Why non-violence?

Last night, I asked a woman who had been arrested at the Occupy Chicago protest what good it had done for her to get arrested. She didn’t seem to have much of an answer other than that it’s the kind of thing one does at protests. I then asked why people don’t fight back against the police to stop them from arresting people, and she replied that the movement is non-violent and that as soon as you start using violence, you lose people’s sympathy. These are all pretty common views, and I have definitely held similar views in the past. Now, however, I’m starting to question them, without really having an alternative.

What strikes me is — as Anthony has pointed out in his unpopular post — how ridiculously the police tend to overreact to peaceful protest. The reaction to the U.S. occupations has been surprisingly tame so far, and it may be that the authorities are waiting for cold weather and the unparalleled apathy of the American people to crush the movement for them (which is not to say that they are necessarily right in that calculation). In the U.K., though, we have repeatedly seen the more brutal treatment that has become the more common reaction among Western governments, most notably in the infamous “kettling.”

In such a context, I’m not sure how effective non-violent methods can really be. They presuppose a level of decency and shame that I’m not sure our militarized police forces possess, at the end of the day. If they did, they wouldn’t show up with riot gear in response to what amounts to a bunch of people kind of hanging out. They wouldn’t use property damage as an excuse to exercise collective punishment. More specifically in this case: they wouldn’t arrest people who are trying to close their bank accounts.

By the same token, though, the militarization of the police seems to make more violent action a total pipe dream — they will always have more guns. Yet I wonder. Can we interpret their excessive force as a symptom of fear? If people started fighting back, would that egg them on or make them freak out? To take an extreme example: if a police officer who was beating a protester was suddenly shot, would the police break ranks and run away?

Our cultural common sense tells us that such actions would result in a loss of popular support, and that’s probably true in the short run — but what would happen if the resistence could be sustained and the police started running a counter-insurgency against their own people? How long would the police themselves put up with that? It’s one thing when a largely white or assimilated officer class is directing a counterinsurgency against poor minority neighborhoods in the name of fighting the drug trade, but do they really have the stomach to do the same against the general population in the name of maintaining Wall Street’s privileges?

These are all highly speculative thoughts and are probably wrong in a lot of ways.

40 thoughts on “Why non-violence?

  1. The point is to shame the electorate, not the police, although the latter isn’t ruled out. The martyrs did it to the Roman Empire, and Ghandi did it in India, in many ways facing far fiercer opposition than anything seen in the modern era.

    The idea that the British military or the elites was basically decent and gave in due to their inherent morality is greatly oversold.

  2. In nearly all successful revolutionary movements throughout history, the victory has been achieved by mass uprisings in key cities and locations, mass strikes in crucial cities, and mass defections within the military siding with the rebels (the military has historically been much more amenable to leftist thought than the police of any given nation).

    Non-violent “resistance” is exactly the sort of protest tactic that the State is most comfortable tolerating. Of course I realize that violent demonstrations at this time would be impractical and pointless, as there are neither the numbers nor the ammunition required to stage a successful overthrow. But the sort of doctrinaire adherence to principles of non-violence, glamorized since theorists like Tolstoi and practitioners like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, is regressive.

    People look to Egypt as a model example of a bloodless, non-violent revolution overturning the Mubarak regime. But not all tyrants relinquish their power so easily. The protestors have, in a studied way, avoided the example of Libya, where an (ongoing) armed struggle has been necessary, or Syria, where non-violent protests have been all but crushed by the Ba’athist regime. Also, with the Egyptian military government’s recent crackdown on Coptic Christians, it’s unclear how non-violent Egypt will remain.

  3. Even as we speak now, members of Congress, governors, and executives are pushing their celebrity minions to do something entirely stupid (Charlie Sheen is going to swim in a pool of cocaine, Snooki is going to attempt speaking reading a speech at a university) to derail the media focus.

  4. In response to your extreme example, the words they would use are “domestic terrorism.” And the entire FBI/security state apparatus would suddenly become primarily interested in the activities of protest leaders, now that their organizing had resulted in terrorism. In other words, I don’t think it would be about the normal police anymore. And also, I’m sure they’ve been quietly preparing for this scenario.

  5. From 2003:

    Days before firing wooden slugs at anti-war protesters, Oakland police were warned of potential violence at the Port of Oakland by California’s anti-terrorism intelligence center, which admits blurring the line between terrorism and political dissent.

    CATIC spokesman Mike Van Winkle said such evidence wasn’t needed to issue warnings on war protesters.”You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest),” said Van Winkle, of the state Justice Department. “You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act.”

  6. I’d just echo what Rob and Zungu have said here. With regard to the specific example of people being arrested for closing their bank accounts, that was a massive PR own-goal by both banks and police. It helps our opposition look ridiciulous and lose legitimacy. Which is a very useful tactic in our struggle, though of course not an end in itself. But the more we can make them make stupid mistakes and not make the stupid mistakes ourselves the more we can improve our position in the struggle. One can’t generalise nonviolence into a principle – I agree with Ross – but right here and right now it seems the most productive tactic. I’d just add from a German perspective it has proved successful time and again, from Leipzig 1989 to the Anti-Atomkraft movement to Stuttgart21 (which is still stymied). The remarkably sympathetic coverage in the press here yesterday is useful political capital, undoubtedly helped by the lack of violence on Saturday; today politicians here are rushing to be the first to come up with a policy to regulate and even nationalise the banks, barely thinkable a week ago.

  7. I’m just saying, whatever else the “global war on terror” has been, it has meant a dramatic expansion in the institutional ideology, capacity, and flexibility to address all manner of domestic dissent. They were pretty unhinged in the couple years after 9-11 — spying on peace groups and quakers and stuff — but all they’d need is another provocation and they’d be at it again (that’s assuming they really did chill out after around 2005 and so).

  8. There are enough police shot every year that “If people started fighting back, would that egg them on or make them freak out?” need not be a rhetorical question. We know what happens when an officer gets hurt.

    We know what happens, too, at a police funeral, and how the public responds to that pageantry.

    Politically, I can’t imagine anything worse for the left than violence.

    I know there’s a lack of in-depth thinking about protest strategy and a lot of silly hagiography of non-violent heroes. Still.

  9. While I get & appreciate the desire for a kind of non-provocation non-violence — breaking shit and setting fire, while inevitable for these types of things, I think, also aren’t particularly helpful right out of the gate — I, too, get very irritated by the insistence on non-violent responses to police aggression. Like your incarcerated friend, I’m told repeatedly: responding to their violence with violence will look badly and turn off non-protesters. And that is probably true (not to mention, as you highlight, it’s a fight that the protesters will in large part lose — at least locally). BUT . . . it seems to me that all this too easily plays into a rather perverse logic that “taking your beating” makes for good video & press in the long run. Which, if I’m not mistaken, sounds more or less sounds like old-fashioned atonement language to me.

  10. I’ve done a lot of thinking on this subject as have some other Canadians whom I have met (you can look up Alex Hundert and Harsha Walia, who have written and stated some very intelligent things about “direct action” and more violent means of resistance — Frank Lopez, another Canadian, also put together a documentary called “End:Civ” based on Jensen’s stuff about violent resistance and it’s a good springboard for discussion).

    A few thoughts: violence directed at the police is pointless for the most part. It would be a tactical error. Accept in the context of de-arresting people (when participants in black blocs swarm a cop to free a person the cop has taken down) or breaking through police lines in order to access key locations, I can’t see the sort of violence you suggest being of much use.

    Violence directed at significant buildings, machines or even at the corporate leaders may be more effective. A forest cannot be logged if the logging machinery is destroyed. A bank would have serious problems if its mainframes were blown. People might start thinking twice about running capital in rapacious ways if rapacious managers were assassinated (I put together some more sustained thoughts on this matter in a lecture I gave at a conference awhile ago; here’s the link: http://poserorprophet.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/solidarity-and-resistance-in-new-creation-communities/ ).

    That said, as others have mentioned, there would be serious repercussions for “activists” in general if any people choose to act this way. Already, at the G20 meeting in Toronto a few months ago, Walia and Hundert were both arrested and the government was going to try and hit them with (absolutely groundless) terrorist-style charges… except that a number of prominent people rallied in their defence (for example, Naomi Klein wrote in support of Walia). However, sometimes recognizing that things must get worse before they get better means recognizing that things must get worse for us and our friends (speaking as somebody involved in some of those circles) before they get better.

    That said, if any choose to engage this sort of action, they need to permit themselves to be ostracized from activist communities as well and they need to explicitly distance themselves from those communities. Sometimes, having violent groups on one side gives nonviolent groups a whole lot more credibility (which is what the Panthers did for the civil rights movement… something I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I think). I think there is very much a need for this sort of counterbalance in our communities of resistance. I agree that exclusively nonviolent means of resistance are the sort of things encouraged by the Powers that be (remember Obama talking about the uprising in Egypt and going on about how it was so nonviolent, nonviolent, nonviolent… meanwhile police stations were being burned, people were forcibly breaking into government buildings to gather records before they were destroyed, and so on and so forth) and there is the need for, at the very least, a thoughtful discussion of violence as a means of pursuing change.

  11. I see a false dichotomy here. There’s violent protest, and then there’s the weaker form, non-violent protest, only a line-crossing away from violent protest. And the advantage to non-violent protest is the same gained in any situation in which you can demonstrate that your opposition is violent-and-therefore-morally-void. *To someone else powerful and exterior to the problem.*

    And then, of course, there’s engaging in targeted disruptive activities which happen not to be violent, but which are not defined by the peaceable protest assembly. And of course, conventional wisdom is that these don’t work, as with boycotts. But as we always wind up talking about Gandhi in this sort of discussion (the inverse of Godwin’s law, perhaps), the success against the occupiers in India was at least in part motivated by cost-benefit analysis. Sure, the demonstration to an outside power is part of it, but purposeful action was also key to the success (such as it was). Demonstrations of independence, more than demonstrations for independence.

  12. Brad brings up a good point, my initial reaction would be, “but the point is not to make them feel afraid because junkyard dogs quickly become bloodthirsty when faced with a legit threat, the point is to stoke their sympathy and make them break rank.” That is some perverse atonement logic if I’ve ever seen it (i.e., don’t pick a fight with a vengeful deity or you’ll get lectured about giant whale-making and shit, instead propitiate!). Now, that’s just a formal point, but wow is it disgusting when viewed in that light.

  13. As someone who found himself making half-hearted apologetics for property destruction during the Seattle round of American protest, I’m really glad to see that black-bloc’ing has not been a big part of the #OWS movement, let alone violent altercations with police. It’s allowed the protests to grow and grow and made them much harder to dismiss.

    There’s a way to play out the escalation scenario that you raise at the end of the post within the confines of non-violence that, I think, answers your questions before even getting to the question of a guerrilla insurgency against the police. Imagine this movement building towards more and more disruptive nonviolent actions — sit-ins on trading floors or in the halls of Congress or other places where the ruling class actually needs to conduct business and is inconvenienced by more than discomfiting proximity to patchouli, with concrete goals that have popular support. There’s a scenario in which the police remain professional; there’s a scenario in which they don’t. Considering the latter from a perspective of organizing and communications, what is a more achievable outcome: that people will come away thinking, “those poor kids who got whaled on by the cops, they’re just fighting for what all of us want!” or “yeah, we really gave those cops a licking! Go us!”

    There is a form of non-violent protest that is accommodating to the State, and there is a form that is disruptive. Non-violent does not mean predictable or submissive. I feel that right now, it’s more important for this movement to become ordinary (even co-opted, as long as that is not the end of it) than to be a vanguard. Staging conflict in a way that is reassuring on one level also makes it harder to banish protest from ordinary social discourse.

    Taking Ross Wolfe’s thoughts in a different direction, the point of making the police see themselves in us is much more important than the point of beating them. (This is not the same in every protest-driven conflict, but it is a key theme of the “99%” rhetoric.)

  14. It’s not either/or, shoot or submit. People used to “unarrest” their peers at demos quite frequently, and there will probably be some of that here. That seems vastly preferable to me than letting everyone get carted off.

  15. Josh,

    It depends on your context. We cannot always assume that some nonviolent efforts will be effective and some will be impotent. There’s also the possibility that all nonviolent options may be equally ineffective (of course, the same applies for violent options). Furthermore, as those like Lopez and Jensen argue, we’re kinda running out of time for the painstakingly slow changes that nonviolence tends to produce (I mean, for all the talk about Gandhi or King that this kind of discussion prompts, just take a look at the current state of black people in America or of the Indian people from Gandhi til today…). Indeed, given the rate at which life is being destroyed, we may need to employ tactics that are a little more direct and produce a more immediate effect.

  16. Dan,

    As soon as I posted that, I could heard Nina Simone making fun of me in “Mississippi Goddamn”… “go slow!” I think there’s a strong case for maximum disruption in the case of climate disobedience. OWS feels to me more like turning a freighter around — I can’t think of a swift action that wouldn’t just break the wheel. I liked OWS as Bartleby — let the world come to us, begging for an answer until it figures out the question. (Let’s not die in jail before answering though.)

  17. A very possibly off topic bitch session to hear myself speak, *but*

    Eleven. Eleven is the number of people (former profs, family, colleagues) who called me within a day of Occupy LA “formally endorsing violence.” Eleven different people, the majority of which I’ve never even told I was facilitating the movement. I think this angers me so because instead of questioning the source, instead of even asking where this Person, (not Persons) came from, they automatically assumed that the thousands of people who have taken part in the occupation must be endorsing it, meeting in underground hemp cafes planning to blow up the downtown Chase start attacking cops. We don’t even allow drinking or smoking pot in the occupation sites.

    Though I agree with the notion that making perverse atonement logic is not only sick, but not going to get us anywhere, what is? Our occupation was completely peaceful, and because of it, it had (from what I can see) some of the best authoritative support in the country. In terms of violence, I did find it interesting that in all the general assemblies I attended even before October 1, the very *most* difficult topic to have everyone come to consensus on was literally “How do we respond to internal and external violence, especially flat-out police brutality?” We had to table that damn question night after night. I’m still indecisive on where to go from here, but it’s certainly going to be interesting to watch the (feared) more violent upsurge from the other side…

  18. Star Non-violent Civil Disobedience – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWh-J_mvYSE – asks the question in a very interesting way.

    Now, like many here, I’ve been involved in this stuff, directly, for a number of years. The kind of pious atonement stated by Brad is very much in evidence at some of the actions I have seen at OWS – protesters almost begging to be arrested and beaten – we’ve almost got to the point that there should be really no honour in this. This is where there is a real pathology and magical thinking – at no point does it seem plausible that this alone would provoke a mutiny by the police. This makes the police seemingly incredibly emotionally porous, but this isn’t true. If the affective power of human solidarity is the force amongst protesters, you can bet it is at least as strong amongst cops – plus they take orders and obey them and this is culturally ingrained. Spend five minutes on the forums or blogs of UK cops and you can see not only do they value the internal culture of the force more than some public spirited logic, but they are also viciously opposed to protesters – in a lot of cases, it is an active hate. Recorded instances of mutiny have been the result of directly organising dissent within their ranks, not in most cases some spontaneous change of heart.

  19. “Though I agree with the notion that making perverse atonement logic is not only sick, but not going to get us anywhere, what is?”

    Isn’t this just it?

  20. Perhaps the Weathermen facilitated then ruining of collective violence in this country. It is now seen as the recourse of wackos and freaks and wanna-bes, an anomaly borne out of unstable people who are unable to agitate in a “mature” manner.

    Given the impeccable logic of Trotsky here:

    “In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes toward a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.”

    I think we should all agree that singular or very occasional acts of idiosyncratic violence (that is then portrayed as normative by the corporate media) will only further harm the working class in this country, on both populist levels and on the level of the development of a class will to confront the powers that be collectively. Thanks to the association of radical violence with “individual terror” in this country, the mechanism of working class violence is, to use the technical language, fucked, in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. It will take some great social upheaval for the American working class to return to the use of violence in class militancy in a fashion that is collective and not an “individual terror.”

    It also seems to me that this principle of non-violence weasels its way into the entire ethos of radical circles when allowed, right down to organization and debate. I was dismayed when my local Occupy Memphis folks promoted this link as a must read for all Occupy Memphis participants:


    This sort of anti-dialectical intellectual pacifism and dipshitted chummery is perhaps one explanation of why the End-the-Fed fever swamped Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists have such a marked role in the local Occupy protest movement. Nonetheless, I go as I can, because they have free catered (and pretty good) vegan food there (I eat meat, but go vegan when it’s free) and coloring books for my kids. Not to mention the occasion makes for decent radical recruiting opportunities.

  21. I’ve been going on about this for awhile, but I still don’t have it worked out. Basically I don’t think people understand how much fun it is, especially when you are frustrated with your own financial worries, to beat someone up. And especially when it is white college students. It seems to me that something fruitful could come from thinking about police in this way, as desiring-subjects who are not fundamentally decent or motivated by class interests (because, after all, who the fuck is?), and try to combat this at the level of desire.

  22. My observation is cops enjoy the ruck aspect more than the protesters…I really want to do a big study of the police in the future on precisely this sort of thing.

  23. “Those who repeat the general, meaningless, non-committal, goody-goody desires of pacifism are not really working for a democratic peace. Only he is working for such a peace who exposes the imperialist nature of the present war and of the imperialist peace that is being prepared and calls upon the peoples to rise in revolt against the criminal governments.” — Lenin, 1917

    Accidentally posted this in the other OWS thread.

  24. One of the effects of the police response to OWS is to completely defang the police war machine (at least for me, maybe other’s are having different subjective responses). The other night I walked past maybe 1000 cops, all armed, some in riot gear, who had assembled to arrest 16 unarmed peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park. Think about that for a second. This is the furthest thing from a show of force. It’s utterly pathetic and weak. Hearing the police bark orders at us, my first involuntary response is to laugh. It’s hard to be intimidating when you gather that much fire power for 16 non-violent protesters. More and more my response to the police is just plain pity. They’re pathetic.

  25. Arundhati Roy:

    “Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”

    It’s useful theater, but it doesn’t work once the factions of the state and the ruling kick into active repression.

    It works when they are only occupying public space and merely possessing the Commons.

    Elsetimes, it is a good way to lose earlier rather than later.

  26. I agree with Owen that a single act of violence, or very occasional acts of violence, probably won’t do a lot of good (although, hey, you never know til you try, right?). If this sort of tactic is to be successful, a group of people (connected or not) capable of engaging in a sustained campaign is necessary (as far as I can tell). You can’t just firebomb one bank and think something will change (after all, one of Canada’s leading banks — RBC, which is very involved in the Tar Sands and also made shit tons of money off of various genocides from Iraq to Sudan — had a branch firebombed in Ottawa prior to the G8/G20… that didn’t seem to do much and, for an act of local-born Canadian “terrorism” is sure disappeared quickly from the media… in part, I suspect, because the folks charged with the crime were everyday working Canadians without criminal records, two of whom were over fifty!).

    Or, for that matter, you can’t just off one CEO or politician and think things will change. There’s a lot of others waiting in the wings who would love to fill in.

    However, I think I disagree with his assessment of the Weathermen. It seems to me that they were pretty successful in employing violence as a tactic against property in such a way as to (mostly) leave people unharmed (certainly this is true after 1970 when three of their own died building a bomb). I’m pretty amazed at their ability to do what they did without killing or maiming “innocent” (cough) people.

  27. There are so many problems with the Weathermen one hardly knows where to begin describing how it is that their violence did more harm than good. Suffice it to say that they did nothing that was not permeated with their caustic hubris and unrestrained elitism. Remember the cast of characters who made up the Weathermen – if SDS tended to be kids from middle class homes, the Weathermen members were predominately people who had gone to elite universities and were the children of the captains of industry. They stuck up their noses to just about everybody else, their quest for ideological purity put most Trot groups to shame, and don’t get me started on how Bernardine Dohrn used sex to recruit members.

    When evaluating the violence employed by the Weathermen, it is thus important to keep in mind that virtually anything they did was going to be seen by most other radicals in the country (old and new left) as the dipshittery of a bunch of spoiled rich kids who, in their rebellion from their parents, still wanted to be masters of society by being the elite in the movement. It turns out that an übervanguardism based upon commitment to a given school of theory looks rather tame in comparison to an übervanguardism based upon residual class elitism. The “bad taste in the mouth” that the Weathermen gave just about every other leftist and radical group didn’t do much to recruit others to the mass use of violence – it did the opposite – it enfranchised the caricature of the violent radical as hopelessly out of touch with the masses and ideologically turgid in the extreme, and encouraged only the oddball idiosyncratic (and very occasional) use of violence, which is to be rejected for the reasons Trotsky outlines. Contrast the Weather Underground use of violence to the mass uses of violence in American labor struggles from, say, 1877 through the Depression.

    It is possible that a small fringe group could commit strategic acts of violence in a manner that increases solidarity among those engaged in class struggle and increases their ranks. But that would require that there was some broad sympathy for said fringe group, and that working class persons could in some meaningful manner identify with the experiences of the members of said group and the assumed impulse behind their actions. The Weatherman were the furthest thing from that.

    All that said, I very much agree with Dan that if a violent movement were to somehow be effective today, it would directed “at significant buildings, machines or even at the corporate leaders.” Especially the latter, I think.

  28. I agree with your criticisms of the “übervanguardism” found in the Weather Underground (one of the reasons why I think anarchism can succeed where both democracy and socialism fail is because both of the latter alternatives require a vanguard of some sort — a concentration of power within a small group of “leaders” and this is, in part, why both of those options fail). I’m not trying to say they were not problematical. I was simply admiring their ability to engage in violent actions without causing much harm to human bodies. My point is more that, despite their problems, there is still something we could learn from them (in defense of lost causes??).

    I’m not sure of their impact upon reflections about violence now (that said, I agree that there is a strong case to be made that they damaged the cause of the left back in their day… even though I’m uncertain as to whether or not that case is accurate given that the left very well may have been entirely unsuccessful regardless of the actions of the Weathermen). It seems to me that folks like Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh (along with “radical Jihadists” or whomever the heck people are scared of these days) have much more of an influence upon the conversation and nobody really knows much of anything about the Weathermen (which, to be honest, makes this a rather refreshing exchange). Then again, maybe things are different south of the border.

  29. ” It seems to me that folks like Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh (along with “radical Jihadists” or whomever the heck people are scared of these days) have much more of an influence upon the conversation and nobody really knows much of anything about the Weathermen”

    You may be correct there Dan. I tend to think that were a small leftist group to engage in violent acts today the media would dig out all of the old Weathermen footage and get some Weathermen “experts” to spin some analogies on CNN, but surely Kaczynski would also be brought up and in the public mind the assumption that such a group was “unabomber” in spirit might be the more accessible construct to reach for.

    Within the left itself, however, I think the Weather U has been a symbol of the futility of pseudo-revolutionary violence. And in a context where there has been an addiction to non-violence and cheap, trendy pacifisms, this might have caused the social memory of the Weathermen to linger longer than it should. But, obviously the left is in great transition right now and the old hang-ups might not be with us anymore in the manner I assume. Sure hope so.

    On a side note, at the General Assembly at my local Occupy Memphis, after a long and (I thought) mostly unheated debate-but-we-Occupiers-don’t-call-it-debate over whether or not having a “women’s caucus” is exclusive of transgender people, a meditation moment was called for and the lady who leads the occupiers in yoga each morning led the group in breathing exercises. Those of us reds and red-and-blacks stepped behind the circle and lit our cigarettes. There was a comment about that being the old left’s version of “breathing exercises.”

  30. Actually, I’m not sure if the violence of the Underground should be called “pseudo-revolutionary”. It seemed genuinely revolutionary… but still futile (unless, of course, we define “genuine” revolutionary violence as successful… but that seems problematical to me). I was going to say that smashing windows and flipping cars seems more like “pseudo-revolutionary” violence but then I got to wondering if there is such a thing. Sure, such actions are often tactical errors and worse-than-useless, but I’m not sure if that makes them pseudo-revolutionary… is all violence revolutionary in some sense???

    As for the left, well, I’m more skeptical… the main transitions I see happening are (a) the left moving further right (as happened with the New Democrat Party in Canada which was once an anti-war, pro-labour socialist party and now is essentially the Liberal party… which is why they are now the official opposition in our Parliament); and (b) moving further into the realm of spectacular resistance (a la Debord) and further away from concrete material and historical resistance. Hopefully I’m wrong about that (and these occupations could prove me wrong — I’ve packed a tent and I’m joining the folks in Toronto tomorrow so I’ll learn more on the ground there)… but I don’t think positive transitions involving large numbers of people will start happening before a lot more people get fucked. Once again, however, this may be more reflective of the Canadian context than that in Memphis or NY or Chicago or the USofA.

  31. I should clarify, when I say “the left is in transition” I do not include the Democratic Party in the U.S. That party is a center-right party as far as I can tell, even if there are a few strains of left tendencies within that center-right party.

    As for “pseudo-revolutionary” I suppose I was thinking in terms of a Leninist “revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation” posture. The cultural change wish list of a bunch of elitist bourgeois kids turned elitist radicals and joined up with the fringe elements coming out of the Black Panthers does not, in my mind, constitute a revolutionary situation. I don’t think the overall American social milieu in the early 70s constituted a revolutionary situation either. Our 20th century revolutionary situation came two generations prior to that.

  32. It seems to me that the revolutionary situation can only be identified after the fact. Trying to look for or await the ideal revolutionary situation seems like a bit of a waste to me… pursue the revolution (if you want to use that language) and hope your situation is ideal. Who knows what the ideal situation may be (after all, I don’t think Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire because he thought he was in, or creating the ideal revolutionary situation, but look what that action helped to catalyze in Tunisia and elsewhere).

    I’m not saying we give up on analysis and strategy and all that, I’m just saying that when moments arrive wherein genuine change becomes a real possibility or actuality, they tend to arrive as unforeseen (and unforeseeable?) moments of apocalyptic rupture. Hindsight is 20/20… and who knows if any present moment is or is not revolutionary unless we are acting to find out.

    As for the left, well, I feel that point (b) captures the trajectory of many “radicals” or “activists” who disdain party politics (maybe I should have gone with Baudrillard there and called it the simulacrum of resistance…). Those who vote for the Democrats (or the NDP up here) seem to be more under point (a).

    Anyway, my apologies to the moderators for pursuing remarks tangential to the original post.

  33. To anyone interested, involved, etc.,

    An Invitation to a Roundtable Political Discussion on the #Occupy Movement:

    Friday 7pm | October 28, 2011
    Kimmel, Room 406. NYU
    60 Washington Square S., NYC

    The recent #Occupy protests are driven by discontent with the present state of affairs: glaring economic inequality, dead-end Democratic Party politics, and, for some, the suspicion that capitalism could never produce an equitable society. These concerns are coupled with aspirations for social transformation at an international level. For many, the protests at Wall St. and elsewhere provide an avenue to raise questions the Left has long fallen silent on:

    1. What would it mean to challenge capitalism on a global scale?
    2. How could we begin to overcome social conditions that adversely affect every part of life?
    3. And, how could a new international radical movement address these concerns in practice?

    Although participants at Occupy Wall St. have managed thus far to organize resources for their own daily needs, legal services, health services, sleeping arrangements, food supplies, defense against police brutality, and a consistent media presence, these pragmatic concerns have taken precedent over long-term goals of the movement. Where can participants of this protest engage in formulating, debating, and questioning the ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?

    We in the Platypus Affiliated Society ask participants, organizers, and interested observers of the #Occupy movement to consider the possibility that political disagreement could lead to clarification, further development and direction. Only when we are able to create an active culture of thinking and debating on the Left without it proving prematurely divisive can we begin to imagine a Leftist politics adequate to the historical possibilities of our moment. We may not know what these possibilities for transformation are. This is why we think it is imperative to create avenues of engagement that will support these efforts.

    Towards this goal, Platypus will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with organizers and participants of the #Occupy movement. These will start at campuses in New York and Chicago but will be moving to other North American cities, and to London, Germany, and Greece in the months to come. We welcome any and all who would like to be a part of this project of self-education and potential rebuilding of the Left to join us in advancing this critical moment.

    #Occupy movement roundtable discussion: An invitation to a political dialogue hosted by The Platypus Affiliated Society

  34. I still have trouble tracking down when it was collectively decided that we’d resort to ridiculous false dichotomies when addressing all questions about violence and non-violence in the OWS movement. There are those who cant about losing public sympathy and those, like myself, who don’t want to physically hurt anyone when absolutely anything else can be done. There were lots of Brits calling out their media for their slap-a-dash pronouncements of violence during the UKUncut protests and the more recent riots. Why have we Americans accepted equivocations about the violence of hurting people physically and (1) property damage, (2) fucking with people’s commute through an already busy-part of town, (3) disrupting the smooth operating of the economic order via strikes and sabotage (maybe even forcible redistribution) or (4) finding a way to restrain even an armed officer if you have (admittedly I think these are kind of silly odds, but they’re conceivable) 100 protesters to 1 deranged cop. It’s arguable that 3 constitutes what some strapping grad-student in public administration might want to label “economic violence”, but big fucking deal. We are dealing with a stupendous poverty of imagination if we comparing and contrasting Peaceniks and The Weathermen.

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