Occupy Oakland is Dead

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Black Badger
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Jan 30 2012 22:27
Occupy Oakland is Dead

Occupy Oakland is Dead

Yesterday afternoon's gambit was a disaster (http://hellaoccupyoakland.org/j28-movein-day-weekend-action-occupy-oakla...). The three of us who were there together noticed right away that there weren't enough people. A majority of those at the march didn't know that the closed/abandoned Kaiser Convention Center was the target of the Move-In. The cops knew and were already waiting for us; what they didn't know was which route we'd be taking -- no wonder they were only lined up behind us! The attempt of a self-selected and purportedly stealthy central committee to keep the target a secret was doomed. To believe that such a crucial subcommittee (in terms of planning something that's clearly illegal) would not be infiltrated or under more intense surveillance than the rest of OO was an unfortunate coupling of naïveté with smug self-assurance. [Now onto something that actually matters]

There had been a lot of chatter about what Move-In Day was supposed to look like. Part of that included a sense that there was more than one target on the agenda, that there was an alternative in the event that the primary target was not possible to take, let alone hold. This turned out not to be the case. There were no diversionary tactics, no scouts reporting on the deployment of OPD at the Convention Center, no contingencies in place. Rather than showing some tactical and strategic flexibility and strength, for example, by regrouping and announcing that we were to move on to a Plan B or C (someplace aside from the target of November 2 ; see: www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/11/03/18697018.php), whatever leadership (or vibe in the crowd) existed decided instead to confront the cops in a semi-collective flexing of militant muscle. Such posturing is self-defeating, bringing to mind that other debacle of earlier in the week: the now-infamous press conference, in which threats were made against the city in the case of any repression being used against the Move-In.

When the organizer on the sound truck announced that the truck would be staying near the north entrance of Laney College and told folks to continue through the campus, the festive momentum which has always accompanied the techno music being blared through its speakers evaporated. OPD had already blocked off all the entrances/exits on the side of the campus facing the Convention Center, had already lined up their white vans along the street outside the building, and had made it clear from their massive presence around the building that they would not tolerate anyone coming within reach of the fence, let alone the Center itself. If a combative mood had existed with any consistency, it was quickly dissipated by the bottleneck effect of wandering through a maze of hideous architecture meant to disperse people. With no clear path to the objective, this effectively broke the march into several discrete clusters, in which none of the participants could tell what was supposed to happen next. By the time we made it up and around the campus, we were a full block south of the target building, and it took us another ten to fifteen minutes to catch up with the front of the reconstituted march. We missed the first volley of tear gas.

The declaration that the demonstration was an illegal assembly soon followed, and the march continued back toward the north end of the Oakland Museum (directly next to the Convention Center), where a line of masked Occupiers with shields pushed their way toward a line of riot police. Behind us and around the corner, the cops who'd first fired the tear gas followed us at a safe distance, widening and reinforcing the perimeter away from the Convention Center, clearly with the eventual plan to kettle at least the more confrontational demonstrators. The cops being faced down by the shielded Occupiers fired tear gas, "bean bag" rounds (which are filled with buckshot, not beans), hardened rubber projectiles, and flash-bang grenades. Despite some initial panic, the line held, the Black Bloc doing precisely what it's supposed to do; the most positive development of the afternoon (independent of the many other strategic failures) is that folks now have a better idea of what it means to have a flash-bang grenade go off nearby. It frightens you once; it's quite startling and unusual, meant to instill fear and panic, but then the novelty of this form of intimidation wears off. All the chemical and so-called less-than-lethal weapons used against us were ultimately ineffective; we only ran when charged by the cops swinging their batons.

It was at about the same time that another squad of riot cops tried to ambush us and kettle the demonstrators who'd stayed about a half-block behind the front line. They were not successful, but they still used their usual intimidating and chilling tactic (because of its deliberately random and arbitrary quality) of pushing and striking people who don't move quickly enough out of the space over which they are trying to reassert their de jure control. Two bicyclists were forcefully pushed over on the sidewalk, entangling each other -- and one of us -- in their twisted wheels and frames. Batons were swinging wildly, one blow striking the young woman next to us; she was trying to get up and keep moving when the cop struck her directly across her back as hard as he could. Fortunately she was wearing a backpack (presumably not perceptible to the cop, who was clearly intending to do nothing else but hurt her badly), and the blow was cushioned and dissipated. In the middle of the street, there were about five or six riot cops who, in their zealousness to inflict damage on people, had rushed beyond their defensive line. One cop was especially brutal, clubbing a young man several times after he had fallen to the ground; she swung her baton like a baseball bat, with both hands. Soon, she and the others next to her realized they were overextended, and retreated to the line, and the entire line then retreated another 30 yards to reform their phalanx and secure the intersection.

The level of gratuitous brutality against people who are not posing any discernible threat to them is more proof -- if any more were actually needed -- that the cops are professional bullies, who enjoy inflicting physical punishment on defenseless and unthreatening people.

That OO has been dying a slow death from at least the time of the second clearance of the Plaza is obvious to anyone looking at it critically. The almost imperceptible (at least to those who weren't expecting it) aggregation of power/influence by a self-selected coterie of professional Leftist intellectuals (academics and other specialists in revolt) has been ongoing, the seeds of this bureaucratization predating the occupation of the Plaza. The lack of long-term strategic thinking (which began with the choice of the Plaza in the first place -- OO immediately kettled itself in an indefensible location) and/or the reluctance to learn any strategic lessons, has thwarted activists on the Left for generations. The leadership (elected, self-appointed, whatever) can't seem to wrap its collective mind around the fact that they keep repeating the same failed strategies and tactics that crippled the New Left , the anti-nuke movement, the Central America solidarity movement, the anti-Iraq War movement, and now the Occupy movement. Despite the pro forma adherence of most organizers to (the appearance of) participatory democracy, the centralization of tasks, power, and knowledge, coupled with the allure of celebrity has been too enticing for certain personality types and individuals to avoid. The pre-OO movements represented minorities (some more sizable than others), yet our predecessors in them behaved as if street theater and the conceit of moral superiority would be able to influence politicians to alter their policies, whether through the unmasking of their hypocrisy or some other ploy meant to turn regular people against them. How many more times must we endure invocations of Gandhi and MLK?

Occupy comes along and through the completely incoherent -- but shrewdly deployed -- marketing slogan "We are the 99%," it suddenly it looks like Occupy has the potential to be the largest minority movement of contestation seen in this country since... ever. The participation of everyday people from all different economic and social classes was a large part of the contagion of festivity and openness that characterized Occupy Oakland in its initial and most vibrant phase, the high-point of which was the first Port Shutdown -- and that ended with the second clearance. It wasn't just the usual suspects: the sanctimonious, mostly white, mostly middle class, vaguely anti-capitalist, professional activists.

The usual suspects, unaccustomed as they are to having to engage in a political environment based on widespread personal involvement, personal investment, and personal commitment -- and perhaps more importantly, unaccustomed to interacting with people previously uninterested in such things -- couldn't come up with any strategies to keep those regular folks interested in continual participation. Their bureaucratic tendencies began creeping into the open with their cozying up to Organized Labor, an early self-destructive move (for Occupy as a whole, not for the leadership, for whom it was an astute career move); the failed Labor Solidarity March in mid-October that was supposed to end at the encampment was an early indication that this strategy was doomed, while the recent fist-fight and condemnation of outside agitators in Washington was only the latest.

But the appeal of Occupy was that the inherent crises of capitalism are finally affecting almost everyone (save the mythical 1%); it was beginning to look like critically -- even radically! -- examining capitalism itself in a more mainstream context was no longer taboo; it was beginning to look like a class-based critique was becoming acceptable discourse. With the usual professional Leftist intelligentsia more firmly in control of the content and direction of Occupy Oakland tactics and strategies, however, the likelihood of a return to that initial wide appeal -- based on the workable and attractive principles (although not without their unique problems) of non-hierarchical decision making and the refusal to issue demands -- seems practically non-existent. The potential gateway that Occupy offered for truly radical critiques and ruptures -- especially and specifically those offered by avoiding the usual Leftist trajectory of becoming bogged down in the sectarian squabbling and false opposition to capitalism of Party Marxism -- is now more remote than ever.

The militant posturing that raised the stakes of confrontation at last week's press conference was one more example of how out of touch the self-appointed grandstanding leadership has become. What were Oakland's Mayor and Police Department supposed to do to save face? Was there any other response anticipated by OO's leadership than the usual brutality we've come to expect from OPD? Whatever happened to the strategies of those who know they are less powerful, like ridicule, like picking battles we can occasionally win? We already know who will lose in those frontal confrontations, but apparently the Occupy bureaucrats can't be bothered to remember something so mundane as the history of radical movements.

Whatever potential support the Move-In might have had from the primarily good relations OO had developed over the past three or four months with regular people in Oakland, around the country, and around the world was flushed away. Who reported on or quoted the statements of the other subcommittees? Will those other statements even be remembered? Everyone centered on the stupid threats to occupy City Hall, the Oakland International Airport, or to shut down the port again. The much-touted presence of the Children's Bloc at the Move-In march was a collection of activists who happen to have kids. We didn't see many of the regular folks we'd encountered at the Plaza participating at yesterday's rally and march; the hundreds of demonstrators appeared to be almost exclusively experienced activists. The thousands more who would have been required to take over and defend a building the size of the Convention Center never materialized, and the blame must be put squarely on the numerous strategic miscalculations and failures of the self-appointed organizers of the Move-In as well as the wider de facto leadership of OO.

It is not strategically wise to issue a threat you can't back up. It is not strategically wise to boast of your plans, especially when you can be reasonably certain that the cops will escalate their response. It is not strategically wise to aggravate or otherwise provoke bullies -- especially a gang of professional bullies. It is not strategically wise to put all your eggs in one basket and not have a contingency plan in place, just in case. The train wreck was guaranteed, and that's what we got yesterday in downtown Oakland.

No matter how many images of the cops kicking the shit out of Occupiers on January 28th (and next time) circulate on mainstream and social media, no matter how many positive experiences everyday people had at OO events or just hanging at the Plaza prior to the second clearing, no matter how many attempts there are of Occupiers to lick their wounds, regroup, and try again to move OO to the next step and take over a defensible building, the participation of regular folks is certainly now over. Regardless of the million problems that existed in Occupy Oakland (whether from the abuse of modified consensus, or the lack of willingness to discuss what it means to reclaim public space and move toward disrespecting private property, or the naïveté of most of the regular folks), the active participation of those regular folks was the only thing keeping OO from devolving into yet another absurd Leftist spectacle of half-assed dissent and truncated opposition.

It is certain that some rump of OO will continue to carry on, but the thrill is gone.

Occupy Oakland is Dead; Long Live Occupy Oakland!

-- an affinity group affiliated with the Anti-Bureaucratic Bloc
January 29, 2012 (antibloc2012@gmail.com)

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NoRefunds
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Feb 2 2012 14:28

First off, this is a very good analysis, even if I disagree with parts. Great job here.

I'm not sure if we can call this the death of Occupy Oakland however; in fact it may help the movement. I don't think there's a clear way to determine it, but our losses can also be victories - they show the world both the brutality and irrationality of the state and capitalism. In a sense Anthony Bologna's pepper spray or Scott Olsen's broken neck were Occupy's best propaganda pieces. Perhaps something similar will happen here. Additionally, the Occupy movements in pretty much everywhere else in the US have been killed off by both cops and the weather, but mostly the latter. It's very hard to have an endless sit-in protest in the freezing rain. I expect the movements everywhere to pick back up when the spring comes again, even in warmer areas, because the movement will redevelop a national importance.

Now with regards to the bureaucracy and the hierarchy forming in the movement, I agree. If occupy dies, it won't be because of tactical losses, it will be because the movement becomes hijacked and controlled by some liberal management committee. This isn't just a problem with Oakland, the other movements are becoming increasingly stratified and bloated by committee liberals with their Macintosh and Starbucks Coffee's. The most important thing Occupy can do is make sure that the decision making process doesn't degrade into a simple "yes, no" voting process, which liberals would create through their ignorance and affinity towards positions of power. The problem with bureaucracy is that it reproduces itself. We do need some separate departments and committees, we need some bureaucracy, the problem is if these committees become dominated by an "elite" group enlightened coffee enthusiasts who have no problem expanding the bureaucracy beyond necessity into every area of the movement. Occupy has the risk of forming its own little state, which it is already doing, and must be resisted at all costs. If the organic and participatory nature of the movement becomes killed, if decision making devolves into simple "yes, no" processes or committee bloating then the Occupy movement will die. I don't think we've reached that point yet, but it is a likely possibility that needs to be fought against.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 2 2012 17:46

I pretty much agree with the original post. When the pigs, with reinforcements from over a dozen other pig agencies, raided Oscar Grant Plaza and cleared the encampment for a second time on November 14th it was the death of Occupy Oakland.

Ever since, it's been diminishing returns. Whether it's "partnerships" with the Democratic Party electoral apparatus in the November 19th joint Alameda County Central Labor Council march and launch of the school board electoral recall drive, or the weekly Fuck the Police marches. The result is the same: fewer working class Oaklanders and all that remains is a hardcore of activists. And after each big "action," whose intent is to breath new life into the movement, the number of arrests doubles, trebles, and after last weekend, quadruples. The last time I remember 400+ people being arrested on a single day in Oakland was during the Rodney King Uprising in 1992 (I stand to be reminded otherwise on this).

But things have deteriorated further and the same class collaborationist Trot-Maoist-Wingnut cadre group that brokered the deal on November 17 with Mayor Quan's friends in the Alameda Labor Council are presently engaged in an attempted race-baiting purge of their political competitors. With Oscar Grant Plaza the site of constant police harassment and violent arrests, the Labor Outreach group has looked outward and is trying to support local workers' struggles. Except a bureaucratic elite is self-selecting who personally is allowed to meet with the affected workers, labeling those Occupy Oakland comrades it doesn't want to work with as "racist."

So it's not liberals, who were already pushed away by the demonization of Occupy Oakland as "violent," it's the fucking Leninists who are killing off what little life remains in a comatose Occupy Oakland.

Winstanley
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Feb 3 2012 07:54

Yeah I'm all for criticizing strategy and tactics and leaders and everything but let's not write off Occupy because some people and tendencies we don't like seem to be in the forefront right now. One thing I don't see in any of the above is any description of any personal communication the writers have had with people whose ideas and tactics they oppose. Are the people described as "Leninist" acting that way consciously? I mean, are they your sworn enemies now, and any group they are a part of just not worth bothering with? The above is important criticism but how much of this is being shared with the people actually making decisions in Occupy? With the kids with the shields? There is just something outsider-ish about the above comments that pisses me off. And I was there and I agree the plan and execution were fucked up. But I think the main culprit is ignorance, not some Leninist or bureaucratic plot.

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Feb 3 2012 08:15

Also, what are anti-authoritarians doing about this coup, other than being out-organized and making anonymous public denunciatory statements...

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Feb 3 2012 09:55
Winstanley wrote:
There is just something outsider-ish about the above comments that pisses me off. And I was there and I agree the plan and execution were fucked up. But I think the main culprit is ignorance, not some Leninist or bureaucratic plot.

Since I know who wrote the original post, I simply have to call bullshit on the claim of "outsider-ish." The people involved live in the East Bay and frankly, Winstanley, they were at Oscar Grant Plaza every time I was there. I didn't see you there much.

The reason I didn't go on Saturday was mostly because I watched the video clip of the shameful press conference on January 25th. What's fucked up are baseless threats like these that they read from their "Letter to the Mayor, OPD and City Council":

Occupy Oakland Move-In Assembly wrote:
[...]
Since the beginning of the Occupy Movement when you have exacted violent repression on us we have proven that we are more powerful and diffuse than you. If you try to evict us again we will make your lives more miserable than you make ours.

This may be in one or more of the following forms:

-Blockading the airport indefinitely

-Occupying City Hall indefinitely

-Shutting down the Oakland ports

-Calling on anonymous for solidarity

It will be in our mutual interest if you respect our occupation by recognizing our residency and imminent domain. We are sure that we all look forward to the needs of Oakland’s people finally being met.

Don’t fuck with the Oakland Commune.

Signed,

Occupy Oakland Move-In Assembly

I was certain that such macho bravado would simply give the pigs a justification to crack down mercilessly. Which was exactly what Mayor Quan said to rationalize the level of repression in her press conference on Sunday, where she gave the press a tour of the trashed interior of city hall.

What really, really fucking pisses me off is the way many unsuspecting comrades were put in harms way due to this stupid plan. Lots of friends ended up in jail totally unnecessarily. One mutual comrade/friend had his name splayed all over the bourgeois press, listing multiple misdemeanors and a felony assault on police charge (all but 1 misdemeanor were eventually dropped). The reason? He was beaten up pretty badly, had his glasses crushed, and the pigs had to throw heavy charges at him to cover that up. He only got released last night (Wednesday, February 2nd) and could have not only lost his job, but also lost custody of the child he's co-parenting.

When I was trying to do jail support and asked how I could help, these were his exact words:

arrestee wrote:
...please don't hesitate in the future to warn me not to participate. I need a good slap upside the head from level headed people.

Another comrade simply got trapped in the kettle at the YMCA and tried to escape through the building. She was arrested for multiple charges, including a burglary charge for going into the Y building, and her bail was $62,500.

I was at Oscar Grant Plaza on Sunday and was surprised to see so many of the move-in leaders, many of whom escaped arrest. And in the informal assembly, the decolonize people were back and their tone was gloating at the failure of the move-in. It was pretty demoralizing and I just couldn't stand hearing the guilt-tripping and left.

And come on, the Kaiser Auditorium?! I could be wrong, but I believe that after the Oracle Arena (where the NBA's Golden State Warriors play), it's the largest building in town. In the '46 General Strike, 25,000 crammed inside and outside for a mass strike support meeting. How the fuck could 2 or 3 thousand defend such a massive space? That's fucking nuts!

As for the "Leninists" killing Occupy Oakland, I should qualify and say I really meant the destruction within the Labor Outreach Committee -- most of whom probably weren't part of planning the move-in. But they are in the midst of an ugly attempted purge right now, based on groundless accusations of "racism." It's time to admit that Occupy Oakland has reached a low ebb and needs self-criticism and some time to heal our wounds rather than another Fuck the Police march or media-savvy spectacular "action." 400+ arrests means we failed miserably -- it's time we admitted it.

bzfgt
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Feb 3 2012 16:15

"Imminent domain"?

Winstanley
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Feb 4 2012 02:46

Hieronymous, when I said 'outsider-ish" I wasn't implying that you have not been participating in Occupy Oakland. I was saying the condemning tone of the posts was one of a critic and not one of someone who has been trying (even if failing) to engage with and discourage the currents of the movement that the writers oppose. So don't get defensive and try to start a game of "I was there where were you?" because, obviously, I've been to Occupy meetings and events where I didn't see YOU. Of course neither one of us is able to make all the meetings and events. It's not about physical presence, and I personally know that you *have* engaged with all kinds of people at Occupy. What I'm saying is the kind of vanguardist and/or ignorant behavior described in the posts needs to be dealt with, we need to step up more and deliver these criticisms on the spot, even if we feel the tide moving against us. It seems like there are a good number of people who disagree with the tactics or organization but don't say anything as the shit is going down, although the internet abounds with such criticism. Maybe I'm just making too big a deal of this Occupy thing as a movement, like I want to rescue the thing from the fools, but I honestly haven't felt this much popular energy around a thing for a long time and I'm not ready to give up on it.

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Feb 4 2012 03:10

That was kind of what I was getting at in my comment above, which was poorly worded and somewhat insulting.

Basically I notice these type of statements every time a popular struggle arises. Insurrectionary anarchists and communists put them out by the dozen, but very rarely put any blame on the failure of their own efforts or the obstacles the wider group of participants face. It almost seems like reformists or vanguardists have a supernatural power to subvert anything.

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Feb 4 2012 07:02

Looking at Occupy Oakland dialectically, it set the high water mark for the U.S. with the attempted general strike on November 2nd. I'd say the call for that wouldn't have happened if people like Juan hadn't been agitating for one last winter in Wisconsin.

But now it seems that the center of gravity has shifted northward to the wildcat of - mostly East African immigrant - troqueros in Seattle. Commerce at West Coast ports has never returned to pre-2008 levels and these transportation workers at the bottom of global supply chains are really being squeezed. Remember that wildcats of troqueros at the port complex of L.A./Long Beach in 2004 immediately spread to the Port of Oakland - and the blockade at the APL gate there lasted 8 days. They wildcatted again at L.A./Long Beach in 2005 then on May Day 2006 shut the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere down completely.

Hopefully the wildcat going on now at the Port of Seattle will spread southward this time. There's already talk of another West Coast port shutdown this May Day. Hopefully it will spread to the Gulf and East Coast too. It has to; things right now are too Oakland-centric. The crisis is global and we should be thinking across borders and over oceans.

As for Occupy Oakland's death, I really think there's too much uncritical self-congratulation and not enough self-criticism. The cautionary tale here is too much honesty - especially critiques of the bureaucratization of decision making - might result in one being accused of "racism." And if you don't believe me, just look at the moral politics of the decolonize faction's guilt-drenched call for a May Day action in Oakland. When I first read their poster and saw the call for "reparations," I thought it was being organized by Uhuru House. It feels like a bad acid flashback to the 1980s.

joselito
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Feb 4 2012 19:49

Not sure if its reformist or vanguardist, but there is something overly gleeful about Black Badger's analysis. While I agree with much of the analysis of tactics, the whole thing has a 'ready made' quality to it, almost as if it had been written weeks ago and the authors were just waiting for the right moment to spring it on us.....and then snicker to one another. You never have to look to far to see what might appear as bureacratic tendencies, but if you are in Black Badger's anti-bureacratic clique I'm sure nearly everything appears to have the stultifying qualities of ossification. Much can be said about various leaders or tendencies, or elites, but there is enough energy in this 'movement' still to keep it from becoming the property of any professional leftist cadre. though some support has been lost over this most recent failure, now this the time to undertake more direct involved criticiscm rather than doing a false check for EMS and than pronouncing death. There are things happening on many fronts, and who knows which way things may go. It is typically from the reading the newspapers that we get this sense that the event or action being reported on is the only event of note regarding those involved. That is not the case here, as there are various things of note still in the works. The leaders of this latest failure are taking a bit of a beating around the internet for this which may lead to them to have some self criticism.

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Feb 4 2012 20:01

The S.I. said, "you can't fight alienation by alienated means." At Occupy Oakland that translates to "you can't fight capitalist social relations by bureaucratic means."

The leadership structure -- which shouldn't even exist -- is an ossified institution that is top-heavy and unrepresentative of the working class of Oakland.

From what I've heard, the leaders are continuing to defend their empty threats -- like the indefinite airport blockade -- rather than be self-critical.

Maybe it's time for the 99% of Occupy Oakland to throw out the 1% that misleads it.

joselito
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Feb 4 2012 20:59

I never said leadership structure. Yes, there are leaders, in the sense of those with ideas, skills, and initiative. But, I think it is a leap to proclaim that there is some kind of leadership structure. Yes, some leaders or organizers often falsely act as if the whole thing is leaderless, which is ideological more than any attempt to fool anyone IMO. As for them representing those in the city, that is an age old difficulty, one that always needs work, but were not going to stop doing anything until we have a quorum of POC. Are you going to join decolonize now?

You seem to be crossing your wires on this. Your conflating some beef you have with AS with the entirety of the struggle. What you allude toabove with class collaborationist does not hold sway over the whole of Occupy Oakland. As for AS folks, their race-baiting attempts to take over one fight were denounced stridently. The thing simply retains more fluidity than you might have it.

Angelus Novus
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Feb 4 2012 22:05
Hieronymous wrote:
Looking at Occupy Oakland dialectically, it set the high water mark for the U.S. with the attempted general strike on November 2nd.

So if one were to look at it "undialectically", this would not be the case or what?

"Dialectically" has to be the most content-free adverb ever coined.

Gotta run, I have to dialectically take some bread out of the bread machine, and then dialectically pour myself a drink...

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Feb 5 2012 04:07

Joselito, almost exactly 3 years ago [January 15, 2009] you wrote on libcom:

joselito wrote:
In the bay area, in terms of street fighting, we have recently seen a small but militant response to the recent events in Greece, along with these actions. In both, a caricature-like display of anarchism has been present where rioters seem drunk off their own bravado and streetfighter aesthetic. For the most part, this tendency typically plays the role of cop magnet, their actions and appearance simply signal to the police when and where to clamp down.

While very inspiring, the Greek riots demonstrated the limitations of rioting quite clearly. Even with occupations and some mass mobilizations, if your dominant manifestation is large street scuffles and cat 'n mouse with the cops you're gonna shoot your wad pretty quickly.

I agree with what you said then and think that your critique also applies to how the Occupy movement today has devolved into an endless series of attempts to provoke riots with the pigs -- with declining returns even doing that, last Saturday's attempt being the worst failure yet. The difference with the response in 2009 is its magnitude, in addition to Occupy's incredibly inspiring successes like November 2nd and a few smaller victories.

What I disagree with about your critique then was how you contextualized it as merely a struggle for "power" (with only cursory mention of "housing," and with nothing about class relations). Is this something you share with Angelus Novus' rejection of a dialectical analysis (unless s/he is merely lodging a complaint about the frequency of the use of words in that syntactic category)? Sounds too PoMo and Nietzschean for me.

"Undialectically" would mean an ahistorical positivist approach, relying merely on an empirical analysis of facts. So Angelus Novus, do you propose some structuralist approach that rejects looking at opposing forces? I don't understand your complaint, unless you were being distracted by the countervailing force of your bread machine.

As for my mention of dialectical, what I meant was an analysis of the balance of forces in the dynamic of class conflict and battles with the state. Things have shifted, not only regarding the state's ability to contain and repress the struggle in Oakland, but also geographically as to where the contradictions seem to be coming most clearly out into the open. I think regarding the latter, the class struggle being waged by striking short-haul truckers at the Port of Seattle is where the center of action has shifted. But things are still in flux and it's conceivable that struggles can break out again in Oakland. But with the effective crackdown by the pigs, I doubt it.

Regardless of what I think about AS' vanguardist manipulations, the direction of Occupy Oakland seems lost. Vacillating between the hyper-morality and symbolism of the decolonize faction on one side, on the other is the substitutionist contingent looking for union struggles to lead. The rest in the middle are left with hyperbolic threats they're unable to back up. I hope to hear of examples proving otherwise. Joselito, what else is happening?

I know several young squatters who have disassociated themselves from Occupy for fear that the media lens will jeopardize their living spaces. These young comrades are the most strident critics of the authoritarian nature of decision making and how this is based on a leadership structure within the most important committees (like facilitation).

Joselito, if you have suggestions about a way out of this impasse, let's hear it. What seems to be in the shortest supply is imagination and fresh ideas.

joselito
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Feb 5 2012 18:57

Dude, you pull up some shit I said three years ago, and then follow with this confused comment

Quote:
What I disagree with about your critique then was how you contextualized it as merely a struggle for "power" (with only cursory mention of "housing," and with nothing about class relations). Is this something you share with Angelus Novus' rejection of a dialectical analysis (unless s/he is merely lodging a complaint about the frequency of the use of words in that syntactic category)? Sounds too PoMo and Nietzschean for me.

What you talking about, Willis? You're fighting like three different battles in your head and you can't seem to disentangle them.

All I'm saying is that Occupy Oakland in conjunction with other US occupies is best conceived of as an actual movement(however much that word is overused or insufficient) rather than any one singular event. There is a multiplicity of things happening and a generalized surge of organizing. This has had ripple affects and doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon. The Longview stuff, however it shakes out was influenced by alliances between ILWU and Occupy. This is not a radical outcome, in fact it played to the hand of the international, but the union was not broken, ties were built, and occupy showed its ability to influence labor struggles. This was only an initial attempt. The Licorice workers action, though the workers backpedaled, was the begnining of nuts and bolts organizing with a variety of local labor struggles. Pacific Steel is next and organizing with truckers is happening all up the west coast, Oakland city workers are appealing to occupy for help. We will have to be careful to outflank the union bureaucracies in all instances, but workers in different industries are meeting with one another and holding solidarity demos organized with the help of Occupy folks, something unseen out here in decades. This is just getting going, so we will have to learn, or gain enough strength with rank and file to move beyond union bureacrats, it remains to be seen.

This is just one example, one that you will call substitutionism for sure, but that is just another word you bandy about like dialectic. Calling things substitutionist is just the easiest way to piss on what others are doing. Heck, the entire Occupy is substitutionist if you want. We don't have a workers movement, we have lumpens and precarious workers calling for actions and unions and working people getting on board. The causality has been flipped, it is no longer workers wildcatting and others coming out in support. Here, at present, Occupy is the spark for many different kinds of actions, Occupy the Hood is doing the slogging work of going into neighborhoods and helping build unity around housing struggles and developing mediation strategies to work out conflicts without the pigs.

Anyway, I'm starting to sound like the Occupy booster, which I'm not, I'm highly critical of much of what has gone on and find Badger's point on tactics useful. But to rush to call it dead in the water is exactly the wrong take for radicals, its just elitism.

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syndicalistcat
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Feb 5 2012 21:41

I'm thinking part of the problem lies in the lack of an organic connection with the class. When the encampments existed, there were those who lived in the encampment and were there for various reasons. And then there were people who had a life situation that allowed them to go to constant meetings, such as students and unemployed or people working only part time. But the conception of the base was loose, or very broad. The only form of accountability provided for was through the GAs. The intent of encouraging participation and direct democracy was very positive (tho I have my doubts about consensus decision-making). These were completely open. And yet so much of the actual work ends up being done thru the working groups, and how open are these? And how accountable are they to a base? And what is OO's base?

And what is the conception of how the class is to be organized and brought to participate? Initially new people, people not previously radicalized or activists, seemed to be attracted, and that was a very positive development. But what is the strategy for continuing that process? What is the conception of the relation between Occupy and class self-organization in general?

These are some of my questions. I may be entirely mistaken in my perception, as I've only been peripherally involved. But i think the questions need an answer.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 6 2012 07:36

Joselito, sorry about the reference to something you wrote long ago. I was conflating what you said with the anti-dialectical position of Angelus Novus. My bad.

joselito wrote:
This is just one example, one that you will call substitutionism for sure, but that is just another word you bandy about like dialectic. Calling things substitutionist is just the easiest way to piss on what others are doing. Heck, the entire Occupy is substitutionist if you want. We don't have a workers movement, we have lumpens and precarious workers calling for actions and unions and working people getting on board. The causality has been flipped, it is no longer workers wildcatting and others coming out in support.

Sorry, but this reminds me of:

Featherstone/Henwood/Parenti wrote:
"We can't get bogged down in analysis," one activist told us at an anti-war rally in New York last fall, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. From "'Action Will Be Taken': Left Anti-intellectualism and Its Discontents."

When you simply dismiss the word, while ignoring the content of what it means, it seems to take on the worse qualities of Amerikan anti-intellectualism. You know: paralysis of analysis! I can just hear the hairball refusing to budge:..di...a...lec...t..t...t...

In school in western countries, nearly all of us are taught in the tradition of positivism in the social sciences. Radicals call these the hegemonic claims of the "analytic approach" (Hegel called it "analytic cognition"). It's empiricist because it takes things pretty much as they are. Aren't you the one who once said, "appearance is reality"? If so, that was a perfect representation of the analytic method of scientific inquiry we all were taught in school. History is static, merely showing the development of capitalism as an inevitable natural process. When translated to activismist, this way of conceptualization gives us lame slogans like "No blood for oil," "Jobs for all," or "Tax the rich," ad nauseam. There's no critique of the state, capitalism, let alone class-divided society. But the latter is part of the legacy of class denial in the U.S. which was incredibly strengthened during the Cold War -- but that's another story.

So I'll stop using the word dialectic and just call it a "radical" critique, meaning one that sees the content of the contradictions of capitalist social relations in all their multifaceted cultural, social and political forms and within the historical complexity of their development. Like how can we talk about the working class in Oakland without talking about deindustrialization (it once was dubbed "Detroit of the West" because there were around a dozen auto assembly plants in the East Bay)? How can we talk about housing without talking about the crisis in affordable living spaces as far back as the mass migrations of World War II? How can we talk about racism and the experience of African Americans in the Bay Area without talking about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and their influence in West Oakland and how out of that tradition the Black Panthers rose up? And how can we talk about inter-racial class struggle without talking about the pogroms against the Chinese starting in San Francisco in 1877 and Denis Kearney's white supremacist Workingman's Party? Or the Black Panther Caucus of autoworkers at the Fremont GM plant? Or why the 2000 Census showed that Oakland had highest percentage of cohabiting lesbian couples of any city in the U.S.? Just read the brilliant critiques that started as academic dissertations, like Chris Rhomberg's No There There and Robert Self's American Babylon. There are lots more, but those bring this historical analysis -- which is clearly not dialectical -- up to the present. But based on their excellent research, we can formulate a radical critique, but especially one that leads to a radical practice. That's what is sorely lacking in the Occupy Movement anywhere.

To be radical means to go to the root. Duh, right? But when we accept people willingly becoming doormats for the struggle of others, this is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not knowing the difference between being a missionary or a mercenary, often interchangeably doing both. It's all those classless angels who run around the Bay Area like chickens with their heads cut off, organizing demos to block the doors of banks, railing on and on and on about "corporate greed," "reimposing Glass–Steagall," and "Robin Hood taxes" -- and all that other toothless reformist nonsense.

As for the critique of substitutionism, it doesn't go over well because of the aforementioned Amerikan anti-intellectualism. The roots of U.S. values come from the Puritan tradition, based on an either/or moral dichotomy that completely lacks nuance. You're either good or evil; a sinner or saved. There's no middle ground or gray area. But also by default the Left in the U.S. uncritically accepts the ideology of Lenin. Things like support for union struggles, electoralism, anti-imperialist positions, support for national sovereignty, etc., etc. So like faith in religion, in politics it's uncritical faith in ideological orthodoxy as well as acceptance that only experts can interpret the world for us. Our liberation will be delivered by these saviors, whether priests or politicos.

Here's how Lenin himself put it in What Is To Be Done? (1902):

V.I. Lenin wrote:
We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia. In the period under discussion, the middle nineties, this doctrine not only represented the completely formulated programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, but had already won over to its side the majority of the revolutionary youth in Russia. (pp. 17-18)

Contrast this with the brilliant exposition by Rosa Luxemburg in The Mass Strike, her brilliant account of the wave of strikes -- both economic and political -- in Poland and Russia, starting in 1896 and culminating in the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905. Her account showed that the "bourgeois intelligentsia" tailed-ended the workers at every turn and didn't have much to offer. It completely disproves Lenin's vanguardist ideas and turns his What Is To Be Done? into historically inaccurate dogma. We're still suffering under the religious adherence to his wrongheaded programs and formulas today.

Here's how E. P. Thompson defines class -- and critiques Leninist vanguardism -- with great lucidity:

E.P. Thompson wrote:
...it has become very clear in recent years that class as a static category has taken up occupation within very influential sector of Marxist thought as well. In vulgar economistic terms this is simply the twin to positivistic sociological theory. From a static model of capitalist productive relations there are derived the class that ought to correspond to this, and the consciousness that ought to correspond to the classes and their relative positions. In one common (usually Leninist) form this provides a ready justification for the politics of 'substitution": i.e. the 'vanguard' which knows better than the class itself what its true interests (and consciousness) ought to be. If 'it' does not happen to have that consciousness, then whatever it has is 'false consciousness'. In an alternative (very much more sophisticated) form -- for example, with Althusser -- we still have a profoundly static category; a category which finds its definitions only within a highly theorized static structural totality, which disallows the experiential historical process of class formation. Despite this theory's sophistication, the results are very similar to the vulgar economistic version. Both have a similar notion of 'false consciousness', or 'ideology' although Althusserian theory tend to have a larger theoretical arsenal to explain ideological domination and the mystification of consciousness." From EP Thompson's "Eighteenth-century English society: class struggle without class?" in Social History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 147-148

What's lacking, in addition to a dynamic understanding of local history from a radical anti-capitalist perspective, is a critique of the class composition of not only Oakland, but the East Bay and the larger 9-county metropolitan area of Northern California. We know that the Port of Oakland is the regions largest cash cow since it is one of the West Coast's major transportation hubs, healthcare is another large employer in Oakland, but also genetic engineering/biotech, movie animation (Pixar) and other IT-based industries have taken root next door in Emeryville, Silicon Valley leads the world in the development of high tech, Berkeley remains a city dominated by the rapidly privatizing education industry and related research, much of it for the military-industrial-complex, San Francisco remains a financial, advertising and marketing center, but for a long time a major revenue generator has also been tourism, hospitality and other elements of the service economy. Some light and heavy industry remains throughout the region as well, in addition to food processing and agribusiness-related industry due to the proximity to the Central Valley.

So a workers' -- as opposed to an institutionalized "labor" -- movement would have to take these into consideration. And yes, there were lots of lumpen at Occupy Oakland, but there are now lots of lumpen everywhere in the U.S. Just go to the Central Valley and you'll see even larger clusters of lumpenized people in the plethora of tent cities, shantytowns and masses of people living on the streets.

And yes, most young employed people are "precarious workers," but in what industries? And what about the stratum of the working class who's holding on to more stable and secure unionized jobs? How do they fit into Occupy? Substitutionism questions the effectiveness of a mob from Occupy that goes and fights workplace battles without really understanding the class dynamics of that sector of the working class. Here I agree with syndicalistcat's emphasis on "organic connections with the class." Or was Lenin right and the consciousness for these struggles must of necessity be brought in by educated intellectuals from the outside?

The Artist Form...
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Feb 7 2012 01:56

As I predicted after taking part in the November 2'nd action popular support would dwindle largely because of the blac bloc tactics and the subsequent police aggression which scared the shit out of the average person who we saw taking part November 2'nd earlier in the day/evening at the port.

Even so the police brutality would have eventually taken place without property damage but we anarchists gave the capitalist media the opportunity to paint us and the broader movement in Oakland in a not so good light. What was most radical about OW-Oakland wasn't the diversity of tactics it was the fact tens of thousands of average people showed up on the second of November to shut down the port.

If I remember correctly (as with most issues I chime in on @ this forum) I took a bunch of shit for pointing out the MAJOR mistake anarchists in Oakland made on Nov 2. Some of us need to acknowledged what's going on in Oakland for what it is. The average workers and their children/families, teachers, middle aged etc and so on aren't ready to show up to events where clashes with police are an almost sure thing.

Of course police would, have and will get violent/aggressive even if property damage didn't/doesn't take place but the average people who were there Nov 2 aren't necessarily aware of that. Even the second port shut down in Dec was a far cry from the 40,000k plus people who showed up on Nov 2'nd.

Essentially what needs to happen is the 'professional' or hardcore activists need to take a step back and reconnect with average people. Expecting thousands of people to show up for a building takeover after what happened on the night of Nov 2'nd when the first takeover was attempted is unrealistic. Calling for actions where only dedicated anarchists, some Marxists and some rather politically incoherent protesters will show up is what we're going to see in Oakland until we can reconnect with workers and families that are struggling during this current crisis. We're not going to be able to do that with the silly activist culture which includes but is not limited to people dressed in black roaming the streets breaking windows, unshaven middle class youth from the suburbs chaining themselves to trees and such...holding 'fuck the police' parades hasn't helped- we don't necessarily like the police here in Oakland I think it just may scare off a lot of people who would otherwise be involved.

Actions that can help expose the conflict between labor and capital while forming bonds with average people need to take place- we need to get away from the silliness that has been taking place at most actions in America and get to the real business of forming bonds with the broader community. People dancing around wearing tie die looking like they're on acid, people breaking shit, angry people from certain sects roaming around with bull horns complaining about this or that identity issue....it's all shit. It puts average people off. We need a movement with millions of people joining us worldwide.

This isn't going to happen when we're running the streets breaking shit, screaming 'fuck the police' and what not. I'm not defending the pigs, pretty much fuck the police- especially in Oakland but we may have to first build and hold onto a broader movement and let them figure out the police are shit for themselves. Cut out all the traditional ultra leftist activist culture bullshit- focus on the economic issues at hand- leave identity politics behind and get this movement walking before we attempt to run.

Admin: snipped. Returning banned poster rebanned. You realise if you dropped the shit stirring we wouldn't know who you were and have cause to reban you right?

Ya_Pasta
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Feb 7 2012 04:41

This is excellent and should be viewed by all. It's called "The Battle of Oakland"
http://vimeo.com/36256273

Ya_Pasta
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Feb 7 2012 04:44

..and I meant to post this too. I think most here would appreciate these thoughts on the mass arrests of 28 January.
http://viewpointmag.com/2012/02/06/santa-rita-i-hate-every-inch-of-you/

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syndicalistcat
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Feb 7 2012 05:07

from that piece:

Quote:
until now Occupy has experienced its growth spurts as a result of confrontations with the police. The general strike in November was in large part made possible by the excessive force with which the police evicted the campers at Oscar Grant Plaza. Similarly public instances of brutality at UC Berkeley and UC Davis led to massive mobilizations on all campuses across the UC system. The basic premise underlying Saturday’s action was in keeping with this pattern. By picking a sufficiently ambitious target and casting the action in sufficiently antagonistic rhetoric, a confrontation was with cops was assured.

I think this is the wrong way of looking at it. What has happened has been a continuous decline in numbers, for Occupy Oakland. The big numbers on November 2 --- estimates vary from 15,000 to 50,000 in the day of mass action -- was due to the wide perception among ordinary people that the encampment was a legitimate form of mass peaceful protest and assembly and public expression of dissent. That's why there was widespread anger and sympathy for Occupy after the first police clearing of the camp. At that time there was also substantial union support -- teachers, city workers, teamsters, carpenters, as well as support from some sections of non-union workers (such as port truckers).

If the idea is to do a setup -- setup people for a confrontation they don't want -- that's a manipulative mindset.

What's missing is an understanding of the fact that large numbers of new people being drawn in, and participation of ordinary people who have jobs, children and so on, isn't going to be based on attracting them to confrontations with the police...which the vast majority want to avoid. People aren't going to participate if they don't already see the legitimacy of organizing and the type of action...and trust of the people involved is also likely to be a factor too.

This comes back to the problem of developing relations with people in various areas of struggle and concern, and doing some actual grassroots organizing. This need not be limited to things that are "purely economic" but should be related to concerns that the various groups who make up the working class actually have, and actual struggles that exist.

I'm not entirely sure myself what the best way to proceed is. So I can't say I have a formula here. There are a lot of existing community groups, NGOs, and unions who have a stake in many of the issues, and are likely to try to direct the movement into some kind of coalition down the road. Just a potential to be aware of.

joselito
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Feb 7 2012 06:12

On the question of substitutionism as posed above by Hieronymous, we can both agree that the general strike on Nov. 2 was not the voluntary withdrawal of labor from large factories or workplaces. Instead, it was lead by masses of people (an extrinsic proletariat) who work in nonunionized workplaces, others who are unemployed or underemployed or precarious in one way or another. This general strike was more a blockade, a sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow. Importantly, where folks did withdraw their labor, like at the ports, this happened after the call for an intervention by occupy.

We should question or even drop all together our ideas about who should be the subjects of any strike. It is always preferable to gain workers’ support in order to shut down a particular workplace, but it is not absolutely necessary. Notions about who has the right to strike or blockade at any particular workplace are simply extensions of the law of property. 1946 looks nothing like 2011, the nature of the struggle has changed completely, the causality is flipped. Classic general strikes involved the coordinated action of workers in large workplaces who then gained the support of the rest of the class. This general strike was led by the under and unemployed, lumpen, precarious and nonorganized workers that make up occupy who later gained support in the labor movement. In this situation, the flying picket, what was once a secondary instrument of solidarity may become the primary mechanism of some strikes.

Dismissing this crucial point by calling it substitutionism seems to miss the point of this historic change in the nature of the working class, and the present terrain of an increasingly factoryless and warehouseless US capitalism dependent on computerized supply-chains and just-in-time production.

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Hieronymous
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Feb 7 2012 16:02

Joselito,

First I agree that the November 2nd demonstration was not actually a general strike. And it was only partially even a blockade at the port because although we did prevent the evening shift from coming to work, by the graveyard shift it was business-as-usual. So 1 out of 3 shifts ain't bad.

On December 12th, we blockaded the morning shift, but management canceled the evening and graveyard shifts, effectively making it a lock-out. And remember, with the traffic low like it is now, in 2002 the PMA locked-out the ILWU and shut out all port workers -- at all 29 West Coast ports -- for 10 days. And after the strike action when troqueros shut down the L.A./Long Beach port complex on May Day 2006, the PMA canceled all work there on May Day 2007 to preemptively stave off a strike. So the effectiveness of "sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow" needs to be put in context. And that's all that logistics planners do.

For example: due to scheduling arrangements, a ship with goods bound for Oakland might be diverted to the Port of Seattle and the goods shipped to the Bay Area by train, with a negligible cost difference because a ship from Shanghai gets to Seattle one day sooner than to California ports. Before doing a cost assessment and calculating all the damage we think we're doing to the 1%, we need to do some more research.

But I completely disagree with you about agency and who calls a strike. Especially because management has perfected the art of pressuring unionized workers to strike, which often ends up in a destructive and demoralizing defeat. Different contractual law can be invoked to do a lock-out with the same effect. I strongly suggest everyone read Joe Burn's excellent Reviving the Strike, which came out last year, because he clearly articulates how there no longer really is a legal right to strike -- at least not in an effective, class-based way. He lays out the changes in the law, particularly the reliance on contracts and the NLRB, but also court decisions and changes in the political climate. He solution is simple: strikes need to disregard the law and do whatever is necessary to shut down production.

And with so much production not occurring in places like Oakland, that means strikes down supply chains. For the U.S. alone...

Wypijewski wrote:
... that means smooth acquiescence not only from 60,000 longshore workers, but also from 28,000 tugboat operators and harbor pilots, 60,000 port truckers, 850,000 freight truckers, 165,000 railroad workers, 2 million warehouse and distribution workers, 370,000 express package delivery people, and 160,000 logistics planners – and from similarly interlocked clusters of workers all around the world. They are not all organized, but then they would not all have to say No: just enough of them, acting in concert, at vital points in the chain (from JoAnn Wypijewski, “On the Front Lines of the World Class Struggle: The Cargo Chain” [March, 2010], CounterPunch).

My point is that there has been no "historic change in the nature of the working class," rather that the class has been recomposed and spatially dispersed. The works still gets done by a working class just as deskilled, alienated and exploited, it's just that it's no longer the vertical integration of a Fordist factory. Yet there are still massive factories in California, but instead of heavy industry they produce or process food/beverage commodities, often for export down those supply chains to Asia.

And look at places like Los Angeles as nodes in these supply chains. The combined Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex moves $376,000,000,000 ($236 billion for L.A. + $140 billion for Long Beach) worth of goods, both import and export, per year. 40% of all containerized cargo entering the U.S. comes through that complex, the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere. Interestingly, only 1/3 of those imports are finished products; the other 2/3 are "intermediate goods" that get unloaded from ships at the port and then are transported somewhere else in the L.A. metro area for final assembly, which has made it the largest manufacturing region in the U.S. for the last several decades. The rail route taken out of the port is the 20-mile "Alameda Corridor," a tripled-tracked submerged rail "expressway" that is jointly operated by Union Pacific and BNSF and allows double-stacked container trains to travel straight through to the changing yards beyond downtown L.A. and avoid what once had been over 200 at-grade crossings.

Most goods make it to the massive shipping, warehousing and logistics hub due east of downtown L.A., near the 3 "Inland Empire" cities of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario -- with most of the new development near the latter. Examples are the the Toyota Motor Corporation's North American Parts & Logistics Distribution (NAPLD) center in Ontario, APL Logistics in Rancho Cucamonga, and the Whirlpool Corporation distribution center further east in Perris. Whirlpool Corp. presently includes Maytag, Kitchen-Aid, Jenn-Air and Amana. Since the core of the business is appliances, they recently leased a 1,700,000 square-foot distribution center that is larger than 31 football fields and is the biggest warehouse in the U.S.

Lastly, there were never any "classic general strikes" because they were based on the level of technical development and class composition of where they occurred. The 1877 Great Upheaval spread across the U.S. by railroad. Or the 4 general strikes in 1934, 2 of them portended a situation similar to today and involved transportation (longshoring and maritime in San Francisco and trucking in Minneapolis). The other 2 were sparked by the most advanced industrial sector, the Auto-Lite in Toledo which was a Fordist factory, and the most backward, the 425,000 textile workers whose strike was spread by flying pickets from mills in New England all the way down to mills in the Carolinas.

And again to return to Rosa Luxemburg, her The Mass Strike showed that general strikes come at the end of extended periods of heightened class struggle, not at the beginning, as the mass strikes are built on rising levels of class consciousness due to experience and confidence from smaller skirmishes. Of course there are exceptions, like the May 1968 uprising in France, but as the Mouvement Communiste pamphlet May-June 1968 - A Situation Lacking in Workers' Autonomy says: "It was the biggest general strike (at its height, 9 million strikers for ten days) in history and also that in which the workers participated the least."

What was different between the 1946 Oakland General Strike and the mass demo on November 2nd last year was that 1946 was the peak year for striking for all of U.S. history (4,985 strikes; 4,600,000 strikers; 116,000,000 "man-days" lost to industrial production; 6 citywide general strikes: Stamford, CT; Lancaster, PA; Houston, TX ; Rochester, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; and Oakland -- which pushed Congress to pass Taft-Hartley a half year later). The mass demo on November 2nd is -- hopefully -- the opening salvo of a period increasingly militant class struggle. But activists blocking the doors of a business can't be surrogates for masses of workers indefinitely shutting down the operation of businesses themselves. The most basic ingredient of any general strike is class consciousness and we still have a way to go to get to that.

RedHughs
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Feb 8 2012 01:07
Joselito wrote:
On the question of substitutionism as posed above by Hieronymous, we can both agree that the general strike on Nov. 2 was not the voluntary withdrawal of labor from large factories or workplaces. Instead, it was lead by masses of people (an extrinsic proletariat) who work in nonunionized workplaces, others who are unemployed or underemployed or precarious in one way or another. This general strike was more a blockade, a sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow. Importantly, where folks did withdraw their labor, like at the ports, this happened after the call for an intervention by occupy.

I'd agree that future uprisings quite possibly will and should involve proletarians outside their workplaces.

But this quote misses some other important limitations of Nov 2. Nov 2 wasn't a strike of any sort but a march that ended with a blockade. It had the limitation of most marches - a smaller number of people called it and larger number of people showed up, listened to speeches, marched and blockaded. If by "proletarian", we mean a person who is part of the collectively empowered dispossessed, those who know they have nothing to lose from this society but their chains, then the group of individuals who showed on Nov 2 couldn't possibility have been proletarians because they really weren't an active collective. It is nice that there was 30-100,000 people will to "vote with their feet" against this society. But the vast majority of these people were only coming together as a mass.

I would agree that the old approach of uniting the working class workplace by workplace looks like it cannot be revived. But even given this, we have to consider that workers coming together by workplace gave and gives them some sense of a collective ability to act. If a mass of `citizens` are to stop being a mass, then they'll at least need some other means to act collectively. The Occupy Oakland camp and General Assembly gave some small, flawed example of this. But march wasn't even this, it was just a march with 95% of the huge number who showed up never going to a GA before or after.

I mean "lead by masses of people"? Perhaps an upsurge in overall struggle could be marked by revolutionaries being even more critical of deceptive and hyperbolic rhetoric. "Masses" by their very quality of being masses can't lead shit. To repeat, "The masses" might become more than the masses but they'll have to do more than attend marches to do this.

Similarly, I'm not against blocking the port of a day but let's cut the bullshit about "sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow" (first, it's the flow of commodities - that's a quibble though if you're going to act you've read Capital, be correct).

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syndicalistcat
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Feb 8 2012 03:57
Quote:
On the question of substitutionism as posed above by Hieronymous, we can both agree that the general strike on Nov. 2 was not the voluntary withdrawal of labor from large factories or workplaces. Instead, it was lead by masses of people (an extrinsic proletariat) who work in nonunionized workplaces, others who are unemployed or underemployed or precarious in one way or another. This general strike was more a blockade, a sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow. Importantly, where folks did withdraw their labor, like at the ports, this happened after the call for an intervention by occupy.

I agree Nov 2 wasn't a general strike. It had some similarities to the general strikes of the '30s in that it was a response from various sections of working people to an assault by the cops on what was, obviously, perceived by many people to be a working class movement they supported. Also, it was supported by a number of unions, at least in words...teachers, SEIU 1021, teamsters, carpenters. Teachers union was the only one of these that continued their support for the December port blockade. There are certainly a number of major employers with huge numbers of workers involved...since that is what the public sector workers work for. Many of the thousands on Nov 2nd were people from these unions. It's understandable that this section of workers are interested in a fightback since they have been under the gun lately.

Nor is it accurate to describe it as an action of the non-union, casualized, unemployed sections of the working class either as the numbers of this sector were not a large proportion of them. Nor is it impossible for workers in that sort of situation to organize. The ILWU emerged in the '30s out of exactly a highly casualized, semi-employed section of the working class.

I agree with Hieronymous that Burns' book is a must-read. His key point is that leverage derives from the employer's need for the employees, their work is the source of his profits, and thus the leverage for workers lies in their ability to shut off the flow of profits but shutting down the flow of revenue. Since the late '30s the elite have constructed a legal cage for the working class through a series of laws and court decisions which has made it illegal to take effective collective action. The union bureaucracy's have simply adapted to this situation in the interests of preserving their organizations. But there needs to be a revival of effective collective action if the working class is to change the balance of power in society.

syndicalist
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Feb 8 2012 16:51

At what point do folks not call for a general strike or series of strike actions leading towards more generalized strikes?

While I'm under no "general strike" illusions, I would say, for what it's worth, that there is a limited open window here. That many folks are thinking they are getting screwed, that they puke the same sort of politicans time and again and that "something" needs to be done.
So, I'm for trying to pry the window open as wide as pssible. For trying, yes for trying to up the anti as much as we can.

joselito
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Feb 8 2012 21:24

This thread seems to be triangulating in on an analysis of Occupy that is very relevant. The interrelated critiques include Badger's claims of bureaucratization and failed tactics with Heironymous seconding and then adding that occupy is substituitionist. These critiques are all interrelated of course. To the notion of bureaucratization, I have said that from my experience the idea that there is a hardening of the movement around a certain leadership appeared to be a hasty judgement. Whether it is true or not, the question for radicals should be how to move it in a more radical direction, not to call it dead and return to navelgazing. As far as substitutionism, I believe its mention brings to light a particular class dynamic that begs some consideration. Rather than slapping the tag of substitutionism on this very relevant upsurge in class-based organizing and militancy, and moving on, perhaps more careful consideration is warranted, specifically an analysis of the role of 'extrinsic proles' (for lack of a better term) to both the larger struggle and to more localized disputes.

Though Red Hughes seems not to like my verbage in general, he does appear to agree with me when he says.

Quote:
I'd agree that future uprisings quite possibly will and should involve proletarians outside their workplaces.

Earlier in the thread, I tried my best not to imply the following:

Quote:
But activists blocking the doors of a business can't be surrogates for masses of workers indefinitely shutting down the operation of businesses themselves

by saying this:

Quote:
It is always preferable to gain workers’ support in order to shut down a particular workplace, but it is not absolutely necessary.

and this:

Quote:
the flying picket, what was once a secondary instrument of solidarity may become the primary mechanism of some strikes

I appreciate Hieronymous' precision when he writes:

Quote:
My point is that there has been no "historic change in the nature of the working class," rather that the class has been recomposed and spatially dispersed.

Though, I may perhaps be exaggerating a certain dynamic, I believe my point holds. Due to changes, or recomposition as Hieronymous would have it,I believe the role of proletarians extrinsic to any particular labor dispute (or other battle for that matter) has become more decisive than at previous times. It would be simplest to dismiss this as substitutionism and move on, but I think further discussion is required. As I mentioned before, this phase may be marked by a sortof reversed causality where under and unemployed, lumpen, precarious and nonorganized workers provide the momentum for class-based organizing, and labor follows. When this is substitutionism seems to depend on the goals and intentions of those acting from outside any particular workplace or housing site, but would not apply in all cases, the november general strike being a case in point. Substitutionism seems like a term that will always hold a grain of truth, but whether it is actually in effect will depend on context. Nov. 2 would have been substitutionist had we focused narrowly on objectives particular to the ILWU that worked only to strengthen the union leadership or the occupy leadership. But, even in cases where that might be true, like possibly in Longview where in the end things may have played to the hand of the international, the struggle is still dynamic meaning solidarity was built with rank and file that came out when occupy called for it and solidarity was built with workers in multiple other unions and proles extrinsic to all those workplaces. And, In addition, the demand, stopping union busting indirectly benefits the entire working class. So, barring a councilist position, should occupy not have participated in this fight? or only on terms where we can insure that we are outflanking the union leadership and supporting the rank and file against the leadership? or Will this type of organizing always be substitutionist? If so, how can Occupy build the class consciousness that Hieronymous rightfully points to as being so crucial?

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
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Sep 12 2012 19:33
joselito wrote:
Dismissing this crucial point by calling it substitutionism seems to miss the point of this historic change in the nature of the working class, and the present terrain of an increasingly factoryless and warehouseless US capitalism dependent on computerized supply-chains and just-in-time production.

This simply gets how the new logistic-supply-chain system works completely wrong. There are actually more warehouses -- that the "long tail" in retail needs for things like music and books, which create new markets for commodities that were once relegated to the remainder bin -- or simple obselescence.

Here are some accounts of how Amazon keeps expanding and building new warehouses from the New York Times

New warehouses are presently under construction in:

Los Angeles
Indiana
New Jersey
South Carolina
Tennessee
Virginia

Here's an exposé about the brutal heat and breakneck speedup at the Amazon warehouse in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.

RedHughs
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Sep 16 2012 21:15

I was perhaps a little harsh when I talked about "cutting the bullshit".

At the same time, in this instance I think we can be relatively clear about what actions are symbolic and what are real. We can say that a one-month shutdown of a major port would definitely have an impact on the production process and the profits of major capitalist corporations, we could say that a three days shutdown (picking somewhat randomly) would be in a gray area and might or might-not have an impact on production and profits. And we can say somewhat definitely that the various one-day shutdown did not have any impact on production and profits because the system has enough slop that the ship be routed, time schedules changed and so-forth. This is not to say that the various actions were without value, they had importance. But I believe it is also important for we-revolutionaries to use clear and exact terms when talking about this stuff. I think Occupy Oakland had and has potential subversive but we should use terms that distort and muddy this potential, that imply that demonstrating potential is identical to real action.

The circulation of capital today generally has an extremely wide arc. We need to honestly say that almost everything that happens in the subversive realm pretty much involves organizing ourselves and taking symbolic actions that generally don't disrupt this very wide arc. Again, such things can still be worthwhile.

The thing that I aimed to challenge with "Bullshit" remark, really, was overblown rhetoric that falsely suggesting that these symbolic actions have material impacts that they don't. IE, I think we should we are "a sealing off of a critical chokepoint of capital flow" unless we are. This is just a matter of joselito using the term. This kind of reasoning has often been used by a lot of communizations folks in Occupy Oakland. I'm not arguing because they're terrible, I think they have the best analysis of any subversive group so far. But I also think if a critique is not true and exact, it has the potential to become ideology. And I so I find problematic rhetoric of actually stopping capital flows and actually form a proletariat, a dispossessed collective when, at the very best, you've shown a bit of good potential.

I offer this critique with the best intentions, OK?