The Left Which is Not One, Part 3, Part 1: Anarcho-liberals, Liberal Reactionaries, Neo-Keynesian Pseudo-Leftists, and Occupy
These consist of two conversations held between “communists” (of a few different varieties, Marxist and Non-Marxist) about Occupy. I have edited them and changed some names to pen-names. I, however, am not altering the arguments. My own gloss is that while I thought Occupy was a movement of hope, my fears that the left wouldn’t not take it’s inevitable failure as a wake-up call to break with a lot of the prior models of politics and offer a real political alternative seems to have been confirmed. That said a lot of the “self-critiques of Occupy” but its left-liberal all-stars are vapid. The participants in this discussion range from British Trotskyists who lived in China for a while to Iranian American Syndicalists to heterodox Canadian Marxist to American Zizekian scholars to American expatriate living in Asia and Europe. All of us have some first hand experience with Occupy, and many of us have been active in politics for many years.
This conservation came in response to Ilyse Hogue’s article, “Occupy Is Dead! Long Live Occupy!” and David Haack’s “The New Left Zombie is Dead, Long Live the Left!” The Haack article deliberately sounds like Platypus Affiliated Society’s “The Left is Dead, Long Live the Left” while Hogue article probably does not. Haack’s article and Hogue’s seem optimistic in the extreme, practically Haack’s assertion that Occupy returned to being focused on the working class and against lifestyle politics. The New Left actually said similar things when the founding of the New Communist Movement out of Maoism in the 1960s. The focus on process, pre-figuration to the exclusion of post-figuration, and “the movement IS the message” are all children of the New left shift. Regardless, I’ll end my editorializing here. Here’s the conservation:
Skepoet: Oh really? Now, as a heterodox ‘pode [Editor's Note: Member of the Platypus Affiliated Society], I find this slogan interesting, but “the movement lives on”? For how long, and for what purpose?
Douglas Lain: The death of Occupy will be the birth of a whole new series of NGOs, nonprofits, and political careers. Long live Occupy? No thanks.
Arya M: Occupy has accomplished its mission for first step of revolutionary change, and that was to raise public awareness and unity against the corruption elements of our socio/political environment. It in my opinion has accomplished its goal and can now peacefully dissolve. The next step must now be to formulate a political organization with strict inherent political goals, visions, and objectives. Occupy had none, its only goal was to raise public awareness and that has been done. Now we must unite behind strict ideas and goals, the instigation of political revolution being one and and an unwavering one. Step 1 has been completed, now we must act on step 2.
Wait, Doug, that is what the liberal/Democrats wish to do to the Occupy Movement. To use it to serve the interest of the already established political order, as nothing more than a reformist group. We on the radical left must make sure that we must save the legacy of the Occupy Movement as the earliest start of revolution.
Douglas L.: Raising public awareness of inequality was not the aim of Occupy. The awareness was there or Occupy would never have happened. Uniting behind strict ideas and goals is the tricky part, and it was what Occupy aimed at. However, Occupy was an anarchist movement and so it took the ideas and goals as something that would arise organically from mass action. I don’t know how these ideas and goals will arise. They cannot arise organically because they aren’t organic. Neither can they be imposed by a few, because they can’t succeed in this way either. I’m working for a rupture.
Arya M: Perhaps because Occupy was established by the Anarchist-leaning magazine Adbusters, the notion that Occupy was Anarchist seemed to have came out. But by the first week of Occupy there were many more liberals and even centrist who came to show their “support” the basic principals of the movement. And because without a truly strict ideology to lead the Occupy Movement it became very easily mutated to a front for the liberals to exploit. This is why a new movement or political organization needs a strict manifesto detailing exactly their unwavering objectives. I’ll give you an example of how Occupy has now become a front for the liberals. In January 20 of this year, Occupy protesters staged what they called “Occupy Congress”. sounds great doesn’t it? What was the goals of it? To get liberal minded lobbyist to support their cause of greater transparency in the economical realm…. I am not joking. This is why Occupy has accomplished its initial goal and why we must now move on to greater things, to step 2.
Douglas L.: The idea we need to unite behind can’t be imposed because it can’t be a mere idea. For it to be a progressive step it has to be something that takes the place of Value, but that is not mistaken for a natural truth. Democracy isn’t up to the task of providing us with such an idea because ideas that ate arrived at democratically are marked by human will and debased, but it must also be seen as a mere contrivance or product of our collective will if the new idea is to be something other than a mystification.
Arya M: And that is why I am stuck at step 2. Some form of organization thought has to be formed as the main leader for revolutionary actions, it must be seen to the American people as the sole honest group that actually has a difference of position to the political status quo. How do we do that?
Douglas L.: How are such liberals produced? And if we take our politics to be more radical we should ask how our politics are produced.
Arya M: Liberals are produced through the dual dichotomy of our two-party system, those who see that the problems within our social structures can also be solved within them. Radicals are the ones who say it is the social structure itself that is inherently the problem. We are radicals on the left, I would take you to be one as well.
Douglas L.: But how is it that we come to be? And how do these liberals come to be?
Arya M: What do you think? I am as curious to know what you think?
Douglas L.: I hoped you knew. That way I wouldn’t have to think too hard. Now I’ll have to think and get back to you. I like asking the hard questions better than answering them.
Arya M: The definition of “liberalism” and “radicalism” is a constantly changing one, constantly changing in relation to the attitudes, society, politics, etc of the nation. Had you been a liberal back in 1850 in England your goal would have been merely to gain voting rights for all men, something so naturally normal today would have been seen as the liberal action. Whereas a radical would demand for the whole change of the British political and social structure, something still viewed as highly radical today. So sometimes the definition changes and sometimes it stays the same, depending on what is the norm.
Skepoet: I’ll know I’ll be defined as a typical ‘pode on this one, but I do not think Occupy is anything to write home about at the moment. It is dying the non-death that 1999 protests and the 1968 protests did, it will divide into more neo-Keynesian liberalism and lifestyle poltiics rather quickly as these moves do. There are two reasons for this in my point of view. The lessons of the limitations of the new Left, although obvious, are refused for fear of taking responsibility. I wrote about that in my blog post, The Left Which is Not One, Part 2. This is a denial of responsibility for the failure of the left to truly offer something beyond either critique: post-Stalin Marxism (failed), post-Mao Sino-Marxism (has become neo-liberal), left-liberalism (deluded and failing on its own terms), and lifestyle anarchism. Anarchist thought still is too afraid of power and responsibiltiy to offer a coherent answer: what anarchists so far offer is either revisions of Marxims that have been tried (and have failed in the in past), process orientation avoidance of politics, and just rejection of the current. Marxist, so far, however, have offered even less than that. Mostly sectarian rambling, and vanguard posturing. Two, the theoretical framework within the left is incoherent, but no one outside of sectarians want to point out that pan-left utility wouldn’t even be leftist at this point given the extreme contradictions within groups. The third element isn’t a fault of Occupy: Most left forms of organization are based on differnt labor models and social strata than currently exist, and Occupy did try to address this but incoherently for the pior reasons. I said Occupy would fail, but how it failed mattered. It is failing the wrong way at the moment. It can still go the right way, but I fear that Doug is completely right.
Liberalism is much more constant than it appears. This nominalism is a cop out. I strongly suggest dialectics and genealogy. Lusurdo’s Liberalism is quite helpful here as are the books by Jonathan Irvine Israel’s on the Enlightenment. There is a surprising consistency to liberalism even though as the modern period continues, liberal modernity has broken up into several different strains of thought.
Hence my instance that we most strike at the root (genealogy) and move forward (dialectical negation of negation) at once. I have been returning to Hegel and Nietzsche and studying systems and integral theories as well as pointing out the flaws there. I also think I need to rethink modern organization and labor strategy. So it’s be a theoretical and practical gap.
On liberals, liberal ideology is a deliberate process formation that comes through dominant educational institutions in alignment with acceptable opinion in our economy and culture, but it is also partly set apart by inborn temperament. It emerges out of Enlightenment thinking and scientific thinking as well as capitalist modes of production. It’s sort of feedback structure of culture and economics. Still, the temperamental element is what splits liberalism up into the two camps we see in the Anglo-American world: liberals and conservatives. Jonathan Haidt did some good research here. SO there is liberalism as a orientation and liberalism as an ideology, and these are vastly different things. Liberals, of course, like to confuse them so to obscure the question and naturalized the totality of their ideology. Radicals can be of a liberal or conservative temperament, but think through the various contradictions to get at the “Root” of the problem. Radical comes from Radix, meaning root. What produces us seems to be harder question to answer: My suspicion is that we don’t know. We can’t. Our outs point out.
Paul B.: The article seems like a compromise between the Platypus orientation towards critique of the historical Left for its delusions about its own strength, and hence of the possibilities of social transformation, and the felt need to be ‘positive,’ without which there is the fear that the article wouldn’t gain a hearing. Maybe the better way is just to be ruthlessly clear about things – rile people up and push them towards clarity, which is the pre-condition of the Left’s possible revival.
Skepoet: Speaking of Platypus. The Review published a David Haack piece which seems absolute to be the same kind of apologetic for Occupy. I would love to believe that Occupy has been a real Oedipal break from the “New Left,” I think Haack is actually mostly just wishful thinking here. Let me give you an example:
Occupy Wall Street has freed us from the grips of the New Left and the paralysis that has prevented the arrival of a new movement aligned with the present. Occupy presents an opportunity to once again relate to our moment. This has occurred in two intertwined ways: tactics and culture. Culturally, all it took was for the Occupy movement to target Wall Street with populist rhetoric. The movement made the simple complex, and as a result it created a pluralistic and deeply egalitarian space. The simple phrases exemplary of this approach are “Occupy Wall Street!” and “We are the 99 percent.”
These two slogans were enough to end the cultural focus of the last 40 years. A myriad of different sub-narratives appeared under them, awe-inspiring in their multiplicity. Occupy is not just another call for a less socially sadistic culture with the class dimension drained out of the analysis—characteristic of most of the New Left and the whole period after it. It has an economic and populist focus that has galvanized a cultural shift in America. This could happen because the dam that had kept the alien narrative in place was not strong enough to hold back the weight of the economic recession in addition to Occupy’s novel tactics. Discourse and conditions finally met once again after a 30-year disconnect.”
This reads like bullshit. I saw evidence of inordinate amounts of privilege talk and liberal politicking. Furthermore, no workable alternative has yet emerged.
Paul B.: It is. I doubt whether Occupy has really ended ‘the cultural focus of the last 30 years,’ a claim that one hears and reads all the time. It sounds like a fine case of people believing their own publicity – which came in a torrent in every shape and form that the Internet and new social media would permit. ‘I want to believe.’ A better comparison is with the 1930s. How did unionizing succeed in the US then? What are US unions doing today? More pointedly, what are union militants doing today?
Skepoet: They are shilling for the Democratic party and 80% of the American workforce is outside of Unions. Hostility to Unions as self-interested labor aristocracy is common–not just among Occupy or the New Left, but among, well, almost everyone.
Paul B: I understand that, I think, but isn’t it true that in the 1930s huge numbers of people unionized? Is there any potential for that today? Is there anything to be learned from studying the period? I mean even if it is a question of organising outside of the big union bodies.
Skepoet: The industries are different, Paul. I wish this were not the case. There is no reason why they can’t unionize, but those models won’t work for it.
Paul B: Yes, I see that. But there must be some lessons that can be learned. Now, like then, it will take a great deal of audacity.
Skepoet: Lessons can be learned, but not by mimickry. This has been a bad Marxist tactic for a while and one that ignores the Hegelian conception of time. Furthemore, I don’t see many of us taking those kinds of risks at the moment.
(To be continued)