Act, Speculate

Could anyone have predicted this would happen? Is anyone using this event for their own advantage?

It’s odd how in times of genuine crisis people begin to ask the most speculative questions when those same questions are derided as paranoia during periods of relative calm. Millions of people worldwide have been isolated for months, told that halting income generated work and trade to its barest “essentials” (don’t even get me started) was the only way to prevent mass death. Then a horrendous murder is shown on video and out comes all of the anger, the guilt, the rejection of hopelessness onto the streets of cities all across the US. Sometimes the simplest explanations are the best, narrowing down all of the scenarios for “how this will play out” along the common party lines of who will win and lose election capital or taking sides with ‘non-violence’ or violence or saying “pro” or “con”. Sticking to the tried and true can create a certain sort of clarity that calms the nerves and straightens thinking. Other times wild speculations offer extreme scenarios that serve as giant blaring signs in bold red letters: DANGER do not let this happen! or ONWARD to liberation!

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Lightning Thoughts on Hannah Arendt: On Revolution

Novelty and freedom (as in freedom found in a city or isonomy) for revolution. The beginning, the foundation: desire for something new by way of radically inventive action. Revolution must contain a difference that transcends a negative criticism (dialectical necessity) and breaks away from the very framework of the (+,-) opposition available. Must utilize negative criticism for positive change, avoiding the traps of reintegration of the negative back into the (altered) whole and outright suppression; a new body. Will general assemblies, town-halls, and councils be forever a “new” organizational body if a history is done of them? What makes them novel if they keep recurring?

The need for a change, a break from dominant political power scheme must not be prepared by a scientific necessity, theoretical program, or seen as a moment in a cycle of history. This pushes the past onto the future when predicting the future is so very hard and un-absolute. History should be conceived as a story, not a formula. History (the past) is not a science. This would repeat the power structure of the past without a courage to discriminate against one’s present circumstance.

The impulse to the eternal, to find the truth or God, an origin or an enduring principle uncover-able in all things; this must be handled in a paradoxical way so as to promote action. For the action element requires its supplement (theory) to be non-totalizing and non-absorbing if the action is to break with the prevailing hegemony. Action can reflect the current of theories, mirror their principle movement and structure as they are written, delivered/received. For the act to be new (not totally brand-new – this gives rise to necessity/freedom debacle) but challenging and foundational (new in context to an intolerable present), theory must be obscure and open to interpretation, non-predictive and inconclusive as to next steps, i.e. ’the difference of EVERY moment’ ’the novelty common to ALL acts’.

Violence of state beginnings, the myth of violent (law-giving) birth

State “peace-keeping” force too strong (really this time), need revolution from within without ’non-violent’ principle to limit and divide in two (binary logic). Confrontation to show we’re serious, but violence must be reversed and made unambiguous.

Must establish a model for Political decision making within a critical community that simultaneously critiques surrounding powers limiting its free expression while checking power grabbing within itself. (It does not matter that it’s outcomes don’t restructure the greater world attacking it; for should the revolutionary energy become an army of the poor or slaves and so seek to cut off the head and start over in the name of “freedom”, the other surrounding powers to this country (whichever it may be) would be able to carve it up for their own purposes on the larger international scene. (Total Global revolution of communists theory understand this) A power vacuum would ensue that would lead to another great terror, seeing how the rage of the oppressed and poor would only destroy and not create a new nation. Power grabbing corrupts.)
Would it be this bad though today as it was in the French Revolution? Egypt, Tunisia and others??? have shown regime change is possible from a revolutionary uprising… Is regime change enough? What is the goal, Democracy? Who has that?
The constitutional, nation/community building exercise of revolutions though that draws people together under threat of a common enemy to make decisions as a body: this can create a new will. It will antagonize the dominant powers they reject as defunct and unresponsive to their needs/desires, but without a direct military assault. A confrontation and struggle on land yes, but a replacement for the current national leaders would only lead to more destruction. The power structure as it is is not fought over but rejected on their size and inescapability. There will be battles, but as a weak power seeking a new world inside of one that inflicts such misery, the critical community challenges power as well as creates new political bodies. A generator of critique that can also critique itself: exposing the top of power as well as safeguarding its own participants from climbing the ladder of power that only corrupts. Not in the traditional constitution making process of revolutions that limits public government’s infringement on individuals (Arendt), but an opening of a space for group empowerment. This is no pep-rally for self-esteem though, this is collective consensus reaching on actions that have genuine effects on power establishments. The constitutional “we the people” founded a nation, but this other “we” (other) is not so clearly designated. The members I speak of may come and go, the body is not written and bounded by written laws that set universal limits. A law commands it’s people to act within guidelines but the principles here are more like a heightened awareness for power checking and the stubbornness to challenge all power – critique. A negative sentiment that is against a lot, but the positive thing it is for is in the making – it is the sum of the relations forged by the struggle.
With no goal for power, no object of desire like a demand, this novel “we” disrupts and shakes the ground that corruption stands on without appropriating that ground and building anything on top of it. “We” cannot be accommodated, for nobody is sure WHAT we want (there is no object), and the inherent tendencies for power that characterize all groups and their members are checked in open discussion. A constitution is foregone in place of regular assemblies where transparency is demanded and all can voice their concerns/criticisms of both the enemy (as many-faced as the “we” – capitalism is not the only thing) and the process for the assembly/satellite groups. The critique goes both ways, within and outside, ensuring (or trying to) that power-over is deflected. All this body can do is grow or be crushed by existing forces; but it is radically different from those forces.
Some internal critiques: without the energy, the momentum, the intense wave of outrage fueling a movement, will the critique become attacks on each other? Without the space to argue in public and have the opportunity to convince each other, will our differences fester and lead to hostile camps vying for control? Are the space (territory) and the critique both required? What will compel the masses to keep coming?

A Divided Revolution

With everything I’ve read about the occupy movement’s stance on leaderless, disorderly, unspecific action it would seem like it is crumbling before our eyes, but this is not the case – it is being refined. Critics tend to support the message against giant corporate rule of politics like most people aware of the movement (70% last I checked) but are wary of the tactics that are either too scary or incapable of making “real change.” Many are baffled as to why this “whole movement” can’t organize into a concrete program with a declaration of demands, or find some way onto the negotiation table, instead of letting the wave of outrage fizzle out. Such a view misses the revolutionary character of this movement that got so many people mobilized in the first place; no one goal or defined set of goals can be established because the shared sense out on the streets (as opposed to in a warm house) is that corruption in the present can’t be localized – it is systemic.

Before I elaborate on what that means I just want to point out that occupying has a long history as a tactic and though I (and just about everyone else) refer to a single movement, this is more of a method for putting bodies in a physical space than a unified group of activists. This inability to understand the logic and motivation of occupying by people not involved is the greatest danger to making the “real,” “positive” change that is necessary today. The very idea of a unified occupy movement – an entirely unfractured cohesive whole – carries along with it certain risks, risks which outweigh the potential diminishing of mass support from the “general public.”

As both a camper who left his house to occupy Oakland for nearly two months and is a consistent participent in the General Assembly to this day, I can truthfully state that occupiers disagree and argue to such an extent that the whole we speak of is nothing beyond the sum of multiple autonomous action groups, committees, caucuses, and people. The non-hierarchical structure and the aversion to negotiating with existing powers are part of the originality of this movement – its lifeblood – to take another direction forcing all members to follow would effectively kill it. The arguments that take place at GAs, encampments, and rallies/marches are of such a grand politico-philosophical significance that they end up polarizing those involved; this is not a problem however when dissenters of an action can simply walk away. It’s the convenience of occupy actions that all of it’s members need not be on board with what happens, and personal agendas remain just that: personal (or autonomous). You can come along for the ride or opt-out, but there is no line drawn in the sand as to where you stand beyond the action taken. This makes saying one is an ‘occupier’ somewhat of a dubious claim: what it means is as various as the number of people you talk to.

General Assemblies do pass and reject proposals that become endorsed as official occupy proposals and full consensus is celebrated, but often one person will vote ‘nay’ when facing imminent consensus on principle. Even proposals that aren’t passed give smaller groups ideas to work with in the future and connect interested individuals together. Existing activist groups also get an opportunity to widen their base and plug passionate bodies into their on-going work. In practice I see the GA as a hub to link people into groups of all kinds along with a center stage where speakers can use their rhetoric to attempt to persuade those in attendance. This body does not govern or direct, it is an experimental zone facilitating future actions and giving ideas with people behind them a chance to converge and compete. The 99% vs. the 1% narrative is a powerful one, but it is utterly ridiculous to attempt to to get 99% of a population to all agree on actions, principals for actions, and goals without marginalizing a big chunk.

The impulse to pull activity deemed outside of or illegitimate back into the general assembly to go through the consensus process can bog down efforts move forward with positive action and speedy mobilization. There is a strong resentment against a slow moving beauracracy by those who see committee organizers for hampering direct action. Such a move towards unification of all actions that employ occupying as a tactic or a symbol might be reflecting the rhetoric of a news reporter/zombie t.v. news watcher who is thoroughly enmeshed in mainstream society. They want to have a dialogue, but our answers don’t translate into categories they understand; we cannot speak as a whole and crystallize ourselves into a position with which to make demands or define ourselves. Ask someone what occupy is about and you’ll get as many different responses as people you ask; it’s not one thing it’s everything.

As for the systemic injustice claim, this is where the greatest divide comes in: revolution or reform? The genuine fright that people feel at the prospect of violent revolution is understandable, especially considering fascist, communist, and other populist uprisings in the past few hundred years that seek a total overhaul of the means of production. These surgical revolutions that aim for the head of the state and then implement their own vision for how a “just society” should be run are totally misguided in my opinion. However, the anti-vanguardist, insubordinate sentiment of occupiers keeps these theories from galvanizing people into a class/nation to wage warfare with another class/nation; the disorderliness and bickering actually keeps any one theory, ideology, leader, strategy (pick one) from forcing a spectacular revolution which would shed more blood than we could bear. I think the energy of this movement from the young and future-less (banished to debt slavery with only mindless jobs available) is aware of these dangers and this, perhaps along with the individualist culture we were sold, accounts for the stubborn rejection of official leadership.

The revolution as a great resounding event must be guarded against, but the revolutionary spirit, as opposed to the spirit of reform, is absolutely necessary. As we’ve all heard from the 99%ers: the banks are so powerful, corporations are so integrated in politics, the prisons are so full (and someone profits), and basic services (health, food, housing) are so hard to provide that this is a systemic problem and a revolutionary attitude is desperately needed. As I like to gloss it: the powers that be have gotten too big – the market forces are more powerful than the state, and the state has to play catch up to prevent a global collapse. Now (as before but more so), we get banks that freely commit fraud and make profits from complex equations, interest rates, and inflation – and it continues because they’re too big? This latest crisis in capitalism or a foreseeable one down the road (because, you know, it’s supposed to be normal now to have a crisis) could lead to a reaction on par with any violent revolution of the past, and this fact we are faced with ought to encourage people that we cannot go on this path without a revolutionary shift in the way we collectively relate, exchange, and produce stuff with each other.

A revolution can take place as a subtle shift in thinking and operating which would seem impossible to past generations. Rather than opting for full-blown class warfare (which might be only just as bad as a hot, flooded planet of starving wage laborers… which in some sense it already is), occupiers are making the change they want to see with the world. The tent cities can be seen as protests but also blue-prints for what a community could look like that does not enslave so many people, nations, animals, or whatever. A reform in line with occupy principles like, say, ending corporate personhood would be a real gain but the other dozens of atrocious, corrupt laws and practices would go on as the next oblivion facing the prey of the 1% looms. Chanting about how another world is possible and then building up a community where it’s people provide basic services for each other is revolutionary because communities are so scarce these days.

The leaderless rejection of hierarchy and the disorganization of certain occupies helps ward off both vanguardist parties and reformers who would settle for piecemeal change in a world headed for (and in some ways inside of) the abyss. Considered by political “realists” an obstacle for progress, this is actually the unique vitality the movement – along with its critical-activist spirit and the simple brilliance of the idea ‘occupy’: bringing back physical bodies into their own space. This vitality gravitates scattered individuals together to organize and make collective decisions to then act on both outside and inside the commune. The energy is there, the ideas are there, the model for life after capitalism is there; the only thing holding us back is police oppression.