but give you an A for consistency 🙂 & share your hope that socialists can rise to meet the challenges of a promising new movement.

    Comment by Andrew — October 3, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

  16. Andrew, we have to be able to do more than one thing at a time. This isn’t “build the movement” versus “criticize the ISO” (since I got my training and experience through the organization it will probably forever be my point of reference politically, just as it is with Louis and the American SWP. Neither of us wish to see either group fail, make mistakes, or do things that are counterproductive for our side). What I wrote here was my observations i.e. “solid reporting”.

    Comment by Binh — October 3, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

  17. “But the ISO makes its decisions internally and then presents them to the OWS.”

    To think that the various anarchist cliques present at Occupy Wall Street don’t do exactly the same thing but with less accountability to their memberships is naive, bordering on fostering political illusions.

    The discussion re ‘goals’ and ‘demands’ seems semantic. Binh’s characterisation of ‘goals’ also seems dangerously close to becoming a label for attempting the side-step the issue of state power. The soviets not only established their own ‘goals’, they directly counterposed them to that of the Russian state and were aware of the consequences of that situation.

    I’m not sure how you can fight for the leadership of a movement without a clearly defined set of demands (or goals, if you will), otherwise how will people be able to judge what you stand for and whether you are worth joining?

    Comment by Chav — October 4, 2011 @ 3:23 am

  18. @Chav: have you considered that OWS is aiming to get people to join because they have frustrations to express, not to propose demands that these people may or may not agree with? i think you are underestimating the extent to which the democratic process is central to anarchism and the extent to which the organizers of OWS want to create a forum for expression, not a trebuchet to propel a particular set of demands they have. of course there are anarchists with their own views on what is to be done, but most anarchists i know relish the chance to participate in direct democracy.

    Comment by nathan tankus — October 4, 2011 @ 4:03 am

  19. 18. Sure Nathan, and they come to the discussion, either as individuals or as groups, with some idea of what they want to see happen. However for some reason Louis seems to want to deny this right to groups like the ISO. Perhaps he would also insist that any union delegations be barred because they consult their members and receive directions outside the discussions at the Occupy Wall Street camp?

    Comment by Chav — October 4, 2011 @ 4:20 am

  20. @18. further on your main point Nathan, what is the point of expressing frustration and participating in discussion unless you are attempting to find a solution to what frustrates you?

    Comment by Chav — October 4, 2011 @ 4:22 am

  21. Funny, I usually don’t agree much with that curmudgeon Louis Proyect, but here I find myself in full agreement.

    One of Louis’s observations, “But the alliance of “turtles and Teamsters” didn’t withstand the political pressures of 9/11,” is precisely a key “lesson” I draw from analyzing the effects of 9/11 in my new pamphlet “West Nile Story: Hysteria & Secrecy in the Run-Up to 9/11” — and I go into some detail there to show how that happened. (If you haven’t seen it and would like a copy, I’ll e-mail a PDF to you on request.)

    – Mitchel Cohen
    Brooklyn Greens/Green Party

    Comment by Mitchel Cohen — October 4, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  22. @Chav. a few points. first i think what Louis is arguing here is that the fundamental difference between these groups is that one is trying to co-opt a consensus forming body for their own ideological agenda, while for the other, the consensus forming body IS a large part of their ideological agenda. i also don’t see this piece as demanding the “barring” of the ISO or other “old” left organizations but rather asking them to concede a point they disagree on for the sake of the movement. in other words, asking them to cede (but still participate in) to the concept of consensus making. i think that is important and is something worth saying (and applies to all outside groups).

    on to the main point. Frankly, from your comments it doesn’t seem like your very familiar with anarchist decision making theory. this is understandable. however, i think that lack of background in this literature coupled with your background in socialist/marxist decision making theory is hindering your ability to understand OWS. they of course want to find solutions. however, they think that people need to start trying to build the world they want to see in (admittedly small) practice before they know what kind of demands they want to make. this process of organizing living in, and protesting on wall street is part of that. if they don’t start developing demands in the weeks ahead i will be the first one to push OWS to start producing “goals” (demands, or whatever you want to call them). in the mean time however, i think we should give OWS the space to grow and do their thing. you may be surprised at the results.

    Comment by nathan tankus — October 4, 2011 @ 6:02 am

  23. I go both ways on the “demands” thing. As one occupyer told me, “If we make demands, that recognizes the legitimacy of those in power to address those demands, instead of challenging their authority altogether.”

    My thought at the moment (subject to change) is that certain types of specific protests need demands, but not every social movement needs to have them. I think back to the decades of “Mission” statements, internecine arguments over each and every nuance of demands, and I wonder how many people actually remember the narrow points over which they threw their (our) whole lives into arguing?

    It’s very good — at least for the moment — to have created the space that other groups and movements can rally around and feed off of.

    Comment by Mitchel Cohen — October 4, 2011 @ 6:28 am

  24. If you want a popular movement, then eschew demands and goals (Beat Zen: “How can I fail when I have no goals?”), and welcome everyone’s venting on anything. If you want an effective movement, define a few clear goals that can focus whatever independent action a participant might choose to take. It is possible to have goal-oriented leaderless movements.

    That specific goals may dissuade portions of the public from joining a focused movement does not imply that this movement is necessarily weakened by their absence. Clearly, any goalless movement would lose many of its participants if it ever tried to focus its people-power into specific work (e.g., political) for specific ends (e.g., a legislative agenda).

    If the Occupy Everywhere movement relaxes into just public tantrum crowd scenes, unhappy with everything and wanting it all fixed, somehow, right away — “back to the way I imagine now it should have been” — then all we have is a fuzzy leftward reflection of the Tea Party. It is a pipe dream to imagine such an eruption of individual frustrations en masse to alter relationships of power defining the U.S. government and U.S. social structure. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” was effortlessly co-opted, remember?

    I realize what a seductive dream the dream of revolution is. The revolutions in the Arab Spring of 2011 were goal oriented movements. The goal was always some national variation of: get rid of our dictator, his repressive government and his corrupt cronies, and make a government of our own people. Legitimate successor governments would necessarily be democratic, because the revolutionary movements were broad-based, so a wide variety of “our people” would be in them. The liberation movements between Tunisia and Syria each advanced its revolution differently, because different national circumstances dictated different tactics. The people in all those countries certainly recognize that they share a common goal. Tactics are simply practicality responding to localized necessity, to advance a vision.

    For the Occupy movement to accomplish anything lasting, it will have to filament into goal oriented projects running in parallel; it will have to get political. It is not as exciting or romantic to think about morphing the big demonstration into a Public Citizen (the Ralph Nader network), and/or an ACLU (civil rights), and/or a Planned Parenthood (reproductive rights), etcetera multi-pronged goal oriented “Popular Front”, instead of recreating another “ten days that shook the world” you personally are swept into as the next John Reed (or Yavgrev Zhivago,… or Strelnikov).

    The goalless “gathering of the tribes” is fine for raising consciousness. But actual social, economic and political change can only occur when that consciousness is directed into disciplined action.

    Social issues can be addressed most effectively when the economics of the country are repaired so people have employment, and from that (family income) a sense of security.

    Our problem is that the U.S. financial system is skewed to enable high stakes gambling by plutocrats, which disables this system from financing a people-oriented economy. In addition, our mechanism for political succession is corrupted by the influence of money; voting is bought, and government is skewed toward the interests of the plutocrats.

    So the overall goal is: devise a stable full employment economy, and minimize social inequities within it.

    To do that we have to:
    — reform the financial industry (to serve a people’s democracy), and
    — reform the financing of political campaigns (so people have equal votes, and capital has none).

    If you accept these generalities, then we ask: what specific actions have the greatest potential to produce the desired effects? I see four:

    1) Repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (return the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 to its pre-1999 completeness),

    2) Vigorous prosecutions (in the finance industry) by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild),

    3) Enact a financial transaction tax (financial industry payback to the public for the unnecessary long-term “austerity” it caused)

    4) Overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, (remove corporate personhood, which allows unlimited corporate funding of political campaigns).

    Item 1 would create jobs by preventing a speculation-fueled banking collapse, as happened in 1929-32 and 2007-2008. The Glass-Steagall Act was passed in 1933, requiring that commercial banks, which finance job creation by financing people and businesses locally with loans fully backed by real collateral and adequate reserves, could not loan its funds to any investment bank a.k.a stock speculator and/or venture capitalist. So, commercial banks could not be busted by the bursting of speculative bubbles. Also, any government stimulus that is funneled through commercial banks only, would necessarily create jobs. Without Glass-Steagall, the TARP stimulus was kept by the “investment” part of banking corporations, and not passed along as “consumer credit”. (I have a longer essay on item 1, an expansion of earlier comments elsewhere in The U.M.; but I have not been able to find a URL home for this essay. If interested, I’ll e-mail you a copy.)

    Item 2 is an obvious “bring in the outlaws” goal.

    Item 3 is a simple sales tax on stock trading. Since trading is now all on-line, this would be an automatic internet tax. Such a tax was proposed for the Euro zone last week by Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission: “It’s a question of fairness. It is time for the financial sector to make a contribution back to society.” This is a mechanism for returning public “bail outs” of (and bonuses for) the speculation industry (e.g., TARP) back to the public, which has been saddled with the fiscal and social costs of the financial system collapse.

    Item 4 is the obvious fix of government necessary to enable uncorrupted politics to take place. Politics is hostage today.

    The four items address the overall goal as follows.

    Item 1 addresses: devising a stable full employment economy.

    Items 1, 2 and 3 address: reforming the financial industry (to serve a people’s democracy).

    Item 4 addresses: reforming the financing of political campaigns (so people have equal votes, and capital has none).

    Specific goals stated as I have, may seem narrow. But they are key points that branch off with many implications. Do you think so many kinds of people would be gathering in so many cities, as “occupiers” distressed by the outlook in 2011 (our time’s melancholy inversion of Woodstock) if Glass-Steagall had never been repealed in 1999?

    In the 3rd year of the Great Depression, 1932, Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt, by 1933 the Glass-Steagall Act reforming banking was law, and Prohibition was repealed.

    In the 3rd year of the New Great Depression, 2011, our finance industry continues unrestricted by Glass-Steagall, Republicans have a good chance of gaining more control of government, and Tea Parties are brewing a batch of new social prohibitions for us all. Blogging in private, and venting pointlessly in public will not do anything lasting. Disciplined action in organized movements can. “Don’t mourn, organize.”

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 4, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  25. Back in 1968, when I was about the age of the people occupying Liberty Park, the May-June events in France were midwifed by the American antiwar movement and eventually served as a model for the movement for a “red university” in Yugoslavia.

    The battles of anti-imperialism in 68 grew out of the Civil Rights struggle of a few years prior. In turn those who cut their teeth organizing against the imperialist slaughter in Viet Nam were the ones to found he next wave of feminist struggles, gay rights struggles, environmental struggles a couple of years thereafter. Like flowers blooming under the canopy of a tree, one movement nurtures the next.

    But no mention of the Prague Spring crushed by imperialist Russian tanks. Disgusting. You have demonstrated that you have nothing to contribute.

    Comment by howeird beale — October 4, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  26. Chav, based on my observations, I see no evidence of anarchists meeting beforehand to present their demands or “line” to the General Assembly. The people leading this thing generally don’t even agree among themselves about much of anything besides the process. The General Assembly process is very dynamic, open, and creative. It does not lend itself to the kind of canned “interventions” that groups like the ISO rely on to influence movements in a particular direction. For what this looks like in practice, see my reports: http://www.indypendent.org/?pagename=author_search&a=Pham%20Binh The ISO can “intervene” all it wants, but I can guarantee you no one will listen unless what they’re saying actually corresponds to the movement’s needs and feelings.

    Furthermore Chav, you have completely failed to grasp what the demonstrators are talking about with the goals/demands distinction. Writing it of as “semantics” demonstrates a complete unwillingness to listen to what people are actually saying and why. You are under the illusion that state power is up for grabs here. It’s not.

    Nathan is absolutely right. It may be hard to believe, but we Marxists have a lot to learn from the anarchist-inspired leaders of OWS. They are leading and organizing the masses. We would do well to open our ears and minds if we hope to do anything beyond making facile criticisms from the sidelines.

    Comment by Binh — October 4, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  27. No, anarchists are not meeting together in groups and deciding amongst themselves what they want to argue in this movement– ie. a “line”. Nobody has observed that. Anarchists are “leading the masses” by their purely individual creative powers. Same with the unions and community organizations, who also rely upon pure spontaneity. It’s only organized socialists who do this, making their “facile criticisms from the sidelines.”

    Talk about a canned intervention!

    Comment by Andrew — October 4, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  28. @ Andrew i find it difficult to believe that you know any anarchists based on what you are saying. sure there may be some secterians developing “lines” but what i think you’re having difficulty with is the process itself is the “line” for anarchists.

    Comment by nathan tankus — October 4, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  29. Andrew, anyone who has actually participated in the General Assembly process would know that what I am saying is correct. This is based on observations, nothing more. The working groups that are open to anyone (I chaired a meeting just by sitting down when it began) are where many of the agenda items and actions are hammered out. That’s not the same thing as what you are talking about. I guess since I was in a working group, that makes me an anarchist and I helped them develop “their” line?

    Comment by Binh — October 4, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  30. That the anarchists are leading this is indisputable. How can anyone contest this point? And who said anything about spontaneous? Certainly not me. They are very organized and they plan actions as carefully as it is possible to do for a few dozen people to lead a mass movement of thousands (Louis reported tens of thousands marching on Saturday. That there were so few arrests despite not having a permit, being a small core of organizers leading that many people, is one hell of an achievement!)

    And yes, their creativity has helped them immensely, allowing them to avoid the mistake of setting a movement’s demands in advance of the actual development of a movement. First you have to get people in motion against the system before you can raise the discussion of what we’re fighting for. People began protesting the Viet Nam war because they knew it was wrong somehow before the took positions on immediate versus phased withdrawal, negotiations with the National Liberation Front versus complete self-determination for Viet Nam. It’s really not that much different here.

    Comment by Binh — October 4, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  31. Just a word or two about anarchists. Although I have been highly critical of them in the past, it was mostly on the problem of adventurism–the black bloc specifically. As I understand it, the anarchist movement has engaged in a soul-searching over this and seems mostly to have evolved beyond it. I think that is very good. In the early stages of a struggle, especially of an “extra-parliamentary” character, it does not really matter if you are inspired by Marx or Bakunin. If we ever reach the point where we are facing the issues that the Spanish left faced in 1937, then they will of course have to be aired out. But for the time being, I don’t care what “ism” the OSW embraces as long as it continues to conduct a struggle that apparently can reach working people in the way that it does.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 4, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  32. That’s right. At this historic juncture a good dose of the masses experiencing anarchist democracy & community is the best antidote to a reformist takeover.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 4, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  33. At the risk of sounding new agey, I think we are living through something that is transcending the old left categorizations. But if there is a consistent thread running through all protest these days, it is the embrace of collective, collaborative forms of decisionmaking that involve as many people as possible. That’s essential for two reasons: first, to motivate them to participate and continue doing so, and second, to enable them to politically and emotionally evolve based upon their experience and the experiences of those around them. It is this synergy that gives me some hope that a new left is making its way onto the stage. Although I haven’t seen it reported, I’m guessing that feminists, of the radical kind, are playing an essential, positive role, as they have in anti-authoritarian scenes elsewhere, such as Greece, where they criticized the machismo of those who gave a privileged position to violent struggles with the police.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 4, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  34. Hey Richard, please provide more info on the radical feminists’ critique of the machismo in Greece …. Thanx.

    Comment by Mitchel Cohen — October 4, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  35. Mitchel, here are a few of things:

    See pp. 32-34 of “We Are An Image from the Future”, an anthology about the 2008 protests in Greece released by AK Press in 2010, an article by Iulia entitled “Do join the party to fuck or do you fuck to join the Party?” and also,pp. 303-305, “I feel lucky to be living in these times”.

    Go to p. 247: “Kill the Sexist in Your Head-the menses flow”, a communique released by an Athens anti-sexist group

    For a more general critique beyond questions about violence, see pp. 248-260, see an article by Sissy Doutsio of the Void Network, “The Limitations of Anti-Sexism”. While it does not concretely confront the issue, as Iulia does, one can easily construe it as implicitly considering the machismo of those who act violently as something that needs to be addressed. But it does also deal with a lot things that would be directly pertinent to what is now transpiring in NYC.

    Also worth noting that there are other articles in the book wherein women considered their violent street resistance as liberating, so it is not a simple black or white issue, with women stereotyped as “non-violent” and men as “violent”.

    That’s what I can easily find now. A search of the Internet will probably find other instances of it as well.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 4, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  36. Richard, Just a quick comment from Greece. The stuff you refer to is just so peripheral it is hardly worth mentioning. The culture here across the board is still very traditional. People only left their villages one or two generations ago. You can’t expect much radical feminism from Greece. The big problem in Greece is commodity fetishism. A decade ago the roads were filled with dented old Datsun pick-ups driven by smiling Greeks on the way home from the kafeneio. Now everyone is driving around in huge shiny Toyota Hilux obsenities, not smiling, but tense about how they can keep up the payments. Everyone was in on the game (except maybe a handful of rad-fems). Everyone knows they are deep in it now. They cannot bear the idea of losing the Hilux. The only hope for change will come when there is suddenly a mass decision to say: “F*ck the Hilux. Let’s work for a rebirth of the Greek community.” But I don’t see any signs of that yet. Just people sporadically shouting about refusing to lose what they had (even though they only had it on credit).

    Comment by Torn Halves — October 4, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  37. I’m really arguing about it, just noting that there are radical feminist, queer and transgendered people involved in the movements in Greece, and that they have engaged in a critique of more machismo practices, some related to violence, and I suspect that they are involved here, too. I’d be curious if anyone has looked into it. I’d also be careful about describing it as “peripheral”. Obviously, the feminist, queer and transgendered people in Greece don’t, regardless of whether their numbers are large or small. Much of their critique acknowledges some of what you have said about Greek society.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 4, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  38. oops, meant to say that I’m NOT really arguing about

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 4, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  39. The OWS movement is a fantastic and exciting development and the activists leading it (if I may use that word) are obviously doing a great job.

    I just don’t know why heretofore experienced Leninists are losing their shit over it. Its actually kind of embarrassing.

    I mean, no offence to the movement but we’ve seen this consensus decision making model before, in the last upsurge which was only ten or so years ago and which went by various labels, “anti-globalisation”, “anti-capitalist”, “anti-corporate”. Surely we remember that?

    And surely we remember how sections of the Left liquidated themselves into that movement and thus disappeared when it came a cropper in the face of 9/11 and descended into Black Bloc summit hopping? With the result that these sections of the Left are not around today, or at least lack any bare minimum of organisational weight to intervene in the OWS process.

    Because what you are saying when you are demanding that groups like the ISO drop their “canned” interventions is that they cease operating as an organisation and jettison their politics, and politics is exactly what this movement will need quite urgently if it continues to grow.

    Comment by Chav — October 4, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  40. Because what you are saying when you are demanding that groups like the ISO drop their “canned” interventions is that they cease operating as an organisation and jettison their politics, and politics is exactly what this movement will need quite urgently if it continues to grow.

    The issue is not politics. It is whether “interventions” are suitable for something like OWS. I am afraid that the vanguardist left tends to look at all movements as if they were reformist swamps of the kind that Lenin urged communists to take part in while holding their nose in “Ultraleftism: an Infantile Disorder”. It is one thing to function that way in the Teamsters Union and another in OWS.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 4, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  41. Chav, some of the forms are similar, but the living content is very, very different. This is not a repeat of 10 years ago. Not by a long shot. These people are much, much more serious politically. They are decidedly internationalist, they are pro-union, pro-First World workers, anti-black bloc (OWS working groups already have a plan in place to deal with this crap should it arise), and are trying very hard to reach out to workers, unions, blacks, hispanics, etc. It’s almost like they learned the lessons of that movement without having participated in it (most of the participants were not involved in those protests).

    Louis did not “demand” anything. The reality is that Marxist groups have to listen and merge with the movement if they hope to lead it. If they jump in, guns blazing in an all-out war on the consensus decision-making process they may abort this thing before it is even finished being born.

    “Leninists” are losing their shit precisely because they think this is a repeat of 10 years ago. They need to stop living in the past and “get with the program” instead of trying to fighting with the movement over their preferred movement program. The field is wide open for fruitful collaboration in way that it hasn’t been since the 60s. I hope they don’t screw it up.

    Comment by Binh — October 4, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

  42. I agree with Binh that “I hope they don’t screw it up” but frankly I don’t see any evidence (albeit from afar) of “Leninists are losing their shit.”

    First of all anybody that truly identifies themselves as a “Leninist” is so politically insignificant as not to matter hardly an iota but insofar as as there are still surviving Leninist sects prevalent particularly in NYC — the fact is for them to have survived this long through this degree of post-911 reaction means they are politically street-wise & savvy enough to treat this OWS phenom gingerly as a new born baby.

    Bottom line is the anarchist minded OWS leadership, to the extent there is one, will instinctively know how to separate the wheat from the chaff and the far greater threat to the movement is still reformism on the one hand, and on the other, the fascism of a combination of police crackdowns and the infiltration of police agent provocateurs.

    Just recall the anarchist occupation of Haymarket Square in Chicago and why the World still celebrates May Day.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 12:11 am

  43. I strongly recommend reading Mike Ely’s post on Kasama today:


    It’s apropos.

    Comment by ish — October 5, 2011 @ 12:19 am

  44. Re: #36 TORN HALVES:

    Today on NPR radio they interviewed author Michael Lewis who I must admit was a pretty brilliant speaker. Never heard of him before but he just wrote this book which you can Google called: “Boomerang: Travels through the new 3rd World” which gave a pretty strange & terrible, sad but true explanation of the sociology, politics & economics that’ve lead to the economic crises in Greece, Ireland — and here in the USA. After hearing him speak I’ve put the book on my “must read” list.


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 12:26 am

  45. @41. Binh I am very glad to hear all these things regarding the politics of the OWS activists. And I wasn’t even advocating an “all out attack” on the consensus decision making model, merely expressing surprise that experienced Marxists would fall into the politically backward demand that organisations not be able to argue a line in that decision making process.

    @40. Louis of course the OWS will be, in your words, a “reformist swamp”! Of course there will also be genuinely revolutionary elements, and those in between who are in the process of moving in the one direction or the other, forward or backward and then a greater mass who hold the reformist idea that the system is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed’. Most likely in the camp the proportion of the first and second category will be higher than the last, however this balance will not remain should the movement grow.

    To deny otherwise is to deny reality.

    I am perplexed as to why you would consciously do this. Just because we can name things for what they are does not mean we are then unable to relate successfully to them.

    Comment by Chav — October 5, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  46. [I am afraid that the vanguardist left tends to look at all movements as if they were reformist swamps of the kind that Lenin urged communists to take part in while holding their nose in “Ultraleftism: an Infantile Disorder”.]

    Lou, et al: this is of course a legit concern, however, from everything I’ve gleaned thus far I get a distinct sense (with some ultimately irrelevant exceptions to be sure) that even the conservative old left, owing largely to the obvious fultility of their recent past, is quickly deferring willy nilly to a sense of what Mike Ely illustrates in the article linked by ISH in post # 43.

    Being “afraid” of what the old left thinks is as irrelevant today as what the Wizard of Oz thought when Dorothy was all panicked.

    Right now the OWS movement has nothing to fear but fear itself — along with succumbing to reformist miasma and sabotage by agent provocateurs.

    Long live the Complete Independence of the OWS movement!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 1:28 am

  47. I have to assume that chav is a member or supporter of the British SWP where reformism describes what is in peoples’ minds rather than a political/social formation based on class criteria. In this peculiar ideological framework, a 21 year old Brandeis student camping out in Zuccotti Park who says that he is not necessarily for getting rid of capitalism and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. are defined the same way. I have written about this crazy distinction between “revolutionary” and “reformist” before:


    I come at things from a different angle. I think that the biggest obstacle facing the left today, at least the revolutionary left, is sectarianism. Callinicos seems to worry that if the NPA is not careful, it will go the same route as the SP’s and the CP’s. Fundamentally, I consider this to be a rather idealistic approach to politics. Reformism is not a function of the ideas in peoples’ heads but rather material forces operating in history, including the privileges enjoyed by parliamentarians and trade union bureaucrats. In other words, the Second International degenerated not because of Bernstein’s ideas but because its leaders had become corrupted by their place in society, which made it natural for them to begin thinking like the class enemy. Material reality determines ideas and not the other way around.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2011 @ 1:34 am

  48. Precisely Louis. The silver lining of today’s historical juncture amidst profound capitalist crises & declining empire is twofold. On the one hand the trade union bureaucracy has been so utterly decimated by their brown nosing reformism that they have about as much influence as what’s on the other hand, the decimated left sectarians, with their quibblings over the thicknesses of blades of grass.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 5:43 am

  49. @43

    One day back in the 1969, my girlfriend was very melancholy for some unknown reason. I tried being solicitous, asking if she was alright, if something had happened, if I could do something for her; and eked out minimal factual data regarding the causes for her state of mind. I kept gently excavating for information to work on, to act in some way to lift her sadness. I was listening to her (“men don’t listen”), I was patient (this took hours), I was attentive (no reading books, no watching TV, no drinking beer), and I was getting nowhere.

    Finally, I asked one question too much, and she burst out at me: “I don’t want you to solve my problem! I want to emote!”

    Aha! Satori. She wanted the comfort of uncritical fully focused human attention. She wanted me, as a representative of humanity, to acknowledge the existence of her wounded psyche. Once the balm of psychic solidarity had reduced the swelling of painful emotions, she would be ready for me to interact with her on the material plane of getting things done to solve the problem. In fact there was nothing to be done, materially, in this case. Once the emoting was completed, the associated material problem was trivial and quickly disposed of.

    I’ve applied this lesson many times since then, with a variety of people, and where the associated material problems were sometimes significant. The principle: people want to be acknowledged (consciously and empathetically, not merely abstractly and objectively) before allowing you to enter into matters that affect their self-image.

    Cats that jump into your lap and purr when you’re down, apply this principle with exquisite finesse. Many husbands and wives have learned how to maintain shared happiness with similar practice. Doctors with good bedside manners apply the principle to improve the delivery of their care. And, it is very probable that the people for whom the petals of awareness are unfolding while new insights about themselves and their world rush in, releasing pain but gaining new vision, and who are resonating materially with these thoughts and feelings by assembling with Occupy Wall Street (& America), are not yet ready to finish emoting, and boil down their transcendental experiences into material “needs” and “wants” and “goals” and “demands”. Depending on the outsider’s agenda, this emoting is either colic, or meditation, or a vision quest, or an evangelical spell, or just an cover for hooky.

    When you care for the people, you can wait till they’re ready to explain themselves. It doesn’t take too long before people talk about what they want. I can wait (up to a point).

    But, the mainstream media is impatient with OWS during its birthing “trip”, because this media has to feed a ravenous 24 hour instant news devouring beast, yet avoid reporting uncomfortable truths about the domestic powers. The flowering of OWS is rich in visuals yet nearly absent of audio that can pass through the American Orwellian news filters. So, there results a hounding for sound-bite “demands” that can fill the audio tracks of the one minute news blurbs.

    I think, in time the OWS movement will evolve into political directions, of necessity, in order to produce material effects that respond to the participant’s guiding visions (their thoughts and feelings, their needs and wants). Like many, I have opinions on what some of those political directions and material actions and effects should be. When the emoting is over, and the OWS Nation (The People’s New Bonus Army?) gets into its material phase, I hope they consider my crib sheets.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 5, 2011 @ 7:42 am

  50. Chav, please show me where myself or Louis said no socialist organization should “be able to argue a line” at Occupy Wall Street?

    Creating a politically homogeneous group around revolutionary principles has been tried. The German SPD’s 1891 Erfurt program said the organization was dedicated to fighting all oppression and exploitation and ending class society en toto.
    The British SWP like the rest of the “Leninist” left, does not understand what reformism is, where it comes from, or how to deal with it.

    Comment by Binh — October 5, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  51. Last evening, economist Rick Wolff gave an INCREDIBLE talk at Occupy Wall Street, with around 400 people listening and shouting out every phrase and sentence so that others in the back could hear (the “people’s megaphone”). It took a few minutes for Rick to get used to breaking his speech into shorter clips for the repeat, but once he picked up the cadence it was an ASTOUNDING performance and very sharp analysis of why capitalism has “failed”.

    I was standing up there near Rick on the top of the steps (appropriated as an urban amphitheatre) and so could clearly hear (and repeat) what he was saying. I envisioned Rick as Ernest Everhard in Jack London’s “The Iron Heel”, taunting the capitalists over why they couldn’t get their own system to work. The questions and answers were a model for radicals on how to answer. Al Jazeera and several others video’d the whole thing. I urge everyone to watch this if you can find it online!

    Every evening at 6 pm an invited activist or academic speaks in an Open Forum. Tonight (Wednesday), Naomi Klein is scheduled ….

    So come out TODAY, Wednesday, 4:30 pm in Foley Square to join the large labor march on Wall St. in support of the Occupation. (They tell us “get a job”. We tell them, “we already have an occupation”! 🙂 )


    Comment by Mitchel Cohen — October 5, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  52. I finally ran into a socialist group today at OWS — the SPUSA. They almost tricked me into thinking capitalism could be reformed through the ballot box. It was horrifying! Surely they will lead OWS to defeat!!

    Actually I had a good conversation with the chair of the local. I asked her about what they’re involved with and was told they are campaigning to get a bill passed in the city council that would force government contractors to pay a living wage ($11-$13 an hour), Immokalee worker solidarity work, and they were involved in anti-budget cuts/Bloombergville stuff months ago. When asked how SPUSA’s relations are with other socialist groups, she said “frenemies”. I asked if the ISO fell into that category and she reluctantly admitted that to be the case. She was quick to add that the ISO has many good people, not something a hardline sectarian would concede to. They are on good terms with DSA (no surprise).

    I asked if it was true that SPUSA would refuse to support candidates on other ballot lines (like the Greens), she explained to me that it was a local decision and that nationally it would be highly unlikely that all the locals would endorse a national candidate. She pointed to the fact that Howie Hawkins is a member (this I did not know) and that the local backed him when he ran for governor on the Green ticket.

    She went on to emphasize that locals have autonomy, that individuals can publicly disagree with the party’s decisions, and that the organization is transparent and democratic (I guess those are the main grips of all the ex-ISO people they have). The irony in all this is that SPUSA is a lot more like the RSDLP than the ISO is. They definitely seemed happily at home in the throng of humanity in the park. That place is brimming with optimism and hope. For once, I’m glad I work nearby.

    Comment by Binh — October 5, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  53. @50. ‘There is a problem, however. The OWS activists expect their decisions to be based on discussions/debates that the General Assembly hosts. But the ISO makes its decisions internally and then presents them to the OWS.’

    Binh please see Louis’ comment @11. I am assuming that if Louis sees the ISO arguing its line in the OWS General Assembly as a problem then he thinks that it is something that should not continue.

    ‘Creating a politically homogeneous group around revolutionary principles has been tried.’
    And will continue to be tried until successful. If the OWS creates a spontaneous, leaderless uprising that challenges and wins state power I will more than happily join it. In the meantime I will stick with a century or more of hard won political lessons.

    ‘The British SWP like the rest of the “Leninist” left, does not understand what reformism is, where it comes from, or how to deal with it.’

    Please feel free to enlighten me. Seriously, if you would provide some links I would be more than happy to follow them up. I only hope you are not referring to the Democratic Socialist Perspective’s enthusiastic embrace of the Socialist Alliance, both organisations being little more than rumps now.

    Comment by Chav — October 5, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  54. Chav, comment 11 says nothing about preventing, banning or barring the ISO from being able to argue their “line”. You misrepresented what Louis said.

    The Bolsheviks were not a homogeneous group or tendency and that’s what helped them win state power. You are welcome to continue the centuries long tradition of the socialist sects preaching the “true doctrine” that some day the workers will embrace. Not one of them has taken power, but many have dreamed.

    I know very little about the DSP or the SA (I’m guessing this is Australia you’re talking about). I do know the British SWP has practically self-destructed and there are at least a handful of groups with virtually identical IST politics operating in the U.K. If you think that is success, I’d hate to see failure. Are there any hard-won lessons from the British SWP’s self-destruction we can learn Chav?

    Comment by Binh — October 5, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  55. Binh you are correct Louis did not call for the ISO to be banned from arguing their line at the OWS. He did however see it as a problem, which I assume he would like to see rectified. I also assume he would like to see unions also not arguing a democratically agreed upon position at the OWS.

    That what allowed the Bolsheviks to win state power was their heterogeneity is a novel idea. Presumably then the Mensheviks came second due to their authoritarian conformity?

    As far as I am aware the SWP (UK) is now much smaller than it should be precisely for the reasons I have mentioned above, liquidationism and impatience. Witness the spectacular implosions of RESPECT and the Socialist Alliance.

    Comment by Chav — October 6, 2011 @ 12:50 am

  56. Chav, I guess you are not aware that Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev all represented somewhat distinct tendencies within the party in the 1917-1921 years?

    You want an ideologically homogeneous socialist group? The Stalinists tried to build monolithic parties. It didn’t work out for them. Some Trotskyists tried it too, with even worse results.

    Comment by Binh — October 6, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  57. […] of an excellent discussion of what #OWS goals or demands might look like, at the excellent blog, “The Unrepentant Marxist”. “If you want a popular movement, then eschew demands and goals (Beat Zen: “How can I fail […]

    Pingback by Some Common Sense Possible Objectives for #OWS | Thurman's Notebook — October 6, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

  58. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 8, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

  59. spamming multiple websites that talk about occupy wall street with your own two-bit “marxist” analysis is the kind of self promotion and importance this protest is trying to keep down. criticizing what you’ve “heard” are the positions of various “occupy wall street” protesters isn’t a worthwhile project. not to mention the fact that you’re wrong, wall street IS in important place where many decisions about how the world economy is going to function are made. just because capitalism is a global phenomenon doesn’t mean capitalist power is equally distributed geographically, which you seem to naively believe. maybe you qualify this in your post, but i refuse to support such crass self promotion on the backs of occupy wall street.

    Comment by nathan tankus — October 8, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  60. Ross is a Platypussy, btw.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  61. Why is everything written by anyone in or about Platypus so narcissistically poisonous and revolting? Is it trying to kill off what’s left of the left?

    Occupy Wall Street should be an occasion for hope and celebration by anyone who considers themselves a leftist. I’m 52 and this is easily the most exciting thing to happen in twenty-five years. Now is not the time to bombard this nascent movement with sectarianism and doctrinal Marxist esoterica.

    What is the absolute biggest problem in the US that the left has confronted for decades? The fact that working people don’t think of themselves as a class that is organizable as a class for class interests. Here’s something that chips away at that fundamental blockage in consciousness and some morons with a bunch of unreadable academic texts causing blockages up their backsides want to fucking complain about it? Idiots. Traitorous idiots.

    What was the transitional program trying to achieve? A way for revolutionaries to get in the trenches with ideas that made sense to people with the consciousness they have to bridge the gap to greater revolutionary understanding that will push the movement leftward, ultimately to challenge the class currently holding power. (Note to Spartacist idiots: that doesn’t mean putting the whole transitional program on one sign. That is why the crowds at Occupy Wall Street are passing you by.) To coin a phrase — thank you Mr. Mao — let us determine the principle contradictions and figure out how revolutionaries can make our ideas useful to the people in motion. That includes knowing when to shut up.

    Comment by ish — October 8, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  62. @58 through 61

    Following the June Seventeenth uprising
    the secretary of the Writers’ League
    had leaflets distributed on Stalin Allee
    where one could read that the people
    had forfeited the confidence of the government
    and could regain it only through redoubled efforts.
    Wouldn’t it be simpler under these circumstances
    for the government to dissolve the people
    and elect another one?

    — Berthold Brecht (1953)

    The public assembled as Occupy Everywhere is unlikely to be focused on the array of impotent suitors vying to be their leadership. Hence, they are unsuitable to the vanguards-in-waiting.

    The Occupy Everywhere people will “follow” the most compelling vision that they can all come to individually. So, it is more useful (to the public) for armchair observers to discuss publicly the possible contents of such vision (– from the people’s perspective –), than which of these armchair factions should lead (or drive) what they thus treat as a human herd.

    [Below, from October 8, 2011 comment #15 at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-people-cry-out-against-the-new-great-depression/#comments%5D

    [In response to] “Yes, but if we don’t have social policy as a core demand, where would the money actually go?”

    OWS is a demonstration of a popular desire for a different kind of American society. What would that be? Obviously, a new economy that supports an all-are-included social contract. A starting point for envisioning such a new economy would be to first understand the assumptions underlying this one, and then consider alternatives. Here are some comments on that, of a generalized nature, which in retrospect suggest why an OWS-type social phenomenon has appeared.

    American Decline
21 January 2011

    A “social policy as a core” is implied in this article.
    [end recycled portion, including crass self promotion]

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 8, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

  63. just because capitalism is a global phenomenon doesn’t mean capitalist power is equally distributed geographically, which you seem to naively believe. maybe you qualify this in your post, but i refuse to support such crass self promotion on the backs of occupy wall street.

    To be sure, the spatial distribution of capital is subject to the Leninist-Trotskyist law of combined and uneven development. This is something Lefebvre points out in The Production of Space (pg. 65). But finance capital is very difficult to pin down to a single locality, even if it has some more regular thoroughfares. Wall Street is certainly a central hub in the circulation of capital. In terms of the debt that the OWS protestors have been clamoring about forgiving, however, no country is watching the situation more closely than the country which owns most of that debt — China.

    ish: If you actually had bothered to read what I wrote, you will notice that I do not heap scorn and criticism on every aspect of OWS. There are clearly aspects of the demonstrations which are problematic and therefore stand in need of criticism. But I believe the “Occupy” movement has a certain degree of potential if the Left learns how to properly exploit it. It is important, for example, that the Left does what it can to keep this from turning into just a farcical repeat of 1968 — or worse yet, Seattle 1999.

    As for the supposedly “narcissistic,” “esoteric,” and “poisonous” elements of what I wrote, you don’t really go into specifics, so it’s hard to know what you’re talking about. Nothing I refer to is all that obscure or ultra-academic, though. The article was featured on the Kasama Project’s website, which has a fairly general readership. But hey, if you’d rather just unreflectively cheerlead this phenomenon no matter where it leads, that’s your funeral.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 9, 2011 @ 1:41 am

  64. Another problem with an “interventionist” approach is that you end up writing articles where you talk at people instead of engage with them. See: http://socialistworker.org/print/2011/10/11/autonomy-zone-on-wall-street It doesn’t help when you mix up Freedom Plaza (located in Washington, D.C.) and Liberty Plaza. This article doesn’t even examine or address the material roots of the “prefigurationist” arguments. Everyone else’s politics are just “bad ideas” or “bad arguments.”

    Comment by Binh — October 11, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  65. Here is something OWS folks could add their voices to, and which will have a direct effect on Wall Street after January 13, 2012:


    This proposed “Volcker Rule” in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill edges towards a transaction tax. Wall Street hates it, so it must have some public benefit. Admittedly, a very small step toward the revolution everyone desires, but a near-term concrete doable instead of an inestimably far-off imaginable.

    If you want to fight Wall Street, hit them in their pocketbooks.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 11, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

  66. “Another problem with an “interventionist” approach is that you end up writing articles where you talk at people instead of engage with them. See: http://socialistworker.org/print/2011/10/11/autonomy-zone-on-wall-street It doesn’t help when you mix up Freedom Plaza (located in Washington, D.C.) and Liberty Plaza.”

    –The article is a polemic about a debate that is actually taking place in the movement all over the country. The debate was not started by the ISO, it’s been generated by the movement itself. Movements generate sharp debates. Do you agree or disagree with it? Also the article does not mix up Freedom Plaza and Liberty Plaza. If it did it was quickly corrected, and this is a cheap-shot.

    “This article doesn’t even examine or address the material roots of the “pre-figurationist” arguments.

    -It is not a philosophical treatise, but a polemic. The article affirms the need to build the occupations as places which challenge the prevailing ideas and foster egalitarianism. As it states, “There is one way that I agree we should attempt to prefigure a future society: by creating a vibrant, creative, caring community that empowers those who have been the victims of racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of oppression….This in itself can do much to attract people to the movement, particularly those suffering from oppression.”

    “Everyone else’s politics are just “bad ideas” or “bad arguments.”

    Socialists should be able to disagree in the movement without making lazy cheap-shots. Why not say something substantive about the article itself?

    Comment by Andrew — October 12, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  67. Andrew, the point isn’t that there is no debate or that it is wrong to raise debates or have an opinion on debates. It is a question of how these things are addressed and why. The reason I brought up the material roots question is because the article treats the issues in an abstract way — there is this idea out there, floating around, that OWS is a model for the new society. Why this idea would have any popularity to begin with the article does not say. Instead, we have a formally correct critique of the “prefigurationist” position, their position is “wrong” and “harmful” to the movement, etc.

    Furthermore, this article does not really do justice to their position. None of them think that they are “living off the grid” and are all very aware of the capitalist/state confines. Some of them have even told me they see the beginning of class divisions among occupiers in terms of who gets access to stuff like computers and why, etc. I’m pretty sure these prefigurationists do not want to prefigure a future class society.

    The original article did get the name of the plaza wrong (you’ll notice the URL changed as well). It just added to the inorganic flavor. I try to write all of my stuff with the perspective of occupiers in mind in case they happen to run across it. The less preachy and abstractly polemical, the better.

    Comment by Binh — October 12, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  68. Binh, I agree that perhaps it would have been worth beginning the article with a short explanation of why the “pre-figurationist” argument has appeal. But to characterize the piece as inorganic or abstract misses the mark. Doug has been on the ground building OWS from day one, going back to Bloombergville, and I think it’s because he’s in the thick of these debates that he poses things so sharply. And I think you’re fudging when you say “these prefigurationists do not want to prefigure a future class society.” (classless society) Of course they don’t use Marxist terminology, but many do see the occupations as ends in themselves.

    There is a series of very live arguments taking place not just in NYC but across the country. The demand that there be “no demands,” the fetishization of process, and the view that the occupations are ends in themselves are not something the ISO is making up. They are argued, sometimes extremely hard and not always tactfully, by an important current in the movement in city after city. If such arguments win out, they will keep the movement from expanding and escalating the way it must.

    Also, you accuse Doug and the ISO of being “preachy” toward anarchists, but here’s what you write on your blog Planet Anarchy about anarchists:

    “Today’s anarchists, the Black Bloc for example, are elitist in the extreme. At protests, they engage in “direct action” – blocking traffic, throwing bricks through Starbucks windows – as a matter of principle. While revolutionary socialists are not opposed to any of those things in principle, the anarchists believe these tactics are applicable to any and all protests. Instead of trying to focus on getting more people (especially working people) to these protests, they instead engage in radical (and rather pointless) “direct actions” which do little to draw more people into the movement. Tactics become a substitute for politics. Most of these anarchists don’t understand (or they don’t care) that working class people can’t afford to be arrested because one of them has the urge to do something “radical”. And when others in the movement argue against their “tactics-as-principles” methods, they hide behind the rhetoric of “diversity of tactics”. In other words, anyone can do whatever they want at a protest! No one is accountable to the movement, no one is to be held responsible for their actions.”

    If you are going to tell me, Doug Singsen, or other ISOers to adopt a more “organic flavor,” let’s at least acknowledge we’re all learning how to cook.

    Comment by Andrew — October 13, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  69. I never said anything about Doug’s practical role, of which I know zero.

    So you think I’m fudging when I say that the prefigurationists do not want to prefigure a future class society? You think they want to build a hierarchy, a class structure, and a state? Really?

    You are more than welcome to attack articles written in 2002 or prior. If anything, it is reflective of my approach at the time when I was an ISO member. Your point using my piece actually strengthens my case.

    Most of the people in the anti-demands camp are not “prefigurationists.” They have different and valid reasons for opposing adopting formal demands at this time. Unfortunately, you would never know that just by reading S.W.

    Comment by Binh — October 13, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

  70. “So you think I’m fudging when I say that the prefigurationists do not want to prefigure a future class society? You think they want to build a hierarchy, a class structure, and a state? Really?”

    No, I assumed it was a typo and you meant “classless” society. My bad.

    “You are more than welcome to attack articles written in 2002 or prior. If anything, it is reflective of my approach at the time when I was an ISO member. Your point using my piece actually strengthens my case.”

    Actually you will be hard-pressed, I think, to find the ISO lumping anarchists in general in with the black bloc. Here was the last major piece the ISR ran on contemporary anarchists: http://www.isreview.org/issues/72/feat-anarchism.shtml.

    “Most of the people in the anti-demands camp are not “prefigurationists.” They have different and valid reasons for opposing adopting formal demands at this time. Unfortunately, you would never know that just by reading S.W.”

    There is a very strong overlap, in my experience. But what are the valid reasons for opposing adopting formal demands? Do you agree with them? Again, something substantive about the piece or your views on these arguments, rather than criticisms on how it was written would be, would be welcome. I do not have it all worked out, particularly the issue of making formal demands, so would like to hear your ideas.

    Comment by Andrew — October 13, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  71. Andrew, it’s best to ask instead of assuming as a general rule.

    If the ISO’s take on anarchism hadn’t changed in almost a decade, that would be amazing.

    Formal demands in the early stage of OWS would have cut the movement off from the 99%. People were drawn into it because they felt they could shape the demands and message. I changed my position on demands after engaging with OWSers on the question and doing some research on the Montgomery bus boycott. A new piece of writing taking some of this up will be out by tomorrow. I hope OWS is still there by that time.

    Comment by Binh — October 13, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

  72. “Formal demands in the early stage of OWS would have cut the movement off from the 99%.”

    I agree. But now “no demands” is becoming a fetter. I look forward to your article on Montgomery.

    Comment by Andrew — October 13, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

  73. How is it becoming a fetter? What concrete, practical difference would it make if OWS adopted demands right now?

    I never said I was writing an article on the Montgomery bus boycott. Similarly, I was unambiguous about the class/classless society issue with regard to the prefigurationists. It’s not much use engaging in an exchange if what I type is not going to actually be read.

    This is my piece. Unfortunately, they did not include the all of the hyperlinks: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49082

    Comment by Binh — October 14, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  74. “The enemies of the Occupy movement–and even some of its self-proclaimed friends–sneer at activists for their supposed lack of demands. That misses the point.” – S.W., http://socialistworker.org/2011/10/19/promise-occupy

    Comment by Binh — October 19, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  75. “One puzzle has at least been solved. Wall Street’s criminals have not been indicted or sent to jail because they have effectively become the police.”
    – Pam Martens


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 19, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  76. The latest sectarian diatribe: http://socialistworker.org/2011/11/02/officer-not-at-all-friendly

    Comment by Binh — November 2, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

  77. Binh I thought that was actually a pretty great article. I didn’t like the word “naive” but I think it addresses a key topic without using dogma.

    Comment by ish — November 2, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

  78. Ish, no one at OWS thinks that “the police are on our side”. They’ve been discouraging women who have been sexually assaulted in the camp from going to the cops, hardly a sign of being too friendly to the police.

    Comment by Binh — November 3, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  79. How many women have been sexually assaulted? Who the hell is sexually assaulting them? How could they commit such an act and not get beaten before getting away?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 3, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  80. Re: #77. I don’t think it’s a particularly great example of what constitutes a “sectarian diatribe”? I just think it’s not as well written as it could be well and tend to talks down to the workers and students, calling them naive, rather than educate them, and after all, the main function of a party’s organ has historically been to educate the workers & students.

    It’s also IMO a rather moot debate because it’s ultimately a minority of people who actually occupy a street barricade and cling for long to the notion that the cops are on their side. Like the author said, such ideas get quickly beaten out of the movement not from within (like with little articles in a party organ) but from without — by the armed gangs defending property who come dressed for a riot.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 3, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  81. Karl, I can’t give you a number. Definitely more than a handful, maybe as much as a dozen, hopefully not more than that.

    As for who, here’s a taste: http://news.yahoo.com/kitchen-volunteers-sex-assault-arrest-shocks-zuccotti-park-215348689.html There are also homeless guys and people with arrest warrants hiding out there too: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/party_over_bum_ezkUNyRYN1Z94jCRyIddFM They don’t get beaten because OWS is reluctant to really police itself or impose any type of authority over itself.

    The reason I call it a sectarian diatribe is because: 1) as Marx said, “The sect sees the justification for its existence and its point of honor not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the movement.” This falls into the category of a “particular shibboleth which distinguishes,” even going so far as to do an entire public meeting on the topic: http://www.nycsocialist.org/2011/10/1116-our-enemies-in-blue-why-police-are.html 2) It is inaccurate and unfair. Example: “when the person arguing for the cops happens to be white” — no one is “arguing for the cops”, white or not. 3) Bringing up race and racism in the context of a highly distorted and misleading article about an important issue is really over the top. The ISO has made a lot of unnecessary enemies among people of color for how it approaches the question of white privilege. Given that the organization is overwhelmingly (and disproportionately) white, for the group to act as if it is sticking up for the interests of people of color in the cop “debate” is really too much.

    The “talking down” aspect of the articles on Socialist Worker is a function of failing to merge with and dissolve into the movement. They remain outsiders on the sidelines for the most part, but such is the nature of “Leninist intervention.”

    Comment by Binh — November 3, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  82. I see what you mean now Binh. I can just picture some young white guy student ISOer who may mean well grabbing the podium and trying to “educate” a bunch of NYC working people of color about the nature of the police. A cringe worthy scene to be sure.

    It reminds me of an important youth lesson I learned in that regard in NYC back in 91-92 during organizing of the anti war movement at the outset of the1st Gulf War. The anti-war march in DC was to be held on MLK’s birthday which was about when the actual shooting was to start (albeit really only one side was shooting). I was on the streets with a fellow WWPer, a middle aged Italian guy, pasting up posters which had a large image of MLK. Suddenly this older asian guy attacks me (he may have been a shop keeper) trying to rip the posters out of my hand and began screaming a bunch of anti-communit nonsense with a crazed look in his eyes. Being a street kid from Chicago who didn’t take shit from strangers but still unused to the typical political kookiness of some New Yorkers I got into the guys face shouting back about why he would back a bullshit war like this when suddenly my comrade grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the scence. He explained that white guy revolutionary socialists just don’t get into confrontations with historically oppresed people like that — ever. That you’re supposed to be trying to set an example. That it doesn’t matter how wrong they may be you just don’t ever raise your voice or make a scene in that situation. You walk away. I was stunned initially but immediately understood his point and chalked it up to an important lesson learned about street politics.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 3, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  83. Karl: “It’s also IMO a rather moot debate because it’s ultimately a minority of people who actually occupy a street barricade and cling for long to the notion that the cops are on their side.”

    This raises a point I haven’t thought of, which is why write articles trying to educate the rearguard, the most backward, the most foolish? There are not the people revolutionaries should orient to:

    Comment by Binh — November 4, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  84. @#84


    The lesson for the movement is that instant communications, like all technology, is that it can be double edged: activists, occupiers & street barricaders need to beware of advice from the blogosphere which is not where the rubber meets the road.

    The internet may have changed the world but workers won’t ever win strikes by merely logging onto their PC’s, laptops & smartphones.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 4, 2011 @ 2:29 pm


    Dear sisters and brothers,

    You are invited to a People’s Assembly on Sat., November 5 at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx.

    The Assembly will take place from 12 noon – 4pm at the College’s Savoy Manor, located at 149th Street and Walton Ave., one block west of the 149th St. & Grand Concourse subway station. (# 2, 4, 5, subway)

    The November 5th Assembly will serve as a counter-meeting to the G-20 Summit in France in the first week of November. The G-20 will be dominated by leaders representing the super-rich of the world, including President Obama, as well as the most powerful central bankers and financial officials in the world. The main agenda item for the G-20 Summit will be agreeing on what new, horrific austerity measures are to be taken to bail out the big banks of Europe, and shore up the global capitalist financial system on the backs of the poor and working-class people of the planet.

    The Assembly will also be a timely opportunity for trade unionist, community and student activists, as well as veteran activists who have been in the trenches, fighting racism; or for the rights of immigrant workers; or workers rights; or the rights of the homeless; or against budget cuts and for jobs for the unemployed, to come together to assess the Occupy Wall Street movement, and plan how it can be built on by the many who may not have been involved at its beginning.

    To be sure, as the OWS movement has grown, its weaknesses have come into sharper focus. Is OWS capable of evolving from a social base dominated by whites, to a broader social base that genuinely encompasses the Black, Latina/o, Asian, Arab and Indigenous communities?

    Will it develop a strong and independent, working class-centered orientation with an understanding that inequality based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and class are realities that must be confronted as part of the process of forging real solidarity amongst the 99%?

    At the same time, all of us have been inspired by the occupations; indeed, many of us have already been working to spread them, and to defend them against police repression.

    Moreover, the impact that OWS has had on the labor movement is a clear sign that the occupations have opened up political space for larger sections of the working class and the poor to take initiative. Imagine the workers who are now thinking about the possibility of occupying their work place to fight layoffs and cutbacks. Imagine the students who are now thinking about occupying their campuses to fight austerity. Are the unemployed workers now wondering what could be occupied to dramatize the need for a real jobs?

    It is with all of this in mind that we welcome all to participate in the People’s Assembly. A new front in the struggle has been opened. Will there be a second or third front? It may very well be up to you.

    The People’s Assembly is co-sponsored by: Bail Out The People Movement • South Bronx Community Congress • Labor-Community Forum • Peoples Organization For Progress • Haiti Liberte’ • BAYAN USA • May 1 Workers & Immigrant Rights Coalition

    Endorsed by: Wilfredo Pagan, President, District 12 PA Presidents’ Council • Ramon Jimenez, Bronx Freedom Party • Charles Jenkins, Executive Bd of TWU Local 100 and VP NY-CBTU • Ed Figueroa, Co-Chair of Latino Caucus, SEIU Local 32BJ • Teresa Gutierrez, Deputy Sec General of International Migrants Alliance • Larry Hales, New Yorkers Against the Budget Cuts • Sara Flounders, United National Antiwar Coalition • Charlie Twist, Ass’t Shop Steward, NALC Branch 36 • Fred Fret, Shop Steward, DC37 Local 374* – NY Botanical Gardens • Brenda Stokely, Million Worker March Movement-East Coast… and many, many others


    Bail Out the People Movement
    Solidarity Center
    55 W. 17th St. #5C
    New York, NY 10011
    Email: bailoutpeople.org/cmnt.shtml

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 4, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

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