Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Movement vs Revolution

Occupy is a Movement. Occupy is a Revolution.

Occupy is both. Occupy is neither.

Thus, Occupy is fascinating. It is a species of revolt that no one has ever seen before; what to make of it is a constant topic of discussion and debate, sometimes very heated. Some of the same debates and discussions that were going on before the first appearance of Occupy Wall Street last September are still going on today, no closer to resolution in the vast eternal conversation than they ever were.

If Occupy is both a Movement and a Revolution, and it is neither, then how can one understand it? Perhaps one is obligated not to grasp or understand it but simply to let it be. Or, if one is so inclined, to try to understand it while humbly acknowledging the futility of the effort.

The same forces -- though not necessarily the same interests -- are trying to overcome the internal resistance of an organic, evolutionary, international Occupy in order to shape it to their personal needs, whether they be for authority or for ego support or enrichment (typically all three at the same time.) They see this thing that has "so much potential" and they want to own it or to make it their own, to shape and control it, to drive it in their preferred direction, and to profit from it; or if they cannot, they might well seek to destroy it.

That may have been what happened to Chris Hedges when he saw "his Revolution" -- ie: OWS in New York -- go off in directions he not only couldn't control, he didn't even know of. He saw on the "news" the fearsome images of what was going on in Oakland on January 28, which for him and many others was not the image of Occupy they wanted seen by the multitudes. When "his Revolution," OWS, then endorsed and expressed solidarity with Our Brothers and Sisters in Oakland, he had a meltdown.

Despite all the hullabaloo over violence, Oakland remains the energy center for the Movement and the locus for Revolutionary activism within the Movement. Despite the keening and rending of garments over violence, vandguardism, and insurrection, Occupy Oakland's efforts and activism remain fully within the umbrella of nonviolent resistance. The resistance is more militant in Oakland than in many other places, and because it is militant, rather than passive, it can be frightening, and not just to the more traditionally minded nonviolence believers. It's frightening to the Powers That Be for the simple reason that militant nonviolence can be highly effective against an entrenched, corrupt and decadent established Power.

Such Power is very brittle. It does not require an armed insurrection to overcome or indeed to overthrow it. It takes concerted, persistent, militant resistance. The act of resistance, if done mindfully, can be enough. Militancy almost always does the trick sooner or later, even against the most entrenched Powers.

The questions that have yet to be answered in any comprehensive fashion are whether the Movement aspects of Occupy are sufficient for most purposes, and how strenuously should its Revolutionary aspects be pursued.

A Movement, after all, is content with reform of existing institutions and structures; a Revolution seeks to replace them with something else again.

In Oakland, the task (Movement and Revolution) has gone farther than anywhere else, and from what I can tell from the outside, the question of what to do now is a daunting one that the participants in Occupy Oakland, the Oakland Commune, and the community at large are seriously grappling with.

What do we do now?

Is it enough to reform existing institutions and rejigger the personnel charts? Or is it necessary to sweep them all away and start over?

Note: when the Overclass considers these matters -- and acts on them -- it is widely considered (and certainly it's propagandized) as "appropriate," viz: Greece, but there are many other examples closer to home. When the Lower Orders do it, however, it is considered by many to be an Existential Threat that must be crushed...

If the answer to the Question of "Movement or Revolution" is truly Revolutionary, that the Operating System needs a thorough clean out and replacement, then the further question is How?

The Instructions for performing this task are badly written and poorly worded, subject to endless interpretation, confusion and error in the process of implementation. Thus, given their druthers, most people, let alone most activists, have little or no inclination to proceed down the path of total replacement of broken systems (ie: Revolution).

Reform is quite good enough for most purposes most of the time, and for most people nearly all the time.

But sometimes Revolution is necessary. The Overclass recognized this fact long ago and have been implementing their revolutionary programs with abandon. A People's Revolution has yet to occur in the United States. Whether it can take place is a big question.

A big part of the internal discussion and discovery going on within the Occupy Movement is over the extent of Necessary Change. The Revolutionary current in these discussions and this discovery process is being resisted ever more strenuously by those who not only didn't sign up for a Revolution, they are not even much inclined toward Reform.

Many seem to be content with a middle path between the current status quo and the ever harsher proto-fascism that we're being pushed into. In other words, it would be sufficient for many people -- including quite a large contingent of activists -- to simply slow down the descent we're on and perhaps mitigate some of its worst effects.

The basic premise of this viewpoint is that our Systems work, not perfectly, but well enough for most purposes. Radical change of any kind is dangerous and unnecessary. Marginal reforms are achieved incrementally through standard forms of political organization and action including the development of leaders and a unified message; Revolution is out of the question. Marginal reforms can be accomplished by adherence to proper and customary forms and procedures, and most of all by maintaining strict adherence to the Principles of Nonviolence as adopted by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

There. Is. No. Other. Way.


More and more, that premise is being challenged and rejected by a broader and broader cross-section of Americans; what should be adopted in its place is not at all clear, but there is a growing recognition that these formulas of the past don't work any more and can actually be counterproductive in the current circumstance.

By all means, honor Gandhi and King (or not, depending on your preferences), but don't imagine that strict emulation or adherence to their models today will gain the kinds of results they were able to achieve generations ago. The world moves on, and the Overclass tends to learn their lessons as well as, sometimes better than, the rest of us.

And a primary lesson the Overclass learned was how to thwart the Gandhian/King form of resistance. They're very good at it, too. In fact, these days, for them it's a cinch.

Resistance must evolve beyond Gandhi and King, and it has. As resistance has evolved, however, so has the ability of the Overclass to thwart the popular will. We are living in a period in which the Overclass seems to be intent on -- even relishing -- governing contrary to the will of the People in all matters but those least important to the principles of economic extraction and the arbitrary imposition of authority the Rulership deems essential. We did not enter this period yesterday; we've been living it so long now, we've become conditioned to it as "the way things are." Perhaps the way things are supposed to be.

Something like Occupy, with its Jell-o-like patterns of resistance and defiance that can never quite be categorized and confined, despite the best efforts of the Power Structure -- including many segments that see themselves as the "correct" or appropriate avenues for resistance (I'm thinking of the militant Socialists here, but there are many others) -- to tame it, restrict it, and control it is ultimately a serious threat to the Powers That Be. And they know it.

Because Occupy is both a Movement and a Revolution, and yet in some ways it is neither, and it seems to spread the more it is cracked down upon, no one in a position of authority -- at this point anyway -- quite knows what to do about it. There are those who come up with "solutions" all the time, who insist that their way is the right way to deal with Occupy and the problems it presents, but in the end, none of it seems to matter.

Because it is organic and evolutionary and international, but not rigid or defined, with no Central Office or Headquarters, and no actual leadership nor a single generally adopted statement of demands, Occupy is in that Space Between that can't quite be got at by those who would control or abolish it.

Because Occupy is by definition a nonviolent resistance campaign, no amount of obsessing over its alleged "violence," of Occupy (especially that of the Bad Children of Occupy Oakland) will make the claims true.

Occupy simply isn't a violent resistance campaign, nor is it likely to become one, regardless of isolated incidents of vandalism and throwing things. Tightening the definition of "violence" -- the practice currently engaged in by Power -- reaches the point of absurdity very quickly ("Linking arms is not non-violent!" Remember? Berkeley? Davis?) Black Blocs in association with Occupy are so vanishingly rare as to be nonexistent, but I wouldn't be surprised if one day an entire peaceful protest was composed of people wearing black and covering their faces and styling like Ninjas -- but harming no one and nothing -- as yet another tweak to Arbitrary Authority and Decadent Power.

There are so many ways that haven't been tried or explored yet.

As I've said many times before, The Demonstration is really the key to the ultimate success of the Occupy Movement cum Revolution (or whatever it evolves into.) The Demonstration of Alternatives to the corrupt and decadent Powers That Be is fundamental. Preliminary Demonstrations were being developed in the encampments, most of which have been destroyed (violently let it be said) by Authority. Now the Demonstrations are spreading further and further as they must once their central foci are destroyed. As they spread, more and more people will get some idea of what's possible and necessary in the face of What Is.

Is it possible to have a People's Revolution that never takes Power? We see how the Overclass manipulates so-called "democratic" governments from behind the scenes, and we know that it is done through threats and bribery. Thus governments all over the world follow the commands of the Overclass (indeed, only a tiny segment of the Overclass at that) no matter what the People do or have to say about it. The People are irrelevant in the equations of Governments and their Owners and Sponsors. But the Overclass itself does not rule or take direct Power into its own hands. It merely directs the actions of its bought and paid for politicians in defiance of the People's Will.

So what would happen, I wonder, if the People reversed this dynamic? And how could they do it? Without actually becoming the governing Power?

It's too soon to get into that consideration very deeply, but Occupy Time moves very fast.


  1. What an incredibly thoughtful post, Che. Thanks for this provocative exploration of how language shapes meaning. The Dave Matthews song has always reminded me of Octavia Paz's great poem

    Between What I See and What I Say... (1976)

    for Roman Jakobson


    Between what I see and what I say,
    Between what I say and what I keep silent,
    Between what I keep silent and what I dream,
    Between what I dream and what I forget:
    It slips
    between yes and no,
    what I keep silent,
    keeps silent
    what I say,
    what I forget.
    It is not speech:
    it is an act.
    It is an act
    of speech.
    speaks and listens:
    it is real.
    And as soon as I say
    it is real,
    it vanishes.
    Is it then more real?


    Tangible idea,
    comes and goes
    between what is
    and what is not.
    It weaves
    and unweaves reflections.
    scatters eyes on a page,
    scatters words on our eyes.
    Eyes speak,
    words look,
    looks think.
    To hear
    what we say,
    the body of an idea.
    Eyes close,
    the words open.

    — Octavio Paz (1914-1998),
    "Between What I See and What I Say..."
    A Tree Within, (Poems 1976-1987)

    We need to open our eyes to a new way of being in the world. Indeed, it may end up being our only way of being in the world...of surviving.--Morning's Minion

  2. Yes, that Octavio Paz poem really expresses the necessity of finding and opening that space between.

    The Dave Matthews song has stayed with me since I first heard it years ago now. It seems so simple, yet is so multi-layered.