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Interviewed and Occupied: Nik Zalesky on Occupy Philly and Pan-Leftism

Nik Zalesky is a fine fellow I met through the glory of the internet when I was beginning to study various left groups like the Socialist Party of America.   Nik was one of the initial organizers for Occupy Philadelphia.  Note some critical things are said about Anonymous, but we acknowledge that no experience with anyone who is part of Anonymous speaks for the whole.   We talk about Occupy Philly, pan-leftism, and hope for the left that has felt lost and disillusioned for a long time.

Skepoet: How did you get involved with Occupy Philly?

Nik Zalesky: After hearing from my comrade up at Occupy Wall Street, I realized that this movement had a chance to spread in major cities. The reason I thought Philly would be great was because we house the oldest stock market in the United States, so where better to start another event against the capitalist system? I knew that social media was how Tahir Square and OWS both grew, so I did a Facebook search for Occupy Philadelphia. I found a page had been started with about 32 people liking it. I liked it and started conversing with people. I realized that the first thing to do was contact any groups who could be interested. I started finding contact info for various political, academic, social, and environmental activist groups to tell them about Occupy Philadelphia. I spent most nights up till 3-4 a.m. just finding groups, people, blogs, and anything else I can think of and letting them know about Occupy Philadelphia.
Skepoet: How would you compare to some of the other Occupy protests that youbmay know people involved with?

Nik Zalesky:  Occupy Philadelphia became a lot less organic than the other Occupations very quickly. Though the Occupation inspired a lot of first-time activists, who fortunately kept it from being completely overtaken. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has a lot of established activists, who quickly tried to organize it how they were used to. A lot of people tried to fit Occupy Philadelphia into a mold, instead of adapting their tactics to the movement. The biggest difference; however, was the immediate cooperation with the city. Despite a vote already taken not to get a permit, the organizers on the ground decided we needed a permit. They pushed this, including threats that there was a counter-protest who could claim right to City Hall if we didn’t get a permit. The mayor came to the Occupation. Since then, we’ve run all of our plans by the city. We’ve marched, but practiced no real civil disobedience. Instead of focusing on the banks, Wall Street, and corporate money in politics, we’ve had marches against Trader Joe’s and photo-ops with the commissioner of police. Also, the people who have been involved since day 1 have been excluded. The people on the ground have said we use consensus, which is originally a Philadelphia Quaker technique of discussion and problem-solving, but instead have used direct democracy, and even some representative democracy. It is still a growing event, but a lot of people are concerned and withdrawing their support with the way things are going.

Skepoet:  Was there a formal move from consensus to direct democracy at the assemblies?

Nik Zalesky: No, we started with the framework of consensus, but just ran it as direct democracy. Real consensus continues till it’s unanimous. This only required an eye test for an overwhelming majority. Once that was achieved, the decision was made…until someone wanted to reintroduce the votes.

Skepoet:  Do you know anything about the Occupy Philly “blackout” that was pushed around the internet briefly?

Nik Zalesky: No.

Skepoet : Are you still supporting Occupy Philly?

Nik Zalesky: I know Anonymous has rejected Occupy Philadelphia. I was told that they told Occupy Together and the FBI about issues happening there, but I can’t verify that and it’s not like you can go to them to get a direct answer. I’m still supporting Occupy Philly where I can, but it involves a lot less time and energy that I put in before. I changed my focus to building our new SPUSA local and organizing another solidarity event, but I still keep in touch with people who are there, and I help out where I can.

Skepoet : Why would the FBI be involved?

Nik Zalesky: Our local members of Anonymous seem to be under the impression that the local anarchists are domestic terrorists. They are also surprisingly into the Fed conspiracy stuff and Zeitgeist to a lesser extent.

Skepoet: That’s an odd stance coming from Anonymous who happen to be the only group in OWS who has been attributed with a threat. Would you like to go into more about your work with broad left coalition and SPUSA?

Nik Zalesky:  Anonymous really is just an immature cyberactivist group. The only reason they seem threatening is because countries have instituted excessive punishment for computer-related crimes. If they did what they did in the real world, they’d get citations and move on, for the most part. As far as the SPUSA goes, I wound up there by accident. I’ve considered myself a socialist since high school. I’ve been registered to vote Socialist since the day I turned 18. As I aged, I mellowed a lot. I wanted to find a party, but navigating through the various leftist ideologies without anyone who is more familiar with the various organizations is nearly impossible. I decided working in the Democratic party would be the way to go when Obama ran for president. By the time 2011 dawned, I realized that was a mistake. I followed the DSA because I knew they had a local and kept an ear out for what groups were doing around Philadelphia. Somehow, I was invited to the Greater Philadelphia Socialist Organizing committee which was attempting to organize a local for the SPUSA. That led me to research the SPUSA more in depth, and I realized that they, if anyone, carried on the legacy of Debs. I saved up for two weeks so I could pay my dues and joined.

That’s what led to the idea of the broad left coalition. Since navigating my way through the parties had me so confused, I realized the best way to get things done and increase membership for all the left parties was to work together. From talking to locals, I realized that the religious disputes between parties mostly led to people not even reaching out to everyone. I vowed that when our local was formed, I wouldn’t let disagreements keep me from supporting the work of my comrades, no matter what party they belonged to. I signed up for and followed all the local leftist groups that I could find. I participated in conversations, met people who were interested, and contributed where I could. Occupy Philly gave me the perfect opportunity to bring people together. Usually, if we wanted groups to come together here, we’d have to wait for a neutral, single-issue activist group to organize an event, then each party would come out and stick to their own corner, cordial but cold for the most part. The Occupy movement, since it was leaderless, allowed everyone to show up, speak, and work together. I have had the luck to talk to people from most of the major leftist groups in Philadelphia since it started, and most of them were grateful for the work I did getting it together and in reaching out to them to involve them. I’m hoping this continues as I’m pushing for teach-ins at the Occupy movement, and I’m getting invited to events from all the parties around here. If nothing else, I’ll just show up and listen. The biggest things I’ve noticed about groups on the left is they very rarely listen, but they want to talk often. My job, in coalition building, is listening and seeing where we can help each other. 

Skepoet: Are you finding a lot of reception to this idea?

Nik Zalesky:  So far, yes. That could be do to the feel-good nature of the Occupy event though. Actually, everyone of the leftist local groups saw this as a chance to work together and spread an anti-capitalist message whenever we could. They also saw we’d have to work together to get that done. Thanks to this being a leaderless movement, every one of us realized that if we tried to take over, it would drive some people away who had potential to be radicalized. Unfortunately for us, this did happen to an extent (as evidenced by the almost daily anarchist education by one particular group), and we did lose people. The people on the left, though, continue to support the event and build networks. I’m lucky to be in a unique situation. Major city founded by Quakers, so we still have a left legacy that involves working together. Tons of colleges all over, and of a lot of different variations. The birthplace of “freedom.” I don’t know how it would work in other cities.

Skepoet: What issues to you see Occupy as getting into the media?

Nik Zalesky:  The media is interesting. A lot of people simply say we are our own media, thanks to social media and new independent sources. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, as we don’t control social media, and for every friendly, fair source of independent media, there are those who will misrepresent or use false information to discredit the movement. The local media has split among pretty much normal lines for now. The networks are mostly favorably, notably NBC which is owned by Comcast which is headquartered here. We haven’t marched on them, so I think they’ll hold off on being harsh due to the fact that they like to stay under the radar. Fox’s local affiliate has spent most of their time reporting things that people find negative, i.e. cost of police overtime, people urinating on the streets (which wasn’t any Occupiers, but instead the local homeless population who were feeding and sheltering.), and trash on the ground. The print media has been mostly positive, except for a few business articles talking about the money spent. Even the moderate reporters have been generally positive, though slightly condescending. The local NPR has been positive, the local conservative talk radio has been inflammatory.

Skepoet: And do you see your part in a worldwide movement, sometimes I think
all the locals forget that this is happening in Europe, Asia, and parts of the Middle East too?

Nik Zalesky:  We who ran the social media aspect of the Occupation never forgot we were part of a world-wide movement. The people on the ground pretty much considered themselves the center of the universe as soon as they got there. They think of OWS and the cities when police crackdowns occur, but they forget to look around at what else is happening, not only in the world, but in politics and economics in general. They also tend to forget that people outside the Occupation are still scared, angry, and hurting.

Skepoet:  What do you think of the idea of a general strike and boycott coming out of this? Likely? Unlikely? 

Nik Zalesky:  I’ve brought up a general strike every single chance I get. The support isn’t there, even among labor. Boycotts are possible, but, at least in Philly, people keep trying to boycott the extremely large corporations for human rights abuses. That muddles the message. Now as far as smaller strikes go, I think labor feels empowered with this movement. In Philadelphia alone, we’ve had 4 unions strike in the last 3 months. That’s amazing for us. I’m on the labor commission in our Occupation, and labor is energized, and it’s the rank-and-file, not the leadership, which is amazing. The only way I could see a general strike happening is if Occupy Wall Street starts it. Most people will follow what they do, and as they have had numbers in the 6 figures there, that would probably spur a domino effect.

Skepoet: Why do you think the message gets muddled so much?

Nik Zalesky:  As it is a “leaderless” movement, the people who took the ball and ran with it initially are given deference. If the message crystallized, they would lose some of their influence, so it’s better to keep the message from gaining singular focus. I know that’s a cynical way to look at it, but that’s what I experienced here. The Occupation became about the occupation instead of about change.

Skepoet: I don’t want to sound cynical myself but isn’t that kind of a pattern with left-wing activism?

Nik Zalesky:  I think it’s a pattern of political activism in general. I talked to a lot of people who were with the original pre-Koch brothers Tea Party, and they explained how a small, well-funded group took over all the meetings. It’s especially vulnerable in a movement like this because the two parties need to co-opt it before it becomes dangerous.

Skepoet: You’re going to laugh but my involvement with paleo-conservatives and the anti-state libertarians led me to same conclusion.   Many of those guys left early when Koch family and Palin got on board. But many of them were also Birch Society and ignored Koch money in that, so I suppose one doesn’t have to be consistent.   Still it seems like there is a higher degree of fractionation in the left. You seem to have hope that Occupy may have made that somewhat irrelevant. Am I reading you correctly?

Nik Zalesky:  The only real hope I have for Occupy is that it can cause a generational shift where people don’t look for a solution in the two party system. I think most people who truly read economic theory can see where Marx was right, so I’m hoping it gets people reading. I’m hoping it makes people think about why 3rd parties don’t have access. I think Occupy will burn itself out at some point, and when nothing’s changed, people will start to look for solutions, and socialism is the solution I see. That’s why I tried to get as many people involved as possible, whether I agreed with their politics, tactics, or analysis of theory. I do think the factional divides in this movement become irrelevant during the Occupations, but afterwards, I want people to know that the Socialists were out there in the streets, and we offer the sense of activism and camaraderie every day of every year, not just during the occupation, and that we can build a mass movement like this, and have it set towards goals such as a general strike.

Skepoet: Any final thoughts?

Nik Zalesky:  I’m still really excited about this and glad I am part of it. Major leftist issues can still be brought to light via this movement.


Occupy Everything Worldwide: odds and ends. . . and finally a critique from someone other than Marxist that’s semi-legitimate

So this will not be a coherent post, but a list of links on OWS an Occupy Everything that are interesting paired like a gourmet meal with cheap wine by some comments by me.   First off, happy one month anniversary Occupy Wall Street. 

The call to move money from Bank Accounts to Credit Unions by Occupy Wall Street seems to have caused Citibank and a few others to fear a bank run.   There apparently was between 22 and 25 people arrested for trespassing by Citibank in NY :

Similarly there have been swamping of JP Morgan Chase without said arrests.  Meanwhile it is there is some honesty about the increasing influence of these protests and their global reach even at Bloomberg Business News.

So let’s look at the world for a minute: Occupy Rome apparently went “smashingly.”  I’ll point you to the Libcom article on the topic

The urgency of the impending Euro-crisis may not hit most Americans, but the fear that Ireland and Greece may eventually become Argentina and what that could mean for the Eurozone is in the back of there mind.  Plus Europeans are less pansy when they protest: perhaps let’s blame soccer riots?

On my home front: Occupy Seoul is expanding and going again next weekend, October 22. The crowd apparently was only 200 people according to the Korea Times. I’ll admit that I can’t confirm this from my visit, but that seems like it might be slightly low-balled. Hopefully, I will make it out to this weekends events as it would be a interesting way to celebrate my birthday.  In general though, Occupy Seoul was orderly and in step with the rhetoric of the American version.  This 99% meme is spreading, although I don’t think wealth disparity is actually that bad throughout Asia it is getting worse in Korea.

American and Korean graffiti in Itaewon, Seoul from my personal collection

Meanwhile, another city close to my heart, Taipei is still occupied.  But focused primarily on Taiwan’s moloch idol to consumerism, Taipei 101.   Apparently the numbers were counted as low in Taipei as well with only 500. However, I’d expect that to grow.  Taiwan’s economy has not fared as well as Korea’s in the last decade.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 from my personal picture collection

So let’s go back to North America for a second because there is a whole lot more going on at home. In bizarro land, The Financial Times endorses Occupy Wall Street. Paul Krugman continues to break ranks and endorse the protests as well, although I am sure he doesn’t quite get how radical it all may be.  Obama himself has tried to co-opt the protests, but as the James Joyner rightfully says,

This is shrewd positioning, identifying himself with the frustrations sparking a movement as well as its most effective slogan without embracing the movement itself and its potential baggage. The wee problem with it is that, not only is Obama part of the 1 percent, he’s been the single most important voice in American public policy for the past three years and has done nothing about these issues. Indeed, he was the chief cheerleader for the massive bailouts of the banks that gives the movement its name.

But Occupy Wall Street is not quite sure that it trusts Obama and Democrats may be missing the point:

So Gawker did an article on a man who had been giving information to the various intelligence gathering operations by NYPD:
The Occupy Wall Street protests have been going on for a month. And it seems the FBI and NYPD have had help tracking protesters’ moves thanks to a conservative computer security expert who gained access to one of the group’s internal mailing lists, and then handed over information on the group’s plans to authorities and corporations targeted by protesters.

Since the Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, New York security consultant Thomas Ryan has been waging a campaign to infiltrate and discredit the movement. Ryan says he’s done contract work for the U.S. Army and he brags on his blog that he leads “a team called Black Cell, a team of the most-highly trained and capable physical, threat and cyber security professionals in the world.” But over the past few weeks, he and his computer security buddies have been spending time covertly attending Occupy Wall Street meetings, monitoring organizers’ social media accounts, and hanging out with protesters in Lower Manhattan.

As part of their intelligence-gathering operation, the group gained access to a listserv used by Occupy Wall Street organizers called September17discuss. On September17discuss, organizers hash out tactics and plan events, conduct post-mortems of media appearances, and trade the latest protest gossip. On Friday, Ryan leaked thousands of September17discuss emails to conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who is now using them to try to smear Occupy Wall Street as an anarchist conspiracy to disrupt global markets.

The later is echoed by Comrade Glen Beck:

If only Comrade Beck, but I don’t think the Protesters were lining up rank and file behind Zizek.  Speaking of which, Louis Proyect had some interesting things to say about Zizek and his OWS speech as well as the idea of Communism conference.  This brings me to the other Academic leftists behind the theories of the protest, I have already pointed an article out that attributed the protests to Hardt and Negri, this article talks about Hardt, Negri, Graeber, and a bunch of anarchist theorist.  This is sound, but looking at the agenda for Occupy Wall Street assemblies and what they are proposing, it hardly seems like anarchism. For example:

We demand CONGRESS PASS HR 1489

This is despite NY Times saying things like Protesters debate what if any demands are to be made. Furthermore the Big Idea saying things like

1. No more bailouts: Bring back real capitalism
2. End TBTF banks
3. Get Wall Street Money out of legislative process

I love the “bring back real capitalism” who throw out that leftists are pulling a “No True Scottsman” fallacy on when insisting that Marxist-Leninism and Maoism aren’t the only viable forms of socialism. If capitalism almost always ends with state-private collusion, current we make a similar critique of “actually existing capitalism.”

Oh, while I am on the topic of special pleading.  Those ever-so-consistent libertarians at Reason  are saying the OWS is Anti-Semetic and they have videos:

But note they were saying that liberals were cherry-picking and tarring the Tea Party as racist unfairly.Still there were videos there too:

But let’s not worry with holding libertarians to things like the intellectual consistency they supposedly pride themselves on.  Let’s just look at the truth of the matter as an editorial for AL Jazerra points out:

The Emergency Committee’s evidence is presented in the video, which shows three anti-Semites and two anti-Semitic signs among the protesters. That’s it, out of a crowd of thousands. (Far be it from me to guess at the number of anti-Semites who might be at a Tea Party event, but they don’t define that movement either. Mass movements attract all kinds of people, some invariably unsavoury.)

In any case, the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests. During the 2010 congressional campaigns, it produced videos almost as deceitful as the Wall Street video that lied about Democratic candidates. It used Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.

In attacking Occupy Wall Street, the Emergency Committee’s goal is simply to smear Democrats. If, in the process, it reinforces the stereotype that Jews and Wall Street are interchangeable, so what? How different is that from its usual practice of suggesting strongly that American Jews should vote only based on Israel’s supposed interests, not America’s? To put it not-so-mildly, the Emergency Committee for Israel does not care about fuelling anti-Semitism in America.

Because that last video of a couple of anti-Semites may have left a bad taste in your mouth, here’s another one. It was shot at the Wall Street demonstration on Yom Kippur Eve and it features not a few anti-Semites but thousands of Jews celebrating the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day dedicated to the same ideals as Occupy Wall Street: Repentance for putting our desires before the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the exploited.

I keep getting told that this is “protesting for protesting sake.” Now I have never known Protesting for Protesting sake to be so large in Europe as well:

Well maybe the French, but definitely not the Danes or Tunisians  or the Turks. But even the OWS seems hardly as aimless if you look at their consensus driven demands:

“Make no mistake about it, we are not aimless; we simply speak a different language – a language of mutual respect, participation, self-management, and action.” -October 13, 2011 

So I’ll start to wrap this up on a few other developments:  Cornell West, a man who I respect sometimes but can’t seem to figure out if he’s a Social Democrat or just a Democrat, got arrested protesting at the Supreme Court., Goldman Sachs got stormed in MilanSteve Rattner tells us that globalization has losers and we should be happy about that,Occupy Wall Street assault: lawyer demands action on policeman’s punch, and the NYPD has been adding much fuel to the fire. 

For all the critiques that I have read from someone without a fairly radical agenda, this one from the
 Last Psychiatrist merits discussion:

The protests will fail.  They will eventually be co-opted by the pre-election media orgasmia, branded as either this team or that and assigned a leader no one would have ever picked, ever, ever.    The Tea Party may have started with Rick Santelli but they soon got Sarah Palin, figure that out.  Half of you will vote, all of you will complain, and nothing will change until the day we are buying fake iPads with real yuans, hey, who’s the balding guy on the 20?  And the 50?  And the 100…?  And the reason it will fail is that you don’t want it to succeed.  You are still holding on to the mercantilist, zero-sum economic delusion that tariffs and gold standards and less money for Wall Street means more money for you, and then you can go back to living like it’s 1999 again.  You  can’t.  It’s over.

Of course Wall Street has excessive profits, but just as your life has been an inflated delusion of easy credit, so has theirs; yes, they have received an obscene share of that fake money, and ten-twenty years ago maybe you could have redistributed that fake money, but that ship has sailed.  Now, the moment you take it away from them it ceases to exist, poof, it’s gone.  It’s fine if you want to do it to punish them, I get it, it’s the right thing to do and Glass-Steagall and all that, but it won’t help your situation one bit.

$3.6T out, $2.4T in, those are the numbers, and in case you want something on letterhead here’s the CBO saying taxing the rich would get us $450B over ten years. Ten years!  Double the taxes, triple the taxes, it makes no difference, it’s over.  The only way out is a massive tax on wealth; cold fusion; a war; a new media; or inflation.  Inflation has the side benefit of pushing you into a higher tax bracket and we’ll all get to see what a $1000 bill looks like.

“We are the 99%.”  Stop it.  There is a 1%, fighting another 1%, and while both of those megalomaniancs dominate the media coverage the other 98% has no recourse, no representation, no allies, and no savings. If you’re over forty 2007 was the best you will ever have it, make sure you backup your photos, it may not get worse than this but your only hope for growth is the next generation so you better change your expectations and your priorities.  If you want to eat something other than canned goods and insects when you’re 80 you better prepare your kids now,  work them harder in math and get them to read better books, make some kind of/all kinds of a sacrifice for them, because the only thing keeping you from the hellacious Medicare funded nursing homes and the Social Security that will not exist is them, the 17 year olds you are screaming at for drinking too much of the whisky you are hiding in the bathroom.

But in the comments to the his post, there are some stern and well-thought answers:

 I am intrigued by the number of commenters who ape your style – that is, long on huffing-and-puffing (bordering on hysteria) and feel-good sneers at the “kids”, and short on analysis.

In the weak-analysis/hysteria department, let’s include this example:

“Double the taxes, triple the taxes, it makes no difference, it’s over. The only way out is a massive tax on wealth; cold fusion; a war; a new media; or inflation. Inflation has the side benefit of pushing you into a higher tax bracket and we’ll all get to see what a $1000 bill looks like.”

Actually, none of this is true. For example, given that tax receipts relative to the size of the economy are at multi-generational lows, there is plenty of room for modest tax increases that would stabilize the deficit, and ultimately reduce it, and reduce the national debt (if that is desired.) It will take time, but debt-to-GDP has on occasion been much higher in the past.

(The debt-train-wreck “narrative” is really only plausible if US healthcare costs continue to be double or more of what other developed nations pay (while getting poorer results, for the most part.))

There is plenty of good factual information out there on this kind of thing (economics texts are a good place to start), but you need to open your mind to the possibility that the perversely comforting apocalyptic debt narrative is false, and that the kind of accounting that a family does, for example, doesn’t really apply to governments (and no, governments are not like “businesses” either.)

For example, as a bit of homework, I’ll leave it to you to explain why it is that not every country in the world can have a positive savings rate and a “balanced” budget at the same time…

And this:

This is really something – that someone who seems to have some sort of education can write this stuff and brazenly post it for everyone to see. It takes a certain courage, and the hope he’ll remain anonymous, I imagine. The replacement of the simple declarative sentences of the high school-level essay of the old days with such constructions as this:

“Half of you will vote, all of you will complain, and nothing will change until the day we are buying fake iPads with real yuans, hey, who’s the balding guy on the 20? And the 50? And the 100…? And the reason it will fail is that you don’t want it to succeed. You are still holding on to the mercantilist, zero-sum economic delusion that tariffs and gold standards and less money for Wall Street means more money for you, and then you can go back to living like it’s 1999 again. You can’t. It’s over.”

…is surely another symptom of the endarkenment. This is awful, awful writing – silly, fake-insightful, incoherent, but possessed of the boundlessly self-assured tone of the ignorant.

I spend my days drawing red lines through this sort of thing, and patiently explaining, one student at a time, that though the “ignorant pundit style” is all around us, there is still no substitute for clarity and speaking from a position of knowledge.

So I saw this quote form Baudrillard there:

“All that capital asks of us is to receive it as rational or to combat it in the name of rationality, to receive it as moral or to combat it in the name of morality. Because these are the same, which can be thought of in another way: formerly one worked to dissimulate scandal — today one works to conceal that there is none.”
– Jean Baudrillard

Here’s my problem with the posturing like that of the anonymous psychiatrist.  It is predicated on the notion that the now is somehow consistent with past time when only prior to the 1950s, which in human social time is still pretty much nothing, we lived in totally different contingent conditions.    The anonymous psychiatrist accepts that debt is real even though a great majority of the bonds used to great government debt are to the Federal Reserve in order to produce currency.

In fact, perhaps our self-righteous psychiatrist should talk to an anthropologist about the history of debt instead of posturing about how you are more enlightened than everyone else. That the funny thing about cognitive dissonance, even people who know better can’t apply to themselves.

Occupy Consensus

While I find the form of consensus used in Occupy Wall Street to be hard to maintain, it is something interesting to consider if it continues to work in the way illustrated:

Ken Knabb is writing on Occupy Everywhere as well:

Almost as clueless are those doctrinaire radicals who remain on the sidelines glumly predicting that the movement will be coopted or complaining that it hasn’t instantly adopted the most radical positions. They of all people should know that thedynamic of social movements is far more important than their ostensible ideological positions. Revolutions arise out of complex processes of social debate and interaction that happen to reach a critical mass and trigger a chain reaction — processes very much like what we are seeing at this moment. The “99%” slogan may not be a very precise “class analysis,” but it’s a close enough approximation for starters, an excellent meme to cut through a lot of traditional sociological jargon and make the point that the vast majority of people are subordinate to a system run by and for a tiny ruling elite. And it rightly puts the focus on the economic institutions rather than on the politicians who are merely their lackeys. The countless grievances may not constitute a coherent program, but taken as a whole they already imply a fundamental transformation of the system. The nature of that transformation will become clearer as the struggle develops. If the movement ends up forcing the system to come up with some sort of significant, New Deal-type reforms, so much the better — that will temporarily ease conditions so we can more easily push further. If the system proves incapable of implementing any significant reforms, that will force people to look into more radical alternatives.

As for cooption, there will indeed be many attempts to take over or manipulate the movement. But I don’t think they’ll have a very easy time of it. From the beginning the occupation movement has been resolutely antihierarchical and participatory. General assembly decisions are scrupulously democratic and most decisions are taken by consensus — a process which can sometimes be unwieldy, but which has the merit of making any manipulation practically impossible. In fact, the real threat is the other way around: The example of participatory democracy ultimately threatens all hierarchies and social divisions, including those between rank-and-file workers and their union bureaucracies, and between political parties and their constituents. Which is why so many politicians and union bureaucrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. That is a reflection of our strength, not of our weakness. (Cooption happens when we are tricked into riding in their wagons.) The assemblies may of course agree to collaborate with some political group for a demonstration or with some labor union for a strike, but most of them are taking care that the distinctions remain clear, and practically all of them have sharply distanced themselves from both of the major political parties.

Knabb could be aiming at Jodi Dean, Doug Henwood, any number of Marxist magazines, some of the articles at Racialicious, and, depending on how you read what I have said and my tentative support, myself. I suppose that I agree with Knabb that we should wait and watch this play out, but I do not think 68 was a success and I am not sure if Knabb thinks it was.

Knabb notes that there are several in the occupy movement inspired by the situationists.  Given how that all panned out, I don’t know how I feel about that. That said, this is a way to break into the spectacle.  Anyway, Knabb’s Anthology of the Situationist Interational is quite interesting as is Knabb’s translation of the classic Society of Spectacle.

Debord,however, did actually have something to say about Anarchism:


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