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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From the archive of struggle: student activism in the 1930s

Young People's Socialist League

Image via Wikipedia

This is another post highlighting on-line historical materials. This week, we feature two interesting on-line exhibitions on 1930s student activism in the USA. CUNY‘s Virtual New York City is a fantastic local history resource. It includes an exhibit on the struggle for free speech at CCNY. The exhibit’s perspective is basically a Stalinist fellow travelling one, in my view, but it is interesting and well put together, and has some material about the student arm of Norman Thomas‘ Socialist Party. This is from the Student Rebels section:

The Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) is the student section of the League for Industrial Democracy, which can be traced to the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, founded in 1905 by CCNY graduate and popular writer/activist Upton Sinclair. Here, SLID members demonstrate to encourage office workers to support their union during the summer of 1935 in NYC’s garment district.

The Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) is the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Its main rival on campus is the Young Communist League. This flyer advertises an anti-war meeting in Harlem.

There is also a brief mention and some nice engravings of the famous “alcoves” at CCNY. Alcove no.1 was the anti-Stalinist alcove, home to Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell and Irving Howe.

The New Deal Network is a web of US educational sites on the 1930s. Among its sections is one on student activism in the period. SLID features again here, with, for example, twenty-one autobiographical essays from the 1935 Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) Summer Leadership Institute, from the Joseph P. Lash Papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Libary.

Arguing the WorldApt.11D on Alcove no.1; Irving Kristol’s alcove memories; orgtheory on Arguing the World; Robert Schrank’s alcove memories.

From the archive of struggle

From last week’s feast at Entdinglichung: (more…)

From the archive of struggle: Rosemary Feurer’s Labor History Links

The trial of Giovannitti, Ettor, and Caruso wa...

Image via Wikipedia

What an amazing resource, found via Never Got Used To It.

A teachers’ corner, stuffed with stuff like this:

Women and Social Movements, 1820-1940 – A fabulous teaching resource, with some of it geared toward labor history–though most of it is now subscription-based only. Example: primary documents and lesson plans on women and labor, including the 1909-1910 New York shirtwaist strike,  Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike of 1912, the 1938 Pecan Shellers strike in San Antonio, and much much more

Lawrence 1912: the Singing Strike

The Singing Strike and the Rebel Students: Learning from the Industrial Workers of the World

Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union: Black and White Unite?

Tenement Museum Lesson Plans including “teaching with objects” “doing oral history” “primary source activities” from elementary level to high school

Center for Working Class studies syllabus library- mostly not history, but great ideas here.

Steeltown USA: A Digital Library of Poetry, Images, and Documents – Another site “provides a variety of resources for secondary and college teachers who want to include attention to work and working-class studies in their courses.

A chronological page, with sections like this:

Labor Organization, Radicalism and Uprisings of the Early 20th century
WWI Era, Postwar Uprisings and Red Scare
1920s
Great Depression Era
World War II & Postwar Era

and timelines like these:

Today in labor history from Union Communication Services
Labor Heritage Foundation timeline
AFL-CIO Timeline of Labor History
An Eclectic List of Events in U.S. Labor History
Samuel Gompers Papers Timeline 1850-1924

Biographies, of folks like Rose Schneiderman:

Places, mainly in the US, but also Latin America.

And a lot more besides. Go feast.

From the archive of struggle

And for our regular round-up, last week saw a bumper crop from Entdinglichung. Below the fold. (more…)