fragments of an attempted writing.

OWS debate, transgendered concerns, Occupy proceduralism, usual ephemera....

a debate on #occupyws from Jacobin on Vimeo.

This has been going around a lot.  It starts out rather slow but ends up being a decent debate between anarchists and collectivists.  Obviously I tend to agree with Henwood and Dean.

The anarchist notion that expressions of autonomy (nothing hierarchically above "well, for me this movement means...") and taking up space (as in Zucotti Park) and aversions to commonalities are victories in and of themselves - this strikes me as the concerns of a privileged, decidedly petit-bourgeois left.  Let's face it, there are two types of people who have time to go camp out in Zucotti Park for weeks on end - those with considerable means, and those with very little means.  Most people who need health care, and/or who are mired in debt, and/or are food insecure, and/or who are underemployed or have seen lessened or stagnated wages, these folks aren't going to prioritize autonomy in the manner that anarchist Manhattanites do or demand autonomy to the degree than anarchist Manhattanites do.

The vocal aesthetic of the manner in which Natasha Lennard uses and pronounces the word fuck could not possibly reinforce the caricature of anarchist intellectual more.

Henwood's comment about believing in representative democracy because "most people don't want to spend their lives in meetings" resonated with me, particularly after listening to discussion at the recent general assembly of my local Occupy Memphis group Monday night.  There was disagreement regarding whether or not the word women's in women's caucus (the women's caucus had met the night before for the first time) was exclusionary of transgendered people.  After a half hour of discussion about other potential words and their relation to gender constructs and a whole host of other identity politics issues no consensus was reached (though it seemed for a while that the rule that anyone who self-identified as a woman could go would be adopted, but this of course glosses over all the problems inherent in the word women, etc., etc., ad nauseam), and a later meeting was scheduled to deal with the issue. I didn't stay for that later meeting, but I heard it lasted a good length of time, and a decision was finally reached that the feminists, the homosexuals, the transgendered, and everybody else in the group could all live with.  On the one hand, there are people there whose experience in life is such that they are used to "having no voice" or having their "voices" squashed, and I think it a good thing that they be able to have some experience of self-determination within a collective.  Good on them.  I don't care what they call the women's caucus, and most of the people I know who have been born male but came to self-identity female would have been very happy to attend a caucus called a women's caucus if they felt welcome there, and I am sure such would be welcome to the caucus in question because in my experience nobody is made to feel unwelcome at any Occupy Memphis event.

But man oh man (sorry for the militantly sexist colloquialism), for a group that is organizationally anarchist, damn there is a lot of proceduralism - at every turn there is discussion about group decisions and the decision making process and what had been decided and what we're supposed to do now in light of previous general assembly decisions and there is all this procedural jargon (and hand motions even) peculiar to Occupy Everything and lots of people pointing out when procedure hasn't been followed and so on and so forth.  This might be "empowering" to some people for a spell, but as someone who hates meetings and proceduralist minutiae, I would not want to spend my life in an Occupy My Neighborhood or somesuch where we had to constantly work through every damn issue via radically democratic consensus methods involving a lot of time spent on procedural dross and my anal next door neighbor who likes to call the city when my grass is "too tall" now correcting me every time I made some procedural mistake at the Occupy My Neighborhood general assembly.   Then again, I appreciate the fact that the general assemblies are subversive to the extent that they create something of an alternative government for people whose "official" government is inaccessible to them.

But, to be honest, what it really comes down to for me is that the people who chant "whose park? our park!" over and over again have agreed to the city ordinance not allowing alcohol in the park - how utterly unsubversive and it's been too cold to be outside without a flask handy.  I mean, for anarchists some of these people really like rules - they just want to have first hand experience in the rule creation process (it's as if the city's rule against alcohol in the park is "baptized" because the general assembly agreed to the rule).  Personally, I'd rather have fewer rules governing my personal behavior (use the wrong hand motion in a general assembly and watch how many point-of-orders you get, sigh), and less talk of rules altogether, but, as the kids say, whatever...

The point the guy in the audience makes (starting around 1 hour 4 minutes in) about the unions destroying the protest movements in WI is apt.  This is one point that the Henwood and Dean don't get far enough into - if we reject anarchist autonomism and the mere occupation of space as a means of decoding subjectivities which have been forced upon us by authoritarian structures in society, and we insist on clear and precise demands, how do these demands not then get co-opted into liberal political machine structures (union bureaucracies, the Democratic Party, etc.)?

Of course, most of the things debated here were debated operating under the working assumption that Occupy Everything is an actual movement, and I agree with the guy in the beginning who said that it is not yet a movement.  I think most of the old left assume that this not-yet-movement will fall apart and that its import will be that it helped further radicalize some people, that it brought social agitation to national light, that it built solidarity among those arrested or beaten up a bit by cops, and so forth.  Every revolutionary situation is preceded by a lot of "failed" protest phenomena.  It'll all come out in the wash.


  1. I saw most of this as well. My reactions are similar. The phrase that comes to mind now is “mental constipation”. I think that is where the anarchoid stuff is coming from. The Occupy movement is filling a gap, and that’s about it. It’s the masses starting to form their first syllables: an important step, but not by any means decisive. Another phrase that comes to mind is Trotsky’s “dual power”. Revolutionary situations only emerge when another source of power appears in society, one that challenges and offers a path forward against the reaction. That “power” is just as authoritarian on one level as the ruling class’ state: it gives a categorical imperative that divides the society and forces you to choose sides. It may not be a new state, or a political party. In revolutionary Russia, it was the soviet.

    The anarchist idea of “we don’t want power” is criminally unimaginative. I think it was Bukharin who stated that anarchists only have two rules: 1. Never form an organization. 2. Never follow rule 1. The point is not to never exercise power, but how to keep power from turning into bureaucratic stagnation. And you can’t do that by sitting in a park and trying to create an alternative society. A new way of thinking and acting is only possible in struggle, and ultimately that is a struggle over who has the right to use force to determine the course of society.

    As for being in meetings all of the time, one wonders how this would work under real socialism. Would I have to sit in a meeting every week or every month to determine how to produce, what to produce, and so on? What would those be like? I always wondered how the idea of immediate recall would work in practice under a workers’ state. I don’t think that one could give a concrete answer here, but I will say that people tend to denigrate the idea that socialism will create a new type of human being (take that, bourgeois determinists) when capitalism has so much bombarded our brains from youth regarding what we should wear, what we should eat, how we should think, and so on. Imagine life with no stupid beer commercials; would there even be football on Sunday television anymore? What am I supposed to do with my weekend, then?!

  2. I think a post-Autonomist strategy for Marxists and Anarchists could be to create networks (cooperatives, communes) of people, material, technology, etc that work better than capitalist ones... create a growing population autonomous from the State and capital, while having agents stationed in institutions (government, education, etc.) steering them towards communism. I think a multi-modal system of revolutionary activity within and without the status quo is what's needed... a sort of anti-capitalist Western Hezbollah sort of entity (or network of entities) needs to emerge and win over the masses, both intellectually and physically. If people have all their needs met without the State or Capital, and this system is able to defend itself against the State and Capital, we will win and a new society will emerge.

  3. I agree with both of the above comments.

    On another note:

    From the thread here:

    There is this gem of a comment, obviously directed at anarcho-femme Natasha's odd soliloquy moments in the debate:

    I don’t know about this. I think my mother, who just lost her crappy $10 job at a nursing home (and who, along with my dad, was victimized by subprime lenders on their mortgage refinancing) would rather hear more about “new ways of fucking” than jobs and healthcare. I’ll make sure to bring that up at this Sunday’s meeting!

    Sometimes the anarchists do get a bit ahead of themselves.

  4. Lastly a point made to Henwood in a later discussion on this debate, by Sasha Lilly on FB:

    there seems little awareness on the outside of the conflicting currents within anarchism (yet they were glimpsed for a moment in the debate when the anarchist blogger agreed with the DSA fellow about the problems with spokes councils). To be very simplistic, one could posit that during Seattle the consensus/ spokescouncil model associated with the David Solnits and David Graebers of the world (coming out of the Direct Action Network) predominated, although there were other currents involved. Then the global justice movement fell apart after Sept 11th (perhaps even before) and some anarchists revolted against that "new anarchism" model. Along with those who would identify as ultraleftists, they embraced a form of politics, popularized by The Coming Insurrection, which was an amalgam of insurrectionist anarchism of Alfredo Bonanno, Situationism, French ultraleftism, and Badiou (Maoist). If you read The Coming Insurrection, it's quite vanguardist and very critical of consensus politics (which of course come out of the Quakers, not anarchism, but that's another story). These insurrectionist ideas were influential, but not as influential as one might think, and it's been said that their followers were mainly a handful of graduate students. The university occupations in California, and I believe NY too, were partially initiated and inspired by this current. Occupy Wall St appears to indicate the reemergence of the old model, initiated by the Sitrins and the Graebers, yet including insurrectionists as well. At least, that's what it looks like from the West Coast; I'd like to be corrected if I'm wrong. It should be added that there are all sorts of class struggle anarchists and anarchists of other stripes in North America who are not represented by either of these currents, and these anarchists are arguably the majority.

  5. Among the many problems with these type of things is that a lot of the demands don't actually require some superstructure. The agrarians can go ahead and support themselves on farms if they want to. The urban hermits can live cheaply in the ghetto if they want, but they don't. Lord knows you don't need the community to exercise your sexuality. I wouldn't trust a lot of these folks to run a one-man lemonade stand.

  6. M.Z.,

    I'm going to pass on the opportunity your use of the phrase "one-man lemonade stand" presents in this context, and let the Occupy Bloggerdom general assembly come up with whatever rules it wants to issue on gender language pertaining to lemonade stands.

    To be fair, however, this is the South. I know some of these people. Some of them came from small towns around Memphis where life growing up gay or gender transitioning in the context of rural, misogynist, homophobic, and Jeezus pup whelping communities of the most banal prejudice and religious superstition concerning anything that isn't male/female in missionary position sex can be especially brutal. So I'm fine with them having their time and their space to have a voice in a group determination of that language that has been an vehicle of cruelty to them. But I don't think I'm prepared to offer more than one half hour a year to such efforts personally. I hate meetings and can read Julia Kristeva at home with a mason jar of wine in my hand.

  7. Although Lennard's means of communication was at times annoying, she did just get blacklisted by the US corporate media because of her presence in this panel.

    I think this panel brings to light different personality types/backgrounds' effect on types of political thought, and vice versa. Also, it seems like the orientations of different people's thought aren't necessarily inhabiting the same planes... and are seemingly contradictory, but both seem to be true, or contain compelling truth that is worth following. I guess we'll end up having to find the another vector space or something...

    Rough sketch: Anarchists want to create spaces of freedom and utopia in the here and now, ones that prefigure future society - and these zones created by people in their social relations with each other spread, eventually encompassing reality. Like the Situationists they want an end to alienation in daily life. This thought has a horizontal, moral-emotional, aesthetic-spacial orientation. It is about imminence. People this resonates most with tend to think in an aesthetic-spacial, social relational, moral-emotional sort of way. This anarchist tendency is fully legitimate in my mind, and is basically the way I think and respond to daily life. So, for people that live in this life-world, poststructuralism and acid Deleuze/Debord talk makes sense and has meaning but warrants ? responses from Henwood and most Americans.

    The Marxists have various tendencies - the Dean/Henwood orientation is informed by practical and theoretical knowledge of economics and politics. They see an external structure that they want to change using state power. Henwood is not oriented toward Hegelian philosophy. I haven't read much of Dean's work. Henwood has a more Empirical-practical orientation to his thought, and wants to win political battles within the framework of the State/political economy structure. He uses Marxist economic analysis as a practical means of understanding what is going on in the world right now. He doesn't seem to be overly worried about alienation in daily life beyond the world of work. This is more in keeping with American manners of thinking, but most Americans would never go for organized Marxist politics, or at least I see it as highly unlikely. For more Hegelian Marxists, the forms of thought they employ are more transcendent and abstract... they want to press Idea into Material and actively move History towards communism. They have a more transcendent, dialectical, and abstract sort of logic. It would have been interesting if they had someone like Alain Badiou on the panel.

  8. Andrew,

    Yeah I saw that she had been axed. And with you I lament that. She has a certain charm, and the idea that she is unfit to write for the NYT because of her activities is farcical beyond measure. That Limbaugh & Co. exert such influence in places like the NYT reveals how dismal the situation is for the left in this country, and how impotent the left is.

    A friend of mine summed up his thoughts on Natasha's language in the debate: "she sounds so damn grad school." If that's the case at least grad school would involve some fun conversations.

    Henwood is a bourgeois liberal who makes use of Marx but is not a radical, though friendly to radicals. I think the guy has some good insights from time to time, but in the end reformism is reformism.

    Jodi Dean is among those academic leftists who, with Zizek and Badiou, argue that the name communist should be embraced instead of dropped, a position which contrasts that of those who argue that the term communist should be dropped for socialist as the term communist carries such baggage. I'd be interested to learn if Dean actually belongs to any organization using the term communist to describe itself, but given how Zizekian she is I wonder if she would belong to such. She seems to be among those academic Marxist-Leninist but unaffiliated types. You might find this interesting:

    I more or less agree with how you break things down here, though I would offer caveats about anarchism. Lennard's anarchism strikes me as a rich kids' anarchism, and for many a reason this leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    This imminence thing is interesting. About one third of the occupiers at Occupy Memphis are homeless. The Occupation site is a city park that is now cleaner and safer than it ever was before. Homeless people who come join the occupation get a tent, a warm sleeping bag, all sorts of donated clothes, free food and drink all day long, camaraderie, and all sorts of other perks. But can we say the occupation has benefited them? Aside from a bit of respite and a time of basic human interaction, no. They go back to their usual existence when this ends. But the upper middle class younger anarchists who participate to get their imminence kicks met get to wear this experience as a part of their long(er) term identity formation (their lifestylization, if you will) and for them this experience/experiment of imminence will be a gift that keeps on giving. It will provide them with a measure by which to frame other experiences in their lives, it will (for some, anyway) nudge them towards other experiences of imminence, etc. (the homeless in Memphis don't have the luxury to go imminence seeking, they only get it when it comes to them).

  9. - cont'd -

    I don't write all this to dismiss imminence seeking. Of course the Paris commune was an imminence seeking enterprise and there is a venerable tradition there. I just think that actually caring about bringing about a "new world" involves some recognition that shifts in power and possession of a lasting sort must occur. There are plenty of anarchists who agree with that. The IWW Constitution begins:

    "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

    Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth."

    I'm inclined to think that the most real imminence is class struggle as class struggle. Occupations which vaguely deal with class struggle and aren't first and foremost about the formation of a mass struggle that is mass struggle are not really about class struggle. Natasha's bits about each person finding their subjectivities in all this thus strikes me as decadent, while at the same time I grant that for those who've had the shit beaten out of them by forced homogenieties, like my gay friends who grew up in redneck rural TN, that "finding new ways to fuck" ethos provides some room to breath.

    It would have been interesting to have seen a Marxist on the panel who believes that the workers must unite, organize, form coherent organizations, take power, and take the means of production and the provision of services, but at the same time have this Marxist not be one advocating for a vanguard or operating as if one is assumed. The communist individuals and organizations that are vanguardist have not provided a vanguard that has had one iota of influence upon the direction of the workers of this country - at least not in this generation, and never in any lasting manner. So either an effective vanguard must be raised, which seems rather implausible by merely repeating old vanguard models tried over and over again in American society - never with success, or vanguardism must be dropped for another model. It is interesting to note the great lengths Marx and Engels went to not be a vanguard or to form a vanguard.


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