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)

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Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on April 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. What I’d want to write in reply to this if I had the time would be an essay that explored what Occupy and ’68 has to teach us about rupture and how “taking risks” can only be undertaken fruitfully when such risks at least have the potential to be seen as rational and self-interested. However, I’d also want to skewer utilitarian logic and a conception of self-interest that takes the self to be static. I wonder if such an essay would be helpful.

  2. I’d like to see it.

  3. Good to see some more debate on Occupy. I’m looking for some Marxist critique tho. These comparisons with 69 or even 1848 are superficial. We are facing a global potentially terminal crisis of capitalism. Objectively capitalism is on its last legs, not spewing milk as in 1848, or teens rebelling in the 60s (I was one of them politicised by Vietnam).
    So given the crisis, not the failure, of Marxism. Marxist reasons for? Workers defeated by fascism and imperialist war, then retreating under the boom to thirdworldism and Cuba worship. Marking time for decades, history ending in 1991, and now facing the first global crisis since the 1930s.
    So what do we expect? What we find happening. Return of Permanent Revolution in the Arab Spring. Fightbacks against austerity in the semi-colonies and declining imperialisms. Occupy inherits the politics of the popular front. Workers minus a vanguard will be mislead by reformists or all colors who feint left to strangle the youth.
    Occupying public spaces is good immediate, objectively transitional demand. Public under capitalism means private. Cops give us this message. Occupy has to learn quickly. Its uneven. Liberals want to occupy existing institutions to push them left, radicals want to unite disorganised working class. Marxists should be breaking workers from pop front i.e. from labor bureaucracy and their reformist parties.
    Example: Occupy Oakland ignores bureaucracy to shut down ports. The threat of a mass picket at Longview forces ILWU leadership to do a deal with EGT to renew contract. But contract is according to Jack Heyman a sell-out of basic hire and fire conditions. So Occupy plus the rank and file has the ball in its court. Where are the Marxists?
    So, Occupy is still there but the popular front is breaking up into those who want to use it as a vehicle for the reformists and those who want to draw the lessons to advance working class unity in struggle.
    Now its up to the 21c Leninists to take the next step.

  4. The Leninists of the movement are dysfunctional, but I have more analysis to come.

  5. I will say this for Haack’s article and for the view that #Occupy has reprioritized the economic dimension over various cultural identities: As opposed to the 1968 and 1999 moments, the 2011-2012 protests have involved a serious economic crisis in the most advanced capitalist nations of the world. This alone has made the dynamic slightly different. Nevertheless, there is still a strong cultural element in #Occupy, somewhere between the countercultural politics of the hippie (late 1960s-early 1970s) and punk/post-punk (late 1970s-early 1980s) movements and the identity politics of the late 1980s-1990s.

    Dave obviously is aware of this. He mentions the legacy of cultural politics in the context of #Occupy as follows:

    The Occupy movement has, however, retained some elements of the ’60s. These are the things about this era that I, and many others, see as overwhelmingly positive: Occupy continues to see fighting racism, heterocentrism, ageism, sexism, ableism, and cisgender privilege as important battles. In short, Occupy has left behind the negative elements of the alien narrative while upholding, and pushing even further, the positive demands fought for by the New Left.

    Despite my frequent skepticism toward the way that these kinds of politics get played out in everyday interactions within #Occupy, obviously I would not deny that “heterocentrism, ageism, sexism, ableism, and cisgender privilege” remain problems. However, anyone who attended the Spokescouncil meetings on a consistent basis a few months back knows how pathological the constant back-and-forth accusations of discrimination and marginalization can become. In other instances, however, it wasn’t nearly as much of a problem.

    I like Dave a lot, and I think that The Platypus Review is playing a valuable role in facilitating historical and theoretical reflections of activists who spend most of their time organizing and coordinating. For Dave, for whom the history of the New Left obviously is hugely important in today’s politics (both positively and negatively), I think that it provides an opportunity. I think that Dave is slightly too optimistic about the death of the New Left as an accomplished fact. However, as I tried to stress to him in conversations, this article can be just as much a statement of intent. If, as he suspects, the problematic New Left habits have largely (but not completely) been overcome in practice, then his theoretical and historical reflection on it can perhaps allow this overcoming to rise to the level of consciousness, so that it can be pursued on a more conscious and systematic basis. There still remains much work to be done on this front.

  6. The Leninists of the movement are dysfunctional

    To say the least.

  7. I am not on the ground in NYC, but, Ross, how is that different from the New Communist movement? It claimed many of the exact same things from 1968 and then went down a bizarre road which led, ultimately, to the Reagan years, and the complete collapse of most of its membership into smaller and smaller sectarian movements.

    The prioritizing of economics over identity isn’t unique to Occupy, the entire 1999 Seattle movement did that too, but with the same focus on pre-figuration and prior equity that seriously stalled it. This seems like repetition compulsion to deny that element is dominant in Occupy, particularly now the encampments have been more or less crushed.

  8. In so much that they exist: they tend to be either Trotskyists hydra sectarian purists, or Maoists who just want to ignore what has actually happened in China.

  9. Having just read Hogue’s piece on “The #Occupy movement is dead! Long live the #Occupy movement!”, I am really at a loss as to why people see Platypus’ critical/historical pessimism (as opposed to what we consider false optimism) in “The Left is dead! Long live the Left!” as so disheartening.

    Anyone who sympathizes with the seemingly radical promise of the #Occupy movement, Hogue’s gleefully positive gloss should be much more terrifying than any of our supposed doom and gloom:

    If Occupy died tomorrow, would it have left behind a fundamentally transformed landscape with new players, new methods and new values? The answer to that is an exciting and liberating yes.

    The thing that comes across most clearly for me here is that she is celebrating the death of #Occupy as already having done all the good it could potentially do, to hastily declare victory (one is reminded of President Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” banner) and (re)accommodate itself to the status quo. At least Platypus views the prospect of #Occupy’s death as problematic, or at least ambivalent. As Derick pointed out, the movement is up against nearly impossible odds, and will not, however hopeful it may be, ultimately prevail against global capitalism or inequality or probably even fracking. What has been important for Derick and I is how #Occupy might potentially fail. If it fails in the way that Hogue proposes, I would see the defeat of the movement as resounding, unambiguous, and profoundly dispiriting.

  10. Yeah, you’re right in a lot of ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Platypus panel on #Occupy from the Left Forum, with Dave and Brooke Holmann (a Seattle ’99er), but Richard Rubin brought up a similar point, drawing upon his nearly encyclopedic knowledge of both sectarianism and the labor movement. There was a huge labor moment that emerged in the early 1970s years on the New Left. Though it was originally oriented around student groups, the New Left at that point turned back to the working class.

    Dave’s knowledge of this is actually more extensive than it comes across in the article. I think that he is trying to paint in broad strokes the perceived legacy of the New Left, remembered as it is for its countercultural aspect. He knew about the various strikes and labor protests of the 1970s, and some of the problematic aftermath.

  11. “The movement will not ultimately prevail against global capitalism or inequality or probably even fracking.”

    I think it could prevail against all of these, but that if we were to prevail against these we would find ourselves with new perhaps even more ominous problems… What I think is that inequality, capitalism and even fracking are all symptoms of a fundamental problem, and that we are quite happy NOT to prevail against our symptoms which, collectively, we quite enjoy.

    I tend to think of it this way, at the end of the American Civil War many of the dead were left unburied and unmourned and this was a terrible shock for the living. It shattered an illusion to realize how many could die anonymously. The social world that cares about everyone, that notices us, was shown to not exist.

    Escaping Capitalism will feel something like what it felt like at the end of the American civil war.

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