fragments of an attempted writing.

on the intellectual basis of OWS...

David Graeber in protest attire.  Photo found here.

Understanding the Occupy Wall Street movement has been characterized as damn near impossible - how do you meaningfully parse a loosely associated group of frustrated persons unified by themes of gripery?  Or so most media and pundit outlets (including a lot of Leftist pundits) have it.

But this is simply wrong.

Whatever one thinks of OWS and the emergent Occupy protests nationwide and worldwide, it has an organizational structure and a protest culture and an ethos that is entirely understandable and has been the subject of analysis.  The people behind OWS were, most of them anyway, people with various degrees of involvement in the WTO protests.  Naomi Klein has written many popular articles, essays, and a book on that, and many of her descriptions of the culture, ethos, and "theory" in WTO camps easily applies to the OWS movement.  But if you really want to understand OWS, you need to read two works by radical anthropologist David Graeber:

Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology


Direct Action: An Ethnography

Graeber has been a part of the OWS movement from the beginning, planning stages.  When you read OWS literature on their organizational structure and process, it is like re-reading Graeber's works above in abbreviated form.  The culture and ethos of OWS are also exactly the sort of thing Graeber describes and analyses in his books.

There is no doubt in my mind that most of the disaffected youth showing up to OWS and other Occupy protests don't know this.  Most of them are completely unformed by radical political circles and radical political theory (including anarchist practice and theory).  But this hasn't stopped the mechanisms in place which are through-and-through the sort of anarchism Graeber has parsed like no one else.

Now, one caveat.  What is said above is certainly true at the larger Occupy protests - OWS, Occupy LA, Chicago, Portland, etc.  It is less true in some of the smaller outlets, particularly in certain regions.  Because of the consensus model used, to retain that WTO-to-OWS particular anarchist ethos seems to require a significant number of persons with those sensibilities present at the beginning stages.  But in areas where there are not so many persons with those sensibilities or experience with those sorts of protest cultures, the OWS model can be prodded to veer in other directions, or get caught up in debates which can create a "theory" quagmire for a local protest.  Here in Memphis there are a number of Ron Paul disciples involved in Occupy Memphis, and debate has occurred on whether or not ending the Fed should be a basic part of the Occupy Memphis platform.  This is no surprise as the Paulites are very active in Memphis and the South is, of course, infested with white people who love Ron Paul (and, for whatever it's worth, the Occupy Memphis working groups and general assemblies have been whiter than a loaf of Wonder Bread, which has created some angst considering the irony of a bunch of white people claiming to represent the 99% in a city that is less than 30% non-Hispanic white).  Perhaps the libertarians have more influence only in those areas lacking anarchist troops on the ground.  Perhaps this will result in splits within the Occupy movement.  For instance, in Dallas, there is both an Occupy Dallas, and an Occupy Dallas Federal Reserve (read more here, and note that the OWDallasFedReserve Facebook page links to libertarian and 9/11 truther Alex Jones' website).

But aside from that caveat, I think the intellectual and theoretical basis for OWS is undeniably there, and that we are talking about a theoretical tradition that is much more developed than most commenters on OWS seem to understand.

I write this as a communist who, though a Wobbly, is not an anarchist and is inclined to choose Marx and Engels over Proudhon and Bakunin.  But, disagree with the anarchists on some matters or not, they have a theory and a functional protest praxis, and this should be acknowledged by pundits and intellectuals who presume to articulate a meaningful assessment of OWS.

Update: More on the Paulites within an Occupy protest.


  1. That split seems pretty common. I'm working in an office with a pretty large InfoWars/Truther contingent, and at least one of them's pretty active in the local GA here. There's a similar split in Syracuse, with the Truther locals pushing out the silver-spoon college protesters (I'm not sure where the actual leftists are; the Left in that city is absurdly fractured. For the longest time, there was a an expensive Maoist/Guevarist coffee shop with fancy sandwiches around the corner from the cheap vegan anarchist coffee shop. The PSL's always floating around, too, and has taken to holding its meetings at the campus Catholic center - but I digress.) Anyway, the occupation here seems to be splitting along the same lines, and a lot of the Wobs are showing up early. We'll see what happens. (The Wobs here have perhaps a stronger-than-normal council communist skew, FWIW.)

  2. 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”


  3. Oh snap! Not the Platypus people, with the lamest slogan ever devised!

    If the "Left" was all humanity had going for it, I would try to devise a way to create a nuclear holocaust within a week. Thankfully, people are far more radical than the left will ever be when the rubber hits the road. This has been shown over and over again throughout history, in spite of the obvious failure of the working class to take power. But anything that the masses have won they have won in spite of the "Left" and not because of it.

  4. The Occupy Atlanta movement was (I use the past tense, because the police forcibly evicted everyone from the park where it was being held last night) heavily attended by DSAers, union members, college activists, and old guard civil rights activists. The demographics of the city are such that the Paulites are firmly entrenched in the Northern suburbs and could care less what happens in the city of Atlanta proper.

  5. AV: Well, taking a visit to your website, I noticed that you have Platypus under your blogroll as "required reading." Quite strange.

  6. Yeah... Like the website, but the slogan is fucking lame. I imagine it came about over a sixer of Smirnoff Ice and a night of vampire RPGs.

  7. I also link to this site, which is run by a card carrying member of the CPUSA. That doesn't mean much, really.

  8. I think the OWS intellectual basis can be summed up as: Let's party in the park. It's a giant camp-out. Complete with music. All they need is some mud and some live rock acts. Woodstock forever, man!

  9. Ross,

    The comment thread on that post had some of the strangest comments I've seen on a commie blog. I do like your blog too, even if I don't get the direction you are going half the time.


    You're just jealous because you don't belong to an organization from which you get insights like:

    Indeed, this moment is defined by a marked upswing, if not a qualitative turn, for our side - the people's side - of the class struggle. The most dramatic expression of this is the occupation of Wall Street. It is the newest wrinkle in a broadening, quickening, and to a degree spontaneous upsurge against the 1 percent that don't create, but control the wealth.

    Far more than weekend football, this phenomenon is capturing the imagination of tens of millions who are fed up with Wall Street's greed and worried sick about their own diminishing economic prospects.

    If you don't see the masses abandoning interest in sports and embracing social agitation against capital, you must just be blind.

    [I think I threw up in my mouth a little, writing that.]


    Yeah, a bunch of damn hippies:

    Actually, a communist acquaintance of mine took the bus to OWS this week, got there around 11pm, and found that there were a bunch of drunk folks and the lingering smell of cheap weed. He was firmly told there was no room for his sleeping bag - apparently sleeping space is a prize commodity and well established Occupiers don't want to give it up, or find their space crowded, by newbies, which would seem to be counterproductive, but, whatever. My friend said he was treated horribly, even threatened by a drunk guy to have his ass kicked, and other Occupiers laughed at the whole thing.

    Trust me, there are plenty of folks on the left not keen on the whole wanna-be bohemianism attached to the Occupy movement. At the same time, it's the game in town right now and all sorts of people, not just hipsters and patchouli oil addicts, show up to the marches, etc. But let me assure you there are plenty on the old/hard/crusty left who hope this either matures or ends quickly.


    I read an interesting account of the Occupy Atlanta thing, apparently written before the Occupiers were split up. In the account, the writer mentioned two homeless guys walking near the circle of protesters awaiting the police (who didn't come that night), one homeless guy says to the other - "that's the only white congregation in town where black people are allowed" - or something to that effect. The writer didn't mention what the racial make-up of the "congregation" was, but obviously it was mostly white, but still gave the impression of being welcoming to blacks. Here in Memphis the local Occupy movement is as white as a baptismal robe. I still have to laugh/cringe at the thought of a bunch of white folks using "occupy" language with regard to their intentions for an overwhelmingly black city. But I'll probably be at a general assembly tonight, so I'll have more to report later...


    I just learned via some debate that the end-the-Feder leader here is a hardcore Rothbardian. Great. And these damn polite middle class (or formerly middle class) liberals want to "find common ground" and thank him for expressing his views and such. I wish we had a good group of Wobs here, as they'd be inclined to just kick the kid's ass, which is what the drone needs. But, of course, that isn't what the nonviolent movement is all about, etc., etc.

  10. The Occupy Riverside seems to have good Hispanic participation, from looking at the Facecrack page, though it could just be the hippies making sure minorities are in the pic. The did have a rep on a local Spanish radio station last night.

    On the other hand, there was a lady complaining how all the meetings were held after the buses make their final stops. She wonderfully ended her comment in "some of us are more 99% than others."

    There are also a disturbing number of deuchebags dressed up as Guy Fawks...

    I guess I'll check it out for myself when the occupation officially begins tomorrow.

  11. L,

    "some of us are more 99% than others."



    I forgot to provide the link to the quote I gave for your edification above. Here it is:


  12. By the time we got to Wall Street / We were half a twinkle strong / And everywhere was the bong and the defecation....

    Well, I for one hope this thing keeps up. I find it immensely entertaining. Plus, it brings back my lost youth, lol.

    Diane "Just Call Me Down Twinkles"

    P.S. OK, only a woman would notice this, but...that gal being pepper-sprayed is rather expensively dressed. Hippie chic costs real cash. Just ask the patrons of American Apparel and Banana Republic.

  13. Ha! That image could totally be an American Apparel ad.

    There is this newish clothing store, called Hippie Geek, out in a suburban strip mall near Memphis. They had a booth at the local neighborhood festival in one of Memphis' bohemian neighborhoods. My parents go to that festival every year and my mother was saying that the full length madras skirts that she wore in the 60s and early 70s, which then cost next to nothing, are now selling for over $100 at the Hippie Geek booth. People were buying them. My mom couldn't believe it, said she wished she had saved hers.

    Strange, strange world.

  14. That image could totally be an American Apparel ad.

    You can say that again. I wouldn't put it past that smarmy creepy pustule who runs American Apparel to go for the look of pain on the girl's face, too. He's probably into S&M.

    Yeah, I wish I had saved my madras skirts, too!

  15. back to Graeber and anarchism...

    I think in the US and Western Europe's radical political scene's 16-30 demographic anarchism (Insurrectionsim, anarcho-syndacalism, etc) is way more prevalent than organized Marxism. I think anarchism is more compelling and simple - directly take control of your life and space, respect everyone as equals, and try to bring about the end to capitalism and the State through direct action in coordination with friends and other affinity groups. The culture of anarchism is easily accessed (but is it just lifestylism?) throughout America through underground music scenes, independent bookstores, Food Not Bombs, various types of coops, bike shops, etc... and from my experience is fairly diverse in socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds (sometimes).

    Like American Orthodox jurisdictions poaching Evangelicals, I think the organized commie groups in the US will have to start trying to bring in/convert young anarchists, or at least merge more into some post-Autonomist libertarian Marxist form that is distinct and new... the trappings of the old forms of communist parties will have to change to attract newcomers who can easily just band together with their friends and be anarchists, and not have to deal with party bureaucracy or esoteric high theory debates.

    But as the Trotskyites yelled at me when I said things like this to them, "What plan do YOU have? We have one and Lenin blah blah October blah..."

  16. I think in the US and Western Europe's radical political scene's 16-30 demographic anarchism (Insurrectionsim, anarcho-syndacalism, etc) is way more prevalent than organized Marxism.

    I would think that no person who knows anything about radical European politics would deny this. You are absolutely correct.

    anarchism as more compelling and simple and easily accessed -- yes. Very true. The anarchists, syndicalists, and the occasional autonomist groups provide an ethos and group orientation much more suited to building youth growth than other old leftist groups.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the anarchists are the most fun to hang out with, and if you need someone to watch your back, not in a legal-or-get-money-for-your-sense but in a direct action sense, nobody does it better than syndicalists. Nobody goes after targeted bastard employers better than Wobs. Intellectually, I'm Marx over Proudhon every day of the week and twice on tuesdays, but my heart runs red and black. One of the things I like about AV's Marxist-Humanism is that it seems to have an anarchist spirit buttressed by a Marxist intellectual foundation.

  17. A caveat on my last comment:

    When you look at the world today, the two countries with the strongest youth radical movements are Greece and Chile. In both of those countries those radical movements are led by communist organizations. The J.J.C.C. in Chile is far and away the best run, most powerful, and most active youth radical organization in the world. It has a 23 year old female leader, Camila Vallejo, who may be president of Chile before she is 30 if things keep going as they are.


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