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Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 9:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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Keep calm, occupy, and have a pint

Let’s start with two snippets from the mainstream media. This morning on Radio 4, DJ Tayler, Orwell biographer, was talking about the Orwellian quest for the perfect pub. You can listen in some parts of the world here, or read about it here.

A roaring open fire. The bartender knows your name. Your pint of draught stout comes in a china cup. Did George Orwell have the recipe for the perfect pub?

Who knows who you might bump into in the perfect pub

… In an article written for the London Evening Standard in 1946, he produced a detailed description of his ideal watering-hole, The Moon Under Water, which “is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights”.

The Guardian has a nice photo gallery of posters from the Occupy movement, with an emphasis on the retro look. Here’s one:

Turning to the alternative, Entdinglichung has a round-up of the latest in German on the Marxist Internet Archive, as part of the on-going project of bringing socialistica to the masses.

He also introduces to a great archival website called Workerscontrol.net, which “aims to be a virtual open library for the collection and access to documentation and theoretical essays on past and current experiences of workers’ control”. Material in a few languages by Cornelius CastoriadisKen Coates & Tony TophamAntonio GramsciKarl KorschRosa LuxemburgErnest MandelPaul MattickAnton PannekoekOtto Rühle, and Leon Trotsky, as well as stuff like “The Universe of Worker-Recovered Companies in Argentina (2002-2008): Continuity and Changes Inside the Movement” and “The South London Women’s Hospital Occupation 1984-85“. Check it out.

But my favourite is this post of old papers, as it has a nice greeting to me, as well as nice newspaper images: (more…)