Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 19, 2011

OWS debate

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 9:35 pm

63 Comments »

  1. Just heard that the Central Labor Council in New York has unanimously endorsed a mass march on November 5th under the slogans:

    Working People Shouldn’t Pay for a Crisis That They Didn’t Make!
    No to Layoffs, Budget and Service Cuts!
    Create Jobs, Build Infrastructure with a Federal Program of Public Works!
    Stop Police Harassment of the Wall Street Occupation!

    This seems to have come from an initiative started by the League for a Revolutionary Party (LRP).

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.php?p=2268201&postcount=10

    Comment by RED DAVE — October 20, 2011 @ 2:34 am

  2. So what are what is going to happen when the weather turns?

    Comment by Hugh B. — October 20, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  3. “Has the potential to become a mass movement?” Talk about missing the boat.

    Henwood doesn’t seem to get it either — he seems to think there is an inherent contradiction between autonomy and collective action.

    This panel is revealing of how utterly bankrupt the Marxist left’s practice is. There is a complete failure on our part to understand the movement on its own terms. Everything is held up against 1917 or Flint 1936 and found wanting. I can imagine what these folks would say about the Industrial Workers of the World’s multitude of free speech fights where the tactic was aimed at filling the jails until the jails couldn’t be filled anymore. Most of those actions weren’t even strikes. The I.W.W. also had stuff in its “program” about “creating the new society in the shell of the old.” So what. They blazed a trail that made it possible for communists, socialists, and the CIO to follow later. I’m sure Daniel DeLeon and the Socialist Labor Party had a lot to say about how wrong the I.W.W. was but who the hell remembers the SLP?

    Comment by Binh — October 20, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

  4. I wonder if anybody else besides me had trouble watching the video. It kept stalling and I gave up–for the time being–after 23 minutes.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 20, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  5. ^- I paused it and let it load for a while before clicking play. I have trouble stomaching it for political reasons.

    Comment by Binh — October 20, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  6. Red Dave,

    I read up on the LRP.

    Sounds like a group I’d like to join.

    Views in check with my own.

    Better than those CPUSA communist fakers.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 20, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  7. In the same way Leninist groups have an internal churn of rank-and-file, the sort of activity in New York also has the typical “mobilization” churn where utopian organization tactics composed of spokescouncils and committees mask the actual effort and leadership that occurs behind the scenes and requires a level of commitment that inevitably fizzles. Then it happens again in the next “mobilization”. The model has maintained itself for sometime and attracts more attention and strength than organized labor, but that’s a low bar.

    Unfortunately, the ideologies in place of the participants never move beyond these completely academic and internalized debates which don’t engage the “what next?” question or the larger public. Liberal elite higher education: 1, the revolutionary politic: 0.

    Comment by Aaron — October 20, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  8. Right now it’s just good that people are in the streets about some things that the majority of Americans care about -giving it a potential to grow and let people experience what it’s like to have collective power. Whether trying to use past struggles, or something new, I think it’s too early to characterize. Although it will probably end up with elements of both.

    Comment by Rick Tudor — October 20, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

  9. I tend to agree with Binh’s take, with the addition that one does not have to abandon the specifically Marxian strategic approach – the mobilization, one way or another, of the working class – in order to understand the OWS, and its strategic possibilities, as they are.

    The key item of note so far is that, for the first time in a long time, a mobilization in the U.S. has taken a lead that has influenced others abroad to follow. That’s an important aspect of this, and should such mobilizations continue and expand, can have explosive implications worldwide.

    Comment by Matt — October 20, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  10. and the backlash slowly starts:http://twitter.com/#!/ohtarzie/status/127211054286635008

    Comment by Jenny — October 21, 2011 @ 3:17 am

  11. Binh wrote:

    “Henwood doesn’t seem to get it either — he seems to think there is an inherent contradiction between autonomy and collective action.”

    Could you expand a bit more on that, Binh?

    Comment by Todd — October 21, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  12. Todd, it’s hard for me to expand on it since it’s Doug Henwood’s idea, not mine. I was referring to his opening comments on the question. He argues that the idea of autonomy is a problem and that the idealogy of the movement has not caught up with its collective practice. There is no inherent contradiction between mass action and individual/small group autonomy. On Oct. 5, 1,000-2,000 out of the huge union mass march decided to push the cops and fences at Broadway and Wall St. They did it autonomously — it was not pre-planned, nor agreed upon in advance. Those who wanted to participate in that action did so. That is autonomy. They even held a quick consensus “vote” right before they tried to push through the spot in front of TD Bank to make sure people really wanted to do this. They did not try to drag the other 20,000 marchers down there, nor did they provoke a conflict with the cops that would endanger the main body a few blocks away at Liberty Plaza. Again, this is autonomy.

    This notion of anarchism=individual autonomy=bourgeois individualism/consumer choice is complete garbage, unrelated to reality, and was probably learned by rote reading some old texts of Marx and Engels. The anarchism of OWS is more like that of the CNT or the IWW (yes I know they weren’t anarchist strictly speaking) than of the impatient petty-bourgeois white kids known as the “black bloc” circa 1999. Collective groups of people can work autonomously from one another without it leading to complete impotence or chaos. OWS is living proof of that. Failure to start with that material reality and work upwards leads to idealism, which I think is the mistake Henwood continually makes in these debates.

    Henwood focuses so much on ideas, but ideas don’t determine reality, practice does, struggle does, mass action does. He attributes the failure of the old anti-globalization movement to its failure to break out of “prefigurationism” and embrace working-class politics. 9/11 killed that movement’s development, not its crappy ideas or penchant for “twinkling” which he spoke of so derisively. The “twinklers” have mobilized more workers in the space of 4 weeks than the entire combined effort of all American Marxists in the last 4 decades; to act like we have nothing to learn from them at all is either arrogance, stupidity, or both.

    Malcolm Harris is the only one who seems to be really engaged with the reality of what’s going on and grappling with all of the challenges and contradictions that OWS brings. I disagreed with almost everything Natasha Leonard said, but it has to be acknowledged that she represents a strain of thought within OWS. She did have a good point about how the process-as-an-end-in-itself fizzled out in an earlier experiment in Brooklyn, a point which does have concrete bearing on the demands debate. Chris Maisano is caught up in Old Left orthodoxy (I can’t believe he tried to argue that OWS was inspired or derived from the Flint sit-down strikes and not from the “occupy everything” ultra-left trend that appeared on the American left a few years ago; he also claimed it the way OWS has dealt with/approached the cops was “problematic” [more dogmatism]). Jodi Dean made abstractly true points but in a way that did not come off as preachy, sectarian, or unproductively negative. Although some deride her as an academic she seems to me to have good political instincts.

    Comment by Binh — October 21, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  13. Thanks, Binh. I’ll get back to you on this after I get enough time to watch the video again.

    Comment by Todd — October 21, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  14. Great comments, Binh. Thanks for taking the time to leave them. I think the critique of autonomy as bourgeois individualism does in fact hit the mark re: the views of someone like Natasha Lennard (an Oxbridge-educated NYT writer) who kept talking about “re-coding” “the way we fuck” (?!) while Henwood rightly insisted that jobs and social security are more pressing issues. (I found Lennard insufferable if amusing as a caricature to be honest.) Your criticism of Henwood’s views is helpful but I think the issue is almost as much generational as ideological. Few people Doug’s age understand the sensibilities and affective relations of the millennials who comprise OWS. I would be very curious to see your (Binh) take on the proposed OWS demands working group’s “Jobs for All” proposal.

    Comment by Andrew Loewen (@andrewloewen) — October 21, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  15. Thanks for pointing to me to the demands proposal Andrew. I stick to what I wrote above about bourgeois individualism given that the panel was not assembled to critique the politics of Lennard but to talk about the movement as a whole. I suspect the people who spoke in that vein were not referring to Lennard personally, but maybe I’m wrong. Like I said, I don’t care for what she had to say for the most part, but she isn’t the only one talking like that at OWS. Plenty of bourgeois journalists are sympathetic to the movement (one got fired from NPR the other day). It shouldn’t be a shock that bourgeois ideas are somewhat common in a movement of the 99%.

    From what I read of “jobs for all” proposal (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-10-19/wall_street/30296890_1_jobs-crisis-immigration-status-new-jobs), it looks good. In general I favor of taking up demands and have argued as much at working group meetings: http://www.indypendent.org/2011/09/29/participatory-democracy-engaged/

    That said, I think it’s a tactical issue and there are sound strategic reasons for not taking up demands at this time. It’s a question of whether or not it will advance the movement, bring more people in, put it on a more sure footing, and advance the struggle to its next stage. I can’t imagine anyone arguing against the proposal because they think the demand itself is bad or wrong but it will probably be a more general, strategic argument over whether or not this is the next step, at this stage, right now. Underlying some of that will be the notion that “the movement is the demand” or “the point of the occupation is the process”

    If this demand passes the General Assembly (G.A.), I think it would be a very good thing, especially as a first demand that will be broadcast via the corporate media. If it fails, and that is a high probability given the undemocratic nature of consensus and the G.A. process (see: http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/10/the-state-of-the-occupation-of-wall-street/), it won’t be the end of the movement either.

    Demands are not decisive, mass action is. Demands are a means, not an end, and play a subordinate role in a struggle. The Jan. 25 demonstration that began the Egyptian revolution demanded Mubarak respect a two-term limit, not that he step aside; the Montgomery bus boycott demanded that segregation on the bus lines be reformed, not ended (ending segregation was rejected as “too radical”). The first soviet in St. Petersburg was formed in 1905 out of a general strike spearheaded by printers who demanded they get paid the same rate for punctuation marks as for letters, a demand well short of the end of the autocracy or anything remotely political or revolutionary.

    I strongly disagree with the notion that the political divides on demands, cops, structure, and prefiguration are reflective of a generational divide. There were anti-Old Left anarchist-types in the audience challenging Henwood (one of them was even older than him!). Most of the panel was of the twenty-to-thirty something age group that sociologically (minus Lennard) is identical to the leadership of OWS. I think of it as an Old Left/New Left divide (ironic that this has cropped again almost 50 years after SDS was formed) in the sense that quite a few seasoned activists and members of established organizations (ISO, DSA, but plenty of others outside of the socialist left as well) have gotten stuck on their preconceptions about what “must” happen immediately if the movement is to avoid failure.

    I was in the pro-demands camp early on but after engaging with a lot of the protesters who come from all different backgrounds and politics I concluded that I needed a more flexible approach to the question (I am part of the Old Left I deride). The very lack of demands allowed OWS to be a blank banner on which any and everyone who hated Wall Street could inscribe their own message, their own hopes, their own aspirations. There is a sentiment on the ground that the minute we start making demands we will exclude people for whom the demand doesn’t fit (coming up with any demands that could truly represent the 99% is no easy task). There is also the problem of what will happen if we take up a demand and the government/corporations refuse to grant it. The movement will be judged as a failure since it did not get what it wanted and people will go home demoralized, just as they did when the government ignored us and attacked Iraq in 2003.

    This movement bears the stamp of that defeat and I think that is most obvious when we look at the demand question. On the other hand, these people are totally fed up with the idea of getting permits and allowing ourselves to be fenced up in 10 foot by 10 foot “free speech zones” as has been the NYPD’s standard operating procedure for the last decade, another enduring legacy of the anti-war movement’s failure to end the war/occupation of Iraq/Afghanistan.

    What has really shocked and bothered me is the Marxist left’s reaction and take on all of these issues. I have read almost literally nothing from our side that captures this movement’s richness, potential, complexity, and internal tensions. After a couple weeks most got on the bandwagon, but so much of the discussion from our end is sterile, unrelated to where people are actually at politically and why, and not organically linked with actual, concrete, practical challenges the occupy movement is running into. Hence why I write overly long comments.

    Comment by Binh — October 21, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  16. “Hence why I write overly long comments.” I’m so glad you do! I find your voice and views re: OWS (and critique of the Marxist left) the most valuable of any I’ve encountered. I’ve been directing people not only to your articles but to your comments here.

    Comment by Andrew Loewen (@andrewloewen) — October 21, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  17. Binh’s website: http://planetanarchy.net/

    Comment by louisproyect — October 21, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

  18. UNCOORDINATED NOTES ON MY 5TH VISIT TO OCCUPY WALL STREET –THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 8:00 PM TO 9:30 PM.

    1) There was virtually no police presence at OWS. The police were confined to about 10 cops, mostly concentrated along the west side of the Occupation along, I believe, Church Street, the same number to the east, along Broadway, and a few on the north side, where their vehicles are parked.

    2) Because it was relatively late (the Occupation observes a quiet time from 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM), there was no drumming at the southwest corner, but there were some folksingers, who could have come right out of the Sixties.

    3) The OWS has put out a document: The Occupied Wall Street Spokes Council Proposal.

    http://www.nycga.net/spokes%20-council/

    It contains a detailed plan for the structure of the Occupation. There is a revleft.com discussion of it here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/important-ows-structural-t163086/index.html

    4) Without getting into the document itself, let me say that it represents a very cumbersome but sincere attempt to deal structurally with the ephemeral nature of those supporting the OWS, those actually occupying, passersby and, weakly, organized groups, especially labor. It should be seriously considered and discussed as this is actually, as for as I know, the first actual “official” document of the OWS.

    5) The OWS continues to struggle with the issue of demands (or goals). This is not an accident. The demands or program are close to the heart of any movement. And a movement so new as the OWS and largely run by people with little or no political experience should have difficulty with them. However, this difficulty also conceals the fact that this is a petit-bourgeois movement at this point, which makes it almost impossible for it to focus on a concise set of demands. Until the labor movement, organized and unorganized, and the organized left become involved, giving the OWS a “social weight” it currently lacks, this problem with program will persist.

    6) There was still no sign whatsoever of organized left-wing activity. We can no longer call this an accident. What few forces the organized left has should have been thrown into this struggle wholeheartedly. I am not talking about actually sleeping down there (not that a few resident comrades from each left-wing group wouldn’t be enormously useful), but maintaining an active presence. I saw no evidence of left-wingers engaged in debates (although this was after the nightly General Assembly) or of left-wing stickers, leaflets, newspapers, etc. It is obviously to me that the organized left, with few exceptions, is taking an abstentionist attitude. I mean, Comrades, not even one mass distribution? I know that some groups are working within their unions or with unions they are in touch with, but this needs to be publicized, especially at OWS itself.

    7) Kudos to the LRP for pushing through a motion at the New York Central Labor Council for a mass labor march on march, I believe, November 5th.

    8) The discussions that I heard going on, and I witnessed two or three of them, involved someone who was obviously a “leader type,” explaining to others the function, purpose and necessity of the structure as mentioned in “3” above. A leadership is emerging, as any leftist knows it must. However, it will act informally, without sanction, undemocratically, even clandestinely, so long as a real structure does not evolve, which is probably impossible at this point.

    9) The site, in general, is clean but had a generally disorganized look. However my overall impression was a heightening of discussion and more political focus.

    10) Reports I have read indicate that the reason Bloomberg backed down on clearing the site was the massive, if somewhat uncoordinated, organized labor presence on the morning that the clearing of the site was to take place. The occupiers were dug in to resist arrest, but the entire site was encircled by union people, with union jackets and hats, ready to resist the cops. The cops were vastly outnumbered by the workers.

    10) To summarize, the Occupation remains at a pre-political stage. There is more indication of labor presence. Still virtually no indication of a presence of the Left. The illusions of petit-bourgeois radicalism: extreme spontaneism, an absolute rejection of an effect structure geared for action, a lack of demands, persist.

    The beat goes on.

    RED DAVE

    Comment by RED DAVE — October 22, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  19. Real reporting here on actual problems (as opposed to imaginary ones) OWS is running into: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-kanalley/occupy-wall-street-zuccotti-park_b_1026400.html Pretty much confirms what I wrote in my last Dissident Voice piece.

    Red Dave is right about the left’s abstentionism, but overcoming that would mean at least a few full-timers staying there (funny how the “Leninist” groups all have full-time “organizers” who are nowhere to be found when there is a struggle that actually needs to be organized). Also, the socialist left in the U.S. has about as much social weight as the anarchist elements leading OWS, although the latter are actually bringing workers onto the field of battle while the former gripe and groan about the movement’s shortcomings.

    If the spokescouncil proposal continues to fail, things may implode because the process is too convoluted and undemocratic.

    Comment by Binh — October 22, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

  20. Does anyone believe the people leading the discussion in this video could spearhead a mass movement ?

    Comment by purple — October 23, 2011 @ 2:40 am

  21. OWS’s anarchist leadership (the facilitation working group) are trying to suppress the demands working groups:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/demandsOWS/message/187

    Autonomy goes right out the window once a group autonomously decides to do its own thing it seems. We have to fight this.

    Comment by Binh — October 23, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  22. “There is also the problem of what will happen if we take up a demand and the government/corporations refuse to grant it. The movement will be judged as a failure since it did not get what it wanted and people will go home demoralized, just as they did when the government ignored us and attacked Iraq in 2003.”

    Good stuff Binh, but the above puzzles me. It sounds awful like ‘don’t ask for it, don’t fight for it, because you won’t get it and everyone will be demoralised and worse off”. Some of our trade union leaders here use similar arguments against militant demands backfiring. I realise mad demands are mad, but can there be anything approaching a movement without some form of even the mildest demand for reform, even if it’s for payment for apostrophes.? Of course the actual demand(s) can be contained in the action ( a workplace walkout when someone is sacked for instance) and the Occupy movement does have a focus, that the financial sector.

    While the Occupy Dame Street camp here outside the Central Bank in Dublin has been reported as having no demands, the collective issued a statement on 11th October outlining four basic demands, the first two being fairly concrete as the country is now being run under an austerity plan and the supervision of an IMF/EU/ECB ‘troika’ :

    “Our demand is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stay out of our affairs. We do not want their influence or control.

    Our demand is that the private bank debt that has been socialised and burdened upon the population of the country who had nothing to do with it be lifted. We will not pay and let our children and their children pay for this crisis that private banks and bondholders have caused. It is their problem, not ours.

    Our demand is that the oil and gas reserves off our coast that were criminally handed away to private corporations be returned to sovereign control.

    Our demand is for real, participatory democracy – where the people’s interests come first, where the people decide what happens.”

    http://www.thejournal.ie/video-occupy-dame-street-protesters-explain-aims-of-peoples-movement-251277-Oct2011/

    Comment by Des Derwin — October 23, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  23. By the way our campers here are having a night of wind and torrential rain

    Comment by Des Derwin — October 23, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

  24. Binh wrote:

    “There is no inherent contradiction between mass action and individual/small group autonomy.”

    Be careful: Doug was likely talking about a kind of autonomy that basically wasn’t interested in working together with others (he’s been writing about that for a bit now over at LBO-Talk). He also pointed out that, even though there’s been much talk about autonomy around OWS, the thing was the creation of people who had definite goals in mind and were willing to work with others to make it, which suggests that the whole set-up isn’t as autonomous and spontaneous as many would like to believe.

    “They did it autonomously — it was not pre-planned, nor agreed upon in advance.”

    But that’s not so much autonomous action, I’d say, as spontaneous action: a group of people right there decided to do something that hadn’t been planned for. Note that that group spontaneously decided to “take charge” of their own little area and actions; they decided to do something different from the unspoken script of the march. That involves qualities that evoke ideas of leadership.

    I think his point was that, for all of this talk about autonomy and having no leaders that’s been floating around OWS, there is a leadership there, even if it’s not acknowledged. That’s why, I think, he remarked that the ideology of autonomy hadn’t yet caught up with the practice.

    “This notion of anarchism=individual autonomy=bourgeois individualism/consumer choice is complete garbage”

    Consumer choice is a sub-set of bourgeois individualism, so the two shouldn’t be conflated.

    But the notion that anarchists (and others, such as libertarians) would not want to (even to seem to) be involved in dispensing or taking orders in a hierarchy does hold some water, I think. The stereotypical bourgeois individual artistic genius, going his/her own way, not caring what others think or do, living only for the free expression of his/her own creativity and to hell with reality, comes to mind. Never mind, of course, that that creativity is drawing upon everything that a collective eg society has provided before the genius ever got started.

    “and was probably learned by rote reading some old texts of Marx and Engels.”

    Given that (and that is my situation: I don’t know any anarchists, but from what I’ve read of theirs, their basic positions haven’t changed dramatically since the 19th century), one could also experience it; you’d have to ask Doug (and I suspect he’s had some experience).

    “Collective groups of people can work autonomously from one another without it leading to complete impotence or chaos.”

    Sure. But just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. And it such an impotent or chaotic ending to a good start is very easy to imagine.

    “Henwood focuses so much on ideas, but ideas don’t determine reality, practice does, struggle does, mass action does.”

    Yes: practice does determine idea, but ideas also determine which practices are favoured or rejected first or after something happens that calls ideas and/or actions into question. And it takes time for practices to sink in and create ideas. If all you’re doing is action, action, action, where’s the time for thought and reflection about what worked and what didn’t and why?

    I’ve got to go, but I’ll put some more up later.

    Comment by Todd — October 23, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

  25. Des, I addressed the demands issue in the video Louis posted here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/encounters-with-occupy-wall-street/

    Comment by Binh — October 24, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

  26. Here is a good summary of the OWS phenomenon by Ken Knabb:

    http://www.swans.com/library/art17/letter227.html

    [A PDF version of this text can be found at
    http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/awakening.htm ]

    I think the identification of OWS as an “awakening” is key.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 25, 2011 @ 2:38 am

  27. Another interesting perspective on justice being visited on Wall Street, brought to your from Mother Russia:

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 25, 2011 @ 4:33 am

  28. Just plain wrong: http://gifsoup.com/view6/3090955/dhhddd-o.gif

    Comment by Binh — October 25, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  29. ROTFLMAO!

    Comment by Todd — October 25, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  30. As you can see from the link I posed above, Henwood’s approach and method is generating quite a bit of animosity. After seeing some of the email exchanges between him and others on the Demands Working Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/demandsOWS/) email list, I can’t say I’m surprised someone would cook up something like that.

    Comment by Binh — October 25, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  31. Binh: I understand your frustration with the prevailing reaction of the Marxist establishment to the #Occupy movement. There has been an unfortunate poverty of ideas and imagination when it comes to both the various sectarian parties and Marxist academics.

    I have, however, tried to engage the complexity of the OWS not only by visiting regularly and participating in it, but reflecting on what it historically represents, what its prospects are, and its various deficiencies. While remaining critical of those elements of #Occupy that I find problematic, I remain hopeful that #Occupy presents an opportunity for a longer-term radicalization of politics throughout a larger section of society.

    It’s a complex phenomenon, and I’ve written several pieces that try disentangle it without cramming it into prefabricated categories:

    1. “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What it represents, its prospects, and its deficiencies”
    2. “The theatrical dimension of Occupy Wall Street: A brief excursus on the ‘carnivalesque’ in politics
    3. “‘What now?’ — The question haunting the #Occupy movement”

    Also, the Platypus Affiliated Society is hosting a political roundtable discussion at NYU on October 28th that exclusively features organizers, mobilizers, and active participants from OWS. Most are members of working groups within Liberty Plaza, and come from diverse political backgrounds on the Left (sectarian Marxist, anarchist, academic/moderate). You can find the event info here.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 25, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  32. By the way, the event is being cosponsored by Jacobin Magazine, the OWS Think Tank working group, the Alternative Economies working group, and so on.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 25, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  33. Binh wrote:

    “Henwood’s approach and method”

    Facts, arguments, and criticism only generates animosity when those they’re directed against have nothing similar to respond with. From the quick glance I had at the yahoo group, it didn’t seem as though anyone _but_ Doug and Jodi Dean have any grasp of facts, arguments, or criticism.

    Comment by Todd — October 26, 2011 @ 2:17 am

  34. Todd, you’ll have to go back a ways to see some of the messages I’m talking about. I felt the need to write a long email there asking folks to keep the bile to a minimum.

    As I said before, I think Dean has good political instincts and the emails that I have seen from her confirm that thus far. The notion that no one else besides Henwood and Dean (I guess I’m not up to snuff to be included with the dynamic duo) has a grasp of facts, argument, or criticism is the kind of arrogance that leads people to create the .gif I posted earlier (which mocks Henwood’s dismissive gesture during the Jacobin panel). All the facts in the world can’t help people who come across as dismissive and arrogant. There is a real failure on their part to understand why most of OWS rejects demands at this time, and if they don’t figure that out they’ll never get anywhere no matter how perfectly they formulate whatever demand they come up with.

    Ross, I’ve written six articles so far about OWS (see http://planetanarchy.net/articles.htm). If you read them, you’ll see plenty of criticism on my part. I have gone almost every week day since it started and continue to be involved in a limited capacity in a few of the working groups where a lot of the real action is. What it represents historically depends the course of the struggle, i.e. on what we do now, and whatever deficiencies it has will have to be overcome in practice.

    I’m glad there are groups trying to bring together participants to discuss and debate these issues in an organized manner.

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  35. Binh wrote:

    “I guess I’m not up to snuff to be included with the dynamic duo”

    I didn’t see your name on any of the e-mails I read from the Yahoo site, and we’re talking about Doug’s attitude.

    “The notion that no one else besides Henwood and Dean . . . has a grasp of facts, argument, or criticism is the kind of arrogance that leads people to create the .gif I posted earlier”

    Like I said: what I saw on the group site didn’t impress me. Maybe, if I’d gone all the way back through every last e-mail up until the most recent, I might’ve found more worth talking about positively. Instead I found one person who was extremely evasive about offering some kind of criticism toward’s an idea of Doug’s and another person who was blathering on about ending the Fed; both of these were buried in some otherwise laudable but unremarkable statements.

    There are a lot of people taking part in those discussions; that means there’ll also be a lot of ignorance and outright misinformation being passed around and a lot of sacred cows getting gored when people are exposed to others who’ve encountered those ideas before and know just how valid they really are. Feelings can get hurt, but that doesn’t make wrong information or ideas any more right or any more worthy of being paid attention to.

    “There is a real failure on their part to understand why most of OWS rejects demands at this time”

    So you think this failure on the part of two intelligent, well-read Marxists is due to spite? Arrogance? Can’t it be, even partially, on the part of poor reasoning on the part of whoever is agitating against demands?

    Comment by Todd — October 26, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  36. Todd, my name is in there. Like I said, you have to go back a ways, traffic is extremely heavy.

    I’ve already shared my observations about Henwood and Dean. The bulk of OWS is against adopting demands at this time. They are the majority. Instead of asking why that might be and how to work with that sentiment and move that discussion forward they persist in their arguments about what the text of the proposed demands should say.

    The first step in getting people to listen to you is to listen to them first.

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  37. Go back, like, by how many days? A week? 3 days? 10 days? Any recollection of how long it’s been?

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — October 26, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

  38. Binh wrote:

    “my name is in there. Like I said, you have to go back a ways”

    Right. I found your posts (and Doug’s).

    “The bulk of OWS is against adopting demands at this time. They are the majority.”

    True.

    Nothing wrong with trying to change minds if one thinks it’s a bad idea.

    “The first step in getting people to listen to you is to listen to them first.”

    So where has this not happened? Are you honestly arguing in favour of just letting anyone spout off any crap that you know is wrong?

    Comment by Todd — October 26, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

  39. Every desire of all the people in the Occupy Wall Street movement can be reflected in one simple phrase: Renew the Social Contract.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 26, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  40. Todd, I don’t see any evidence that Henwood or Dean are aware of why so many people are opposed to drawing up demands of any sort at this point. Do you?

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

  41. Leo Panitch seems to be more open than most of the Marxist left on the demands question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QWpX1k-huU (3 minutes in or so)

    Oakland:
    http://www.ktvu.com/video/29587714/index.html

    Veteran critically injured at Oakland:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/iraq-vet-oakland-police-tear-gas_n_1033159.html

    These fools are playing with fire. The troops are pretty much fed up as it is; doing this is only going to push rank and file military people towards the movement. See: occupymarines.org/

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  42. Binh,

    If you’re not busy tomorrow night, you should maybe check out the political roundtable discussion we are hosting. It should be interesting.

    Best,
    Ross

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 28, 2011 @ 12:09 am

  43. Binh wrote:

    “Todd, I don’t see any evidence that Henwood or Dean are aware of why so many people are opposed to drawing up demands of any sort at this point. Do you?”

    I’ve been following Doug a lot more than Dean, and, IIRC, he’s thought it was anarchists who were creating this opposition; I don’t think he’s quite so sure of that now after someone mentioned that there are also “centrists” and libertarians opposed to the idea of demands. And this is further complicated by a poll of people there which seems to indicate that the majority of people there more-or-less support the Democrats:

    http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/culture/2011/10/3790409/survey-many-occupy-wall-street-protesters-are-unhappy-democrats-who-

    But none of us really knows for sure why (or even if) so many people are opposed to demands when all it takes is a dedicated minority of at least one person to block the idea. It’s kind of like arguing that the working class in the center countries fully approve of capitalism because they keep voting for bourgeois parties.

    Comment by Todd — October 28, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  44. On OWS and the Dems, which is a separate issue from the demands question:

    http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/topic/occupy-wall-street-2011-10/

    I don’t have the time or inclination to follow Henwood or go through his collected works. He has made his stand on these things very clear in his blog posts and statements. My take on the demands question has been shaped by a lot of discussion with OWS folks as well as the working group meeting I participated where my argument for demands fell flat. Instead of persisting in the argument I decided to find out why people didn’t want to take up demands at this time. I have a much better sense of where most people are coming from on this question, and when the demands working group’s proposal fails at the G.A. on Sunday it won’t be because of a few blocks. I would be surprised if they even muster 50% for the jobs for all proposal, even though most of OWS thinks jobs for all is a good thing.

    Comment by Binh — October 28, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

  45. Making demands is an unnecessary distraction for OWS, their demands are explicit in their massed presence: they have been pushed out of American prosperity and they want in. OWS is a bourgeois protest about being saddled with debt sold to the protestors under promises of a better future, and then allowing the lending institutions to destroy the economy necessary to support those rosy futures, at a handsome profit, without penalty, and — most galling — without canceling the essentially fraudulently created debt on mortgage holders of financially inundated real estate and/or evaporated professional careers.

    The young people of OWS are the cadets of the bourgeoisie who have been excessed by the time of their graduation. A soulless nation is eating its young: for decades by incarcerating rather than employing Blacks, and now because of a tightening of the money situation even throwing over the white cadets who are trained to man the bourgeoisie, and are coming out of the pipeline today. This may be a lost generation, this being an agist society. When the economy recovers, maybe by 2016 (since Republican stupidity will prevail), employers will look to the fresh talent coming on line then to fill available slots; once 5 years out of school, you are obsolete.

    OWS has social and political impact primarily by being LARGE and PRESENT. It has to be the elephant in the middle of nation’s view-screen in order to cause a course correction. There are hints such may be just imperceptibly beginning. An economic turnaround (more jobs) and the possibilities of debt-relief are entering elite thinking. OWS will disappear by debt-cancelation and job growth.

    The business press can see signs for a strengthening of the American economy in the next 5 years, and part of this a reversal of the trend of outsourcing jobs (a return to industrialization):

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8844646/World-power-swings-back-to-America.html

    The Telegraph article is a bit overblown, but the point is that an economic recovery can be envisioned to occur by 2016. The cadets of 2006-2016 may be a lost generation.

    Conservative pundits are advocating reform of the financial industry because they fear that hubris could lead to disaster (their ultimate nightmare is communism), and they know that wonderful profits can easily be made the old fashioned way, as was done all those years from 1933 to 1999. This (next article) is not an insignificant statement given its source and the nature of the political forces in the U.S. today. Such an editorial is a direct result of OWS as a big and continuing social phenomenon. The bigger OWS is the more it embodies the existential fears of capitalism’s managers.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/opinion/kristof-crony-capitalism-comes-homes.html

    The idea of debt relief has gone mainstream, and Wall Street loves it!. Angela Merkel stared down the European banks and made them accept a 50% write down of the Greek debt. The stock market zoomed 300 points, because they are far more concerned with the “stability” and continuity of the Euro-zone market system than they are with a few banks losing a few 10s or even 100s of billions, so long as the game and the global banking casino is not shut down by a currency (Euro) and credit market (i.e., banking industry) collapse.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/world/europe/europe-in-accord-on-basics-of-plan-to-save-the-euro.html?_r=1

    Obviously, the concept of debt relief will be pushed and expanded further and further, because the debt burden everywhere is like a bone caught in the financial world’s throat. Once it is finally swallowed or coughed out, then the feasting can begin again. When debt is cancelled, people are free to borrow, spend, create, and expand productivity, i.e., generate earnings and profits. The next Steve Jobs may be in OWS, just waiting for student loan relief to set him capitalistically free. So here is one big OWS demand in the making:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45040659/ns/us_news-life/?google_editors_picks=true#.TqoveHEwHmw

    The young generation in OWS wants the freedom to advance their bourgeois, capitalist aspirations, they want to be the Jobs and Obamas of the 2020s. They do not want to shrink their vision into re-entering a proletarian life, nor occupy their minds and time with “organization” for proletarian unions like the UFW, nor an elusive millennialist “revolution.” The American proletariate is Mexican (and they are very conservative, aspiring to the bourgeoisie, at least for their children). The cadets manning OWS will never adopt Marxism, and OWS is not a popular uprising in the style of the Mexican or Russian (February) Revolutions. Few have flocked to the red banner.

    OWS is a leaderless mass coincident awakening, it is not an organized uprising, nor will it become so. The people in OWS are shackled by debt and economic fear, and they are gathered to celebrate the freeing of their minds of a number of illusions. They may go on to be active politically, each in his/her own way, but they are very unlikely to relinquish their identification with the American bourgeois mindset, or to relinquish their painfully realized mental freedom into submission to a complex ideology of elusive promise.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 28, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  46. Regarding the discussion of the Occupy Wall Street movement: Here is a short video that describes how income inequality evolved in the U.S. to what it is today.

    It is clear, and about as politely stated as is possible.

    Here’s the data in a bit more detail:

    Click to access WheresMyJobSlides.pdf

    My editorial (for here) on the economic history of the overall situation is limited to the timeline listed below.

    1932-1934:
    Pecora Commission

    1933:
    Glass-Steagall Act

    1981:
    Reagan Administration

    1994:
    North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),
    deindustrialization, or “outsourcing”

    1999:
    Gramm-Leach-Blyly Act (repeal of Glass-Steagall)

    2007:
    Real estate bubble

    2008:
    Financial crisis: bank insolvency, stock market crash,
    Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

    2011:
    Occupy Wall Street (OWS)

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — October 29, 2011 @ 2:41 am

  47. The debate continues: http://newyork.platypus1917.org/what-is-the-occupy-movement/

    Although I think the contributors/participants are much better than the Jacobin panel. Jacobin and Platypus deserve a lot of credit for bringing these events together. It seems like they are actually interested in engagement, unlike the sects and grouplets.

    Comment by Binh — November 1, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

  48. Binh wrote:

    “Instead of persisting in the argument I decided to find out why people didn’t want to take up demands at this time.”

    What was the general consensus you discovered on the reason?

    “I would be surprised if they even muster 50% for the jobs for all proposal, even though most of OWS thinks jobs for all is a good thing.”

    Curious, that. Why do you think that’s so?

    Manuel wrote:

    “Making demands is an unnecessary distraction for OWS”

    Then what is it a distraction _from_?

    “their demands are explicit in their massed presence”

    To a point, that’s quite true. But a mass of beggars or homeless are also a demand in their massed presence and specific demands wouldn’t hurt their cause.

    Comment by Todd — November 2, 2011 @ 12:30 am

  49. “Then what is it a distraction _from_?”

    Fair enough. I’ve made the effort to explain in an article (or two) I submitted to an internet magazine; I was unable to explain briefly.

    However, everything in that article, on this particular point, has already been said in my comments here and there in the UM. I wrote the article to put these scattered thoughts into a coherent whole, and in language for a general audience.

    When the article appears, I’ll note the link in an appropriate place at the UM, and let it speak for itself.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — November 2, 2011 @ 4:39 am

  50. @ Todd, #48, as noted in #49:

    On OWS question:

    “Making demands is an unnecessary distraction for OWS”

    Then what is it a distraction _from_?

    See:

    Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
    7 November 2011
    http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

    From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street
    7 November 2011
    http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci32.html

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — November 7, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  51. What was the general consensus you discovered on the reason?

    A variety of reasons, some strategic and specific, others general. See: http://www.indypendent.org/2011/09/29/participatory-democracy-engaged/ and the video here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/encounters-with-occupy-wall-street/

    For me, the pros outweigh the cons. Right now it is better not to have formal demands since that would limit the scope of the movement. Everyone brings in their own demands.

    Comment by Binh — November 14, 2011 @ 4:34 am

  52. Binh, it’s not like these reasons in and of themselves prevent a consensus from being reached: any single individual, for any reason that person’s heart desires, right or wrong or completely on another planet, can simply prevent demands from being formed by saying “No”. All that person has to do is keep standing there and saying “No”.

    I’m not sure why articulating some demands would “limit” the scope of the movement: the mere fact that the movement appeared and dared to name names and point fingers limited the scope of the movement. If not making a demand to keep a minority of libertarians or anti-Semites happy is the way OWS wants to work, they’ve still limited their scope (if not moreso) as much as if they’d pissed those people off.

    Manuel, thanks for providing the links; I’ll have to get back to you about them later: I only skimmed the first one, and I couldn’t see right away an answer to my question. I’ll look at it again ASAP.

    Comment by Todd — November 15, 2011 @ 3:26 am

  53. Here’s how adopting demands would limit the scope of the movement, using the “Jobs for All” proposal as an example:

    – It completely ignores the “money out of politics” sentiment.

    – We’d lose the support of workers and other sectors that are influenced the right on issues of immigration and crime and punishment (jobs for all explicitly applies to the undocumented and those with criminal records).

    – What about the people who already have jobs? What is the movement doing for them or saying to them?

    – What about the people whose main issue is gentrification and rent control (Occupy 477, for example)?

    – What about the people who are concerned for indigenous rights, free trade agreements, etc.?

    All of these sectors and many more might even leave the movement if the sense of “bring your own demand, bring your own issue” was lost. The people think we should make a formal list of demands now have yet to explain how doing so would concretely strengthen the movement.

    On consensus: a single individual cannot block a proposal unless they constitute 10% of the body. Successful blocks require 10% or more in the process that they are using, and facilitation is pretty skillful about manuevering around that, hence why the occupation hasn’t totally collapsed as the result of a single block.

    Comment by Binh — November 18, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  54. Manuel, I’ve looked over both your articles to find what making demands is a distraction from, but I still don’t see what it is you’re pointing at. Would you mind telling me where in at least one of the articles I should look again more closely?

    Binh, I’m slightly more reassured that one person can’t block a proposal, but requiring only 10% of the group to block it doesn’t reassure me all that much more . . . .

    As for your example, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be arguing that it’s impossible to have one demand that satisfies absolutely everyone and/or equally impossible to have more than one demand. Neither point makes much sense: the first because you’re trying to be all things to all people, the second because there’s nothing wrong with lists of demands (albeit “laundry lists” are less impressive).

    How would making at least one demand concretely strengthen the movement? People who heard the demand who weren’t favourably inclined towards OWS (or who hadn’t even heard much of substance about it) might be more inclined to think of it favourably if OWS demonstrated that it had something important to them on its agenda eg debt relief, stopping or reversing foreclosures, etc

    Comment by Todd — November 20, 2011 @ 1:08 am

  55. Todd, I realize now that my articles would not be clearly intelligible to the readers of this forum. So, I’ll give my opinion on the question as briefly and overtly as I can, here.

    Q: Why doesn’t the Occupy Movement issue demands?

    A: There is no “Occupy Movement”, hence “it” cannot issue demands.

    There are only many individuals who each want to change everything about the political economy of the United States (and the entire world). They are enjoying meeting each other, and participating in the collective mood of being a part of something big: transforming mass consciousness, beginning with their own.

    The demand that “the” OM make demands is an argumentative push to eliminate individuality, and then to reduce “the movement” to allowable items of discussion, so “the rest”, which would be most of it, would be discarded from further consideration. This is called “framing” (by people like George Lakoff). Once the scope of discussion has been allowed to be bounded — by the opponents of the movement obviously — then the frames are reduced (by sophistry, and the currently acceptable forms of dysfunctional public discourse) until the movement disappears by the process of reductio ad absurdum.

    John L. Lewis was once asked what the United Mine Workers “really wanted”. His reply was: “More!”

    The demand that you state your demands is also a demand that you acknowledge a higher authority; which grants you permission of taking a rebellious attitude toward it (bratty child).

    My articles, and my comment about demands being a distraction, were giving the above, but from a perspective of a psychological assessment of OM people as being highly aroused by the socio-economic issues they have been swept into, yet often quite inarticulate about formulating the connections between their cognitive states and the external political economy, “the institutions”, and the political practices in play.

    Simply put, anyone who asks an OM camper “what are your demands?” isn’t worth talking to. The obvious reply would be “anyone who camps out here already knows.”

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 20, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  56. Todd, what demand do you think that OWS could make that would win over the dwindling number of people who have an unfavorable impression of the movement? A cop in Atlanta emailed Occupy Atlanta for help blocking his foreclosure, so obviously the lack of formal demands isn’t stopping people from coming to the movement for help with concrete problems.

    Comment by Binh — November 21, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

  57. Thanks for the reply, Manuel, even if it didn’t address the question I asked.

    (And, yes, your articles are intelligible; they just didn’t address my question.)

    “They are enjoying meeting each other, and participating in the collective mood of being a part of something big: transforming mass consciousness, beginning with their own.”

    Sure. This is something very positive, and I support it. Even if that were all that came out of OWS, I’d still call what happened successful.

    “The demand that ‘the’ OM make demands is an argumentative push to eliminate individuality,”

    Nonsense. Are you trying to argue that bourgeois individuality is so important in this context that it trumps making collective demands? The fact that these people are working together the way they are puts the lie to that.

    And, remembering the business with the drummers in Zucotti Park, I don’t think people in OWS are _that_ concerned about everyone doing his/her own thing with _no_ consideration for anyone else.

    “Once the scope of discussion has been allowed to be bounded — by the opponents of the movement obviously — then the frames are reduced”

    Yes, but this can happen in any context in which a small group with authority can manipulate matters to this end. And we know that the authorities and their media lapdogs would try to pull this one, manipulating what OWS might or might not say. People also knew the cops would very likely be unleashed on them, but that didn’t stop them from putting their bodies on the line like that.

    BTW, I don’t think it was Lewis but Gompers who made the “more” speech. And I believe he also said something about wanting more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals. Quite specific demands, no?

    “The demand that you state your demands is also a demand that you acknowledge a higher authority”

    I demanded that you state your points; does this mean you think I’m a higher authority? Come on! You’re forgetting that being spoken to at all rather than being ignored means something.

    “The obvious reply would be ‘anyone who camps out here already knows.'”

    I’d say these people know what they’re _directly against_, the material causes that made them come forward. Having demands means you know what you’re _for_, and, yes, while many if not most of OWS isn’t sure about this, why can’t they learn?

    Binh wrote:

    “A cop in Atlanta emailed Occupy Atlanta for help blocking his foreclosure, so obviously the lack of formal demands isn’t stopping people from coming to the movement for help with concrete problems”

    No, and I see no reason why it should. However, making demands can make that number of people coming forward go up by letting people know just what OWS is for.

    “what demand do you think that OWS could make that would win over the dwindling number of people who have an unfavorable impression of the movement?”

    This isn’t an exercise in applied physics; that’s the way your question is making the point sound: “show me proof that making demands will increase favourable impressions of OWS by X amount.” You show me proof that OWS is definitely going to be something more than a explosion of populist anger against finance.

    Christ, if you don’t want to argue anymore, just say so, and we’re quits. I haven’t been convinced by anything you’ve said and you haven’t been convinced by my points.

    Comment by Todd — November 21, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  58. Todd, why don’t you just state the list of demands you think are needed. They will easily enter public discourse from this UM blog, and then the Occupy Movement people can adopt them as they wish.

    What difference does it make whether I or any other outside commentator believes the OM should or shouldn’t “make demands.” Just put them out there and let them speak (to the OM people) for themselves.

    “Having demands means you know what you’re _for_, and, yes, while many if not most of OWS isn’t sure about this, why can’t they learn?”

    You really want to teach them don’t you?

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 21, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

  59. Todd, the reason the question was posed that way is because that is how it must be answered by people in favor of making a formal list of demands to convince the skeptical/hostile majority who disagrees with them. That’s the reality. I’m not trying to convince you so much as to show what kind of political hurdles stand in the way of your line of argument being accepted by the majority of the movement. As far as I’ concerned the actions imply the demands and nothing more is really needed at this stage.

    Comment by Binh — November 24, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  60. Manuel wrote:

    “why don’t you just state the list of demands you think are needed.”

    Because this isn’t about specific demands. This is about making demands at all.

    “Just put them out there and let them speak (to the OM people) for themselves.”

    You make it sound as though nobody has even talked about making demands. From what I’ve seen, every time that’s been tried through “official channels”, it’s been shot down. By a minority that’s simply dead-set against _any_ demands whatsoever for purely ideological reasons.

    “You really want to teach them don’t you?”

    Why should I when they’ve got much better teachers there?

    Binh wrote:

    “the reason the question was posed that way is because that is how it must be answered by people in favor of making a formal list of demands to convince the skeptical/hostile majority who disagrees with them.”

    Except that the idea doesn’t need to go past a skeptical/hostile _majority_, does it? Just a skeptical/hostile minority, which makes it even harder in this case, no?

    Comment by Todd — November 27, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  61. @ #60

    End of discussion.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 28, 2011 @ 3:36 am

  62. No Todd, it’s the majority. For a good overview I suggest this: http://nymag.com/news/politics/occupy-wall-street-2011-12/index3.html

    Comment by Binh — December 1, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  63. The G.A. voted down the “Jobs for All” demand with 36 in favor, 18 against, not that the GA counts for much at this stage of the game.

    Comment by Binh — December 20, 2011 @ 4:21 pm


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