Occupy and the anarchists

Food Not Bombs illustraion

Some interesting discussions of Occupy and anarchist history lately, as Roland has noted. In a guest post at Roland’s place, TNC writes:

Some including Paul Berman and Michael Kazin identify anarchist elements of OWS such as presenting a living, breathing, counter-modelto capitalism and the utilization of consensus decision-making.

 The notion that you can create a rival community, a new world “within the shell of the old”, a counter-culture, is intrinsic to anarchism. That this must be consensus-driven is much more recent. It is not evident among the various groups that considered themselves anarchist–anarcho-mutualists/collectivists/syndicalists/communists—from the mid-nineteenth century until the Spanish Revolution. All of them felt that voting within their own organizations and groups was just fine.
By the 1960s, elements within the New Left including Students for a Democratic Society and others were experimenting with styles of decision-making that were viewed as more inclusive, participatory and democratic. These themes were also taken up by the Radical Feminist Movement in the 1970s. Certainly by the 1990s consensus organizing was gaining steam primarily though the work of Food Not Bombs (FNB), Earth First! and a few other groups. FNB in particular was effective at distributing inexpensively reproduced literature, including their Handbook, promoting consensus as the only way to order a local chapter:
We make decisions by consensus rather than voting. Voting is a win or lose model in which people are more concerned about the numbers it takes to win a majority than they are in the issue itself. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesis, bringing together diverse elements and blending them into a decision which is acceptable to the entire group. In essence, it is a qualitative rather than quantitative method of decision-making.
From my experience on the radical left, the influence of consensus decision-making was incredibly negative. The long, drawn-out meetings with no discernable outcome eventually take their toll. People start to drop out.
While Michael Kazin, Paul Berman and others note the attempt by the OWS movement to create a counter society (some have termed the encampments “micro societies”) an important difference between OWS and the classical anarchists is an emphasis on what form the future society would take. All of the utopian socialists going back to St. Simon and Fourier had a model in mind. Never mind how wacky the model was, at least they had something to refer to. This is completely missing from OWS. They say this is “all part of the process”but it is not enough for most of us. We want to know what you want, especially if you claim to represent us (as part of the 99%).

There is an interesting interview with Kazin at The Browser.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement writes a new chapter in the history of American leftism, you’ve published a history of radical movements in the United States titled American Dreamers. Tell me about it.

It chronicles almost 200 years of the American left’s history, interpreting what the left did right and what it did wrong. What it did wrong is better known. The subtitle of the book is “How the Left Changed a Nation”. I emphasise the positive difference it made, focusing on a couple of themes.

One is that the left expanded the meaning of individual freedom. It made sure that people of all races, religions and sexual preferences are, at least in theory, able to enjoy the same opportunities and freedoms as everybody else. The book begins with the abolitionists and goes up until the gay and lesbian movement of the 1970s. The other theme is that the left succeeded in presenting a vision of a more egalitarian and socially responsible society. The left may have had less success in this respect but its success has been considerable nonetheless.

I highlight figures like Henry George and Edward Bellamy, both journalists. Henry George wrote a bestselling economics tract called Progress and Poverty in 1879. He was very popular among the labour unionists. Edward Bellamy was a Christian Socialist who wrote Looking Backward. Published in 1888, it ranks with Uncle Toms Cabin as one of the most influential political novels of the 19th century. Bellamy’s followers were important figures in the populist movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party in the early 20th century. These figures articulated an anti-corporate platform which continues to be influential even in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Do you see the DNA of the abolitionists, suffragettes and other leftist forebears in today’s protest?

Yes, in many ways I do. There are different strands. Of course you have civil disobedience, which abolitionists were known for. You have nonviolence and a “beloved community”, which civil rights protesters were known for. And you have a very strong emphasis on the 99% being injured by the 1%, and a critique of American democracy as being corrupted by big money, that began in the late 19th century with people like George and Bellamy.

He goes on to talk about Marx and Engels, about Howard Zinn’s historical vision, and then Students for a Democratic Society, and finally Gene Sharp, who has also been cited as an important influence on the Arab Spring.

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Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 9:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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Poumshawoom

On Nye Bevan: a hatchet job from a Kinnockite in the Guardian, and an eloquent reply from Peter Taaffe, the current guru of what was Militant. Incidentally, for a glimpse of Aneurin Bevan’s grandeur, check this out. (See also Reuben on Marxism, social democracy and New Labour’s illiberalism.)

On Hugo Chavez: Judeosphere on his allies’ antisemitic conspirationist website (more from Modernity), and Obliged to Offend on his Stalinist drift.

On democratic socialism: More from Entdinglichung on Ken Coates. Related: the Blair Wilson project. Socialism restated. David Miliband’s Keir Hardie lecture.

On Lenin and Trotsky: a Cold Warrior attacks Trotsky’s defenders (see also on Lenin in Karkov and the myth of Trotsky as romantic hero). The first post is against the following, all of which I think I have linked to already: Peter Taafe, A Dis-Service to Trotsky The Socialist Party/Socialist Alternative.org; Paul Hampton, A Hatchet Job on Trotsky ( Worker’s Liberty ); David North, In the Service of Historical Falsification (WSWS); David North, Historians in the Service of the “Big Lie”: An Examination of Professor Robert Service’s Biography of Trotsky; Hillel Ticktin, In Defence of Leon Trotsky.

On the new left: Jeffrey Williams in Dissent on the New Left Review at 50. Meanwhile, C&S, in a post entitled “Capitalist Provides Rope“, writes: “Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal provides an excerpt from Richard Wolin’s book The Wind from the East.” The excerpt is very worth reading. It is about gauchisme, including Cornelius Castoriadis, the Arguments group and the background to Guy Debord.

On the SWP: 10 years since Tony Cliff died – what did he achieve?; Dave Osler replies to Alex Callinicos on Marxism. Plus critical views of Marxism 2010 from Eyes on Power, Red Star Commando, Viceland, James Turley and Claire Fisher.

On anarcho-syndicalism: A review of Vadim Damier’s ‘Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century’. Tom Wetzel reviews the International Socialist Review‘s article on contemporary anarchism. (The ISR article, by Eric Kerl is here. I think I’ve already linked to this response to Eric Kerl’s review of Wobblies and Zappatistas, on which it builds.)

On Colin Ward: Ross Bradshaw on the Colin Ward memorial meeting, and with some lovely tangential reflections.

From the archives: Henri Rabasierre (1956) and Paul Lafargue (1883) in Dissent on the right to be lazy. Murray Bookchin on Marxism as bourgeois society (1979). George Orwell on a nice cup of tea (1946). Karl Marx on Chartism (1852). Engels on the siege of Lucknow (1858: “A critique of bourgeois marriage and the marriage market. A critique of colonial privilege. A critique of masculine self-righteous presumption regarding both. Conceptually connected. And funny.”)

Internationalism from below: Libertarian statement of solidarity with the comrades in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The opposite of internationalism from below: Monthly Review’s support for Stalinism and genocide.

Histories: The Anarchist and Maximalist uprising in Samara 1918Dare to be a Daniel! – Wilf McCartneyThe Petrenko incident: an opening shot in the attack by the Bolsheviks on the Revolution; East Germany and the 1984-85 UK miners strike; the US unemployed movement in the 1930s; Henryk Grossman for today; Was Churchill a hero?; Joseph Dietzgen’s Brain Work; The re-dedication of Nottingham’s International Brigade memorial; Edward Carpenter’s England Arise; working class resistance of the Tory austerity of 1918-22; two sides to Tolpuddle; a facelift for Orwell’s birthplace in Bihar, but not for British imperialism.

Below the fold, a poem.

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Vietnam War Protest Songs

This is a Guest Post by Michael Ezra

The 1960s was an important period in socialist history. It saw the rise of the New Left, those that looked to third world revolutionary leaders such as Che Guevara, Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Minh for inspiration. As opposed to the Old Left of course, which idolised Stalin and the Soviet Union. The movement reached its zenith in 1968, a year that as Tod Gitlin reports (The Sixties [Bantam Books, 1993]p.344),  an opinion poll of US college students showed more of them identifying with Che Guevara (20 percent) than with any of the presidential candidates. Max Elbaum adds (Revolution in the Air [Verso,2006] p.40), “For thousands and even tens of thousands … revolution had become the most important thing in their lives.”

Dominating much of the New Left’s political activity for the latter part of the decade was opposition to the Vietnam War. The 1960s will be remembered by those that were teenagers and in their twenties during it for many things – sexual liberation, mind altering drugs and the music scene. It was not surprising that many put pen to paper and composed songs either against the war, in favour of peace or in favour of a win by Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong. Below are a few of those songs, all of which have been taken from Barbara Dane and Irwin Silber’s The Vietnam Songbook (Guardian Books, 1969): (more…)