Thursday, March 29, 2012

Talking Strategy For A Little Bit -- And What Occupy Is Not

As a rule, I prefer to use what's on hand in order to develop strategic thinking and planning rather than try to impose a strategic template from another source.

Occupy has been up and running for more than six months now, and it has its own templates for taking action. Not all of it is strategic, to be sure, but it is surprisingly effective on its own terms.

It was really tough for me, coming from a relatively organized and hierarchical background, to deal with the way Occupy was and is operating. If it was tough for me I can only imagine how tough it was for many others who were far more rigidly programmed than I was.

I know Socialists who were freaked out about Occupy from the beginning and are still nay-sayers despite the overall success and durability of the movement to date. I'm aware of plenty of political interests and operatives of all kinds who insist that "you have to have" certain kinds of structures and strategies in place in order to have any effect at all on The Powers That Be. Parts of the nonviolence community have been having a field day denouncing the movement for its lack of strict discipline and Gandhi-esque purity.

I think that those who insist that Revolution has to be done in a certain way following a certain template of strategy and action may be missing the point. Much of that argument has been made and heard long since, and some of it has been adopted. But much of has been rejected.

Occupy is not a Sharp-style color revolution. It doesn't come from the same space, and it doesn't appear to be going in the direction of a Sharp-style revolution. From my perspective, Occupy is not ultimately about overthrow or seizing power or any of the standard revolutionary motifs that are central to Revolutionary Theory and Practice As Done By Past Revolutionary Masters.

I linked to David Graeber's "Revolution in Reverse" in an earlier post because I think it is much closer to the ideological and strategic framework that OWS and Occupy in general have "adopted" -- without any formal consensing on it -- as a working model for accomplishing the deeper revolutionary objectives of the Movement.

For the record:

It's not the be-all/end-all guidebook of this revolution by any means; I see it more as a theoretical starting point for the imagination process that's been going on throughout the Occupy movement since before there was a movement.

The key word is "imagination."

After all, another world really is possible. Making it so is not so much a matter of forcing it as allowing it, making the space for it, nurturing it, and letting it grow. That's up to us to do, not something we ask of government or corporate power. We don't need their permission, and we don't need their power to create another world. We just do it.

Starting with imagining it, which is what hundreds of groups (both formally organized and highly informal) have been doing, some of them for decades. In other words, Occupy is not starting from square one, and we're by no means operating in a vacuum. Much of the ground work for "another world" has long been in place, and many of the physical aspects of the Occupy movement have been ways of highlighting what to do and how to get there.

You take the square.

You clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. You speak out against injustice, treat one another with dignity, you form communities, you foster and enable peace.

You face down oppression.

And you allow the alternatives to happen.

Pie in the sky? Sure. Magical thinking? Absolutely. Impossible? Maybe not. I don't know.

Right now I'm working on an analysis that compares and contrasts the Sharp-style revolution with what Occupy is doing. There are many parallels and many divergences. What is very clear, however, is that the premise of Occupy is essentially 180° opposite the Sharp premise of power and purpose.

"Revolution in Reverse."


  1. Graeber talks about the war on the imagination, and I agree.

    No alternatives can happen, cuz we all know they never work, supposedly.

    Great example of that? The Russian Revolution of 1917. It amazes me when people use that as THE reason why we can't have revolutionary change -- for a billion reasons. Perhaps the biggest being, How on earth could anyone deduce destiny in stone forever and forever, due to one attempt, in one particular place and time, with its own particular set of circumstances and variables? Unique. Never repeated context, etc.

    Otherwise logical people use that example all the time, whenever the discussion comes up regarding alternatives to capitalism. These same people no doubt operate in a world where they have to convince their bosses -- or employees -- to try something different, based on the fact of new contexts, new variables, etc. They're probably operating with assumptions based upon weekly or monthly changes and making cases based upon the acknowledgement of those new contexts.

    But they'll use this one revolution in 1917 Russia as means to put the kibosh on all future attempts to change our economic system.

    It just kills me.

  2. The key is imagination, and the absence of imagination in most people's lives is a big part of what's wrong with the world as it is.

    It's kind of a wonder that so many people would still be fretting about the Russian Revolution(s) of 1917 -- or trying to model the next revolution on one or the other of them. That was then; the world is a different place today, and we must think well beyond the restraints of the past if we're ever going to find a way out of this nightmare.

    We know pretty much what's needed, and we have some resources to get there. We haven't quite put together the mechanism.

    But we can be certain the current system isn't the way forward.

  3. Graeber also talks about everyday communism -- not in the political sense. Basically, normal, natural, mundane mutual aid. And he also says, laughingly, that capitalism is a terrible way to organize that communism.

    He's obviously correct.

    Was walking around the building at work this evening, during a break. Trying some walking zazen and failing. I kept thinking about, how even in a work environment, so much of what we do is communism in that non-political sense. We might walk over to a co-worker's desk to get some help with a project we're working on. Never do we think of commodifying that help, charging each other for our time, instituting a "free market" within the structure of the company, between workers, etc. We work, for the most part, as a team, as a "collective" and deliver mutual aid without giving it a whole lot of thought.

    Away from work? It's often the same thing. Neighbors helping neighbors, without charging them. Basically, small c communism comes very easily to us and fits in naturally with our day to day lives. Capitalism and commodification are really the artificial templates forced down on us from above. Without that artificial structure, we would all probably manage quite well -- without the roller coaster rides, the abject poverty and the massive inequality.

    So, what is the right structure in light of our natural small c communism? Obviously, in the modern era, no one has attempted the most natural fit . . . which would be something like a truly egalitarian, decentralized "socialism", without party, without money or profit. Basically, democratic, egalitarian, localized "anarchism", with a loose, nationalized socialist frame.

    Democratic being the key.

    But, again, as you mentioned, how to get there? How to rid the world of our despicable economic system, which commodifies everything, contrary to our "nature" while creating slavery, indentured servitude, the stuff of Dickens' novels, Foxconns and "pink slime", etc. etc.

    How to go from fascist barbarism to enlightenment?

  4. It's a crucial point, echoing Kropotkin's observations. People -- species in general -- are by nature far more cooperative (communist) than competitive/predatory (fascist), and when you boil it down, the cooperative approach is fundamental even to the behavior of fascists and their hyper-capitalist cronies.

    Very often, the competitive/predatory urge has to be induced -- because it is not natural to most people. And of course, to sustain it, people have to be induced to comply with competitive dictates.

    Socialism without regard to party and without utilizing competitive/predatory actions toward one another -- except on a symbolic, ritual, or comic level -- is the way most people are.

    I saw a study some years back that found that only about 8% of any given population could be classified as "naturally" predatory or particularly competitive toward other people; yet it took only 10% adopting these principles in any given population for them to dominate the population as a whole.

    Once established in power, it can be incredibly difficult -- sometimes impossible -- to remove the predatory class.

    Even if they are removed, they tend to come back to power sooner or later.

  5. I really like the way you set up that dichotomy. It fits.

    Predatory versus cooperative.

    And, yes, it does have to be induced -- the predatory/competitive stuff. Most of us would rather "live" than "compete". Sane people, that is.

    Marketing drives that. And because our "needs" are mostly manufactured, invented, fictive, we also need jobs that pay enough to buy those bogus, fictive, invented "needs". And so on.

    But the real kicker is this. Small c communism, which is totally natural to us, can not regain its natural place if we also have a state. Marx was right about that, too. True cooperation and real small c communism can only flourish in the absence of state authority. True "cooperation" can not be enforced.

    Ironically, for all their hatred of government and "coercion", right-wing libertarians love, worship and defend an economic system that was invented by the state and can not survive without it. The economic system they love best breeds predators and coercion and lies and the involuntary and so on. It breeds "unfreedom". For all of their talk about "government coercion" . . . . and freedom being freedom from government, they actually embrace an economic system that is inextricably wedded to the state.

    As in, their hatred for socialism and communism runs counter to their own supposed goals of freedom from the state.

    As long as capitalism is the mode at hand, government is totally necessary. Even "limited government" is a recipe for disaster. Again, ironically, the only way for the project of right-wing libertarians to be effective is if we create a left-wing utopia.

    In short, the only way the state withers is if we destroy capitalism and let small c communism take its natural place in the world.

    . . . .

    So much for me these days ties into Buddhism. We all have Buddha-nature within. It's just a matter of getting rid of attachments, clutter, delusions, etc. It's just a matter of getting at the statue already inside Michelangelo's rock. Same thing with our inner communism. Get rid of the debris -- the biggest obstacle there being capitalism -- and we get rid of the state., eventually.

  6. The dilemma is plain to see, and it is wrapped in those chains of desire so fundamental to understanding our condition on earth.

    In a way, the state is emblematic of those chains of desire. The state provides for so much of what we want -- or are induced to want -- and keeps us bound because of it.

    Breaking free is no easy task...

    As more and more people recognize that The System Is The Problem, some are seeing that going up against it directly only strengthens it. The dilemma is magnified. That can lead to creative solutions... we'll see.

    As for rightists and libertarians, they really look freakish at this point. All their triumphalism looks more and more empty.

    They are, however, relentless.

  7. "relentless" for sure. I've never seen the like. Especially the Pauliacs.

    Too funny that they spend so much of their time blasting the supposed "Obamabots", when no one is more zombified than Paul's evangelists.

    Oh, well.

    (It's helping me a great deal not to be on any forums these days. Hopefully, they will soon become a distant memory . . . )

    Quick follow up on the above. More obvious stuff, etc.

    Government regulations become more and more necessary the more "freedom" we give to business. If they were capped in size and power, government wouldn't have to intrude so often -- for good or bad. If they were localized, small and relatively powerless -- as they should be -- government wouldn't have the incentive to take their graft or the need to overly regulate them.

    It's also a matter of basic history. Their history is one of horrendous practices through time . . . slavery, pawns, debt slaves, indentured servitude via debt, Dickensian working conditions and so on. Business has no right to bitch and moan about "regulations" when history shows us with absolute clarity that it can't be trusted to do what is right for workers, consumers and the earth.

    The old adage holds: it made its own bed. But now, it wants to act as if someone else did all along . . . . And perhaps the greatest con game in the history of the world is . . . that millions of people think someone else did make it for them. It's always someone else's fault, etc. .


  8. As for "freedom" or "liberty", the questions I tend to ask are: "Freedom/liberty for whom to do what?"

    This is my main problem with Gene Sharp's theories of "democracy" and what he's really involved with. "Democracy for whom to do what?"

    The results of every one of his Color Revolutions tell the tale: none of them have led to popular democracy or even social democracy. Every one of them has led directly to oligarchic/plutocratic control of governments on behalf of their own generally pecuniary interests which the People then have to struggle against!

    Of course by the time they figure out they've been snookered into supporting something they didn't want, they're too tired to rise up again (how about that), and it will be generations before the Revolution comes around again.

    The capitalist experiment is on rocky shores to say the least. Whether it can evolve beyond its current self-destructive state is anyone's guess.