November 21, 2011

The Constitution of Occupy Wall Street


As we’ve seen with the recent repression of the Occupation movement, including hostile court action, the 1st amendment is inadequate to the rights and needs of the people. It funnels freedom of assembly into the representative government containment system. The people have the right to assemble only in order to petition the government. This means that the movement’s refusal to make demands, in itself, could be argued to place it outside the Constitution.
A true democratic movement, one which seeks to challenge directly Enclosure and 1% propertarianism by physically occupying and redeeming the land would perhaps be found by the courts to be outside the Constitution. So we have to be clear in our minds and public words that this is our constitution, not something to be mediated by the courts. We can be our own constitutional professors, just as we can rule ourselves in every other way.
We must assess the entire Constitution from this point of view: Is it applicable toward democracy, or does it try to kettle us into pseudo-democracy, “representative” government?
Meanwhile, this physical refutation of the criminal enclosure of our land and space is clearly the demand the movement was seeking all along. It’s a bottom-up direct action demand, one we make in earnest only of ourselves. Our occupation must be physical, of REO, of corporate land, of stolen (“privatized” or contracted out) public land, of idle arable land, of any idle resource, of any shuttered or threatened factory. The Occupation, true to its name, must run the gamut from the protest tents in the city parks to organized squatting to an MST-style land redemption movement right here in America and Canada.
And if it’s true that great protest movements have always challenged unjust and invalid laws, like Gandhi’s Salt March or the civil rights movement’s bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, well here the illegitimate laws we challenge and physically flout are those of Enclosure of public space itself.
This shall be part of the foundation of a new constitution which embodies the sovereignty of the 99. But we’ll get none of it by begging courts (that is, making a begging system “demand”) to uphold the letter or spirit of the existing Constitution. Certainly we should try to do this, as much as possible. Try to “make them live up to their own rules”, as Alinsky said. But we must be clear that this is only one piece of the puzzle. We’ll need far more, and far stronger, tools than that.


  1. This isn’t meant to contradict my rest period. I said I’d still post short pieces now and then, there’s just no schedule for them.

    Comment by Russ — November 21, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  2. I am leafing through a book about the Luddite movement in France. Very very interesting…
    In the chapter on computerization, with which I very much agree, the author (why quote ? it’s all in French, anyway, and hasn’t been translated…) makes the point that Marx never really got a grip on the industrial revolution, because he, and various other socialists, seemed to think that once INDUSTRIAL property, and means of production entered into the hands of the … 99 % ? is that what they’re called ?, we would be well on our way to paradise.
    Marx did NOT understand that collectively owning the means of production in a SYSTEM that made EVERYBODY a slave to the machine (robot, or even PC/MAC…) would not take us to paradise, indeed, would be a ticket to hell…
    Marx did not understand. And our current leaders STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND.
    In my opinion.

    Comment by Debra — November 21, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    • I’ll just quote Bookchin here:

      “Viewed in terms of the contemporary ideology of our own times, this ideological baggage is typified by the claim, so common today, that newly developed automated machinery variously costs people their jobs or intensifies their exploitation — both of which are indubitable facts but are anchored precisely in social relations of capitalist exploitation, not in technological advances per se. Stated bluntly: ‘downsizing’ today is not being done by machines but by avaricious bourgeois who use machines to replace labor or exploit it more intensively. Indeed, the very machines that the bourgeois employs to reduce ‘labor costs’ could, in a rational society, free human beings from mindless toil for more creative and personally rewarding activities.”

      Stateless, egalitarian groups have readily adopted certain industrial processes and products (in particular, steelworking for tools) in order to improve their lives. Technology has enormous emancipatory power in the hands of the people, just as it has enormous coercive power in the hands of rapacious corporate capitalists.

      Comment by paper mac — November 21, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

      • Excellent point, paper mac.

        We have to remember that Marx grew up in and was informed by classical liberalism, which had as its primary goal the advancement of the common good. This is Myrdal’s “communistic fiction” of classical liberalism, which was embedded in classical and neoclassical economics by way of the Invisible Hand metaphor.

        In today’s neoliberal world, there is no society and thus advancing the “common good” is a completely foreign concept to us.

        This is a very long-winded way of saying that maybe we’re the ones who have failed to get a grip on what the industrial revolution really meant.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — November 22, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

      • Under neoliberalism, society is the realm from which government and the 1% have seceded, while launching a war of extermination upon it. Nothing is intended to exist but the extractive power structure itself, whatever vicious private life exists within it, and brutal slavery for the rest of humanity.

        So yes, that’s the most important fact about technology, that under this system it will exist primarily for this purpose.

        Liberalism, on the other hand, including any vestiges of classical liberalism which may exist (I admit I see none), is dedicated to astroturfing belief in the continued existence of a common “society” under corporatism.

        But no society will ever exist again other than that which we build from the soil up, completely outside all existing systems, and against them.

        Comment by Russ — November 22, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

      • There is an itsy, bitsy word in that above quote that bothers me a little bit. It is the word “rational”…
        If I use my eyes, ears and nose, I observe (without having to read a book…) that individuals are not rational.
        If individuals are not rational, why should any society be rational ?
        Is this author proselytizing for a rational society ? The new.. UTOPIA ? Sorry, I really dislike the utopia of the “rational” society. (Most people who like to throw the “reality” word around a lot have not picked up on their own blinders.)
        I happen to feel that the “mindless toil” game is a big problem too. Here again, a little observation will allow you to conclude that young ladies (and others…), once desperate to marry the prince charming, are now gung ho on espousing the job charming. From one alienation to the next, I say.
        For the past four years I have worked in a NON PROFIT institution with no big bad boss around to throw his weight, and order the personnel around. And, in a TRULY DEMOCRATIC WORK SITUATION, with volunteers working, to boot, WE have managed to replace our manual work with computerized work. Was our manual work.. MINDLESS ? Certainly NOT ANY LESS than the computerized work that we have exchanged it for, and some people, like me, (but granted, I’m a loony…) could conclude that the computerized work is REALLY MORE MINDLESS than the manual work we were doing. It certainly does not encourage us to think..
        Look at it this way… if you still have a 2000 year old ideology behind that dictates that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…”, you will figure out lots of ingenious ways of making sure that… EVERYONE SWEATS until they return to that dust.
        I would rebound with an Ivan Illich quote, out of politeness, but my book is in French, and that would do us no good. Suffice it to say that Illich addresses this problem in his book on Conviviality, a little book. Chapter 2. I don’t agree with everything Illich says, so far but he is rather good on this subject.
        Last but not least… what makes YOU trust this author ? Does YOUR observation bear him out ? I keep hearing that famous man say… “What is truth ?”…

        Comment by Debra — November 22, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

      • Inventions and tools cannot be separated from the ideas behind them. They TRANSMIT those ideas because THE SYSTEM IS ORGANIC.
        The social FABRIC. When you catch hold of a thread, and start pulling, the whole shebang comes apart. (That is what is happening right now, by the way.)
        Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” shows how Descartes got all enthusiastic building HIS SYSTEM (ours, incidentally) AGAINST the preceding one.
        A long time ago the man said “nothing new under the sun”.
        In my experience.. he was right.
        What relation between… the ONE (mono) and the 1% ?
        I would like to believe that it is a coincidence, but since I have read my Freud too well, I don’t believe in coincidences… LIKE THAT.

        Comment by Debra — November 22, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

      • Neither individuals nor societies can ever be absolutely rational, but they can certainly be (far) more or less rational. That’s what the term indicates here. For example, it’s far more rational for communities to be as self-sufficient in food and fuel as possible, than for them to let themselves become objective slaves by becoming hopelessly helpless and dependent upon corporate and government structures. This would be true even if corporations and governments hadn’t already been proven to be malevolent in nature and practice.

        Not that I should presume to speak for paper mac, but I don’t think anyone here “trusts” Bookchin other than as someone who spent his life writing lucidly about democracy. He clearly and cogently expresses ideas we agree with here. That’s all quoting him indicates.

        Comment by Russ — November 22, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

      • It is irrational to insist on a definition of “rationality” that no human being has ever met or will ever meet. If we define rationality based on actual human behavior instead of a fictional automaton that seeks to maximize its utility, well then individual human beings are indeed rational, and so are the collectives they form.

        What’s your definition of rational, Debra?

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — November 22, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

      • As far as I know all Bookchin means by “rational” is that the technology the “rational society” is employing serves the general good of the members of that society rather than, say, destroying the well being of the vast majority and enriching a tiny minority. Bookchin was certainly as aware as anyone of the pitfalls of technofetishism, and spent a good part of his life railing against high modernist technological schemes. I think he would agree with you, Debra, in the sense that the medium is the message- certain types of relationships are embedded within the tools they produce. The point is that those relationships are problematic, not all tools. Egalitarian societies will choose different technologies, to be sure, but abandoning techne because certain social arrangements produce disagreeable tools seems counterproductive (particularly if you’re the one who has to do your cultivation with a wooden hoe)

        Comment by paper mac — November 23, 2011 @ 12:37 am

      • On tools and rationality.
        Tao, the idea that no flesh and blood person embodies pure rationality does not stop us from positing the IDEAL of reason, and rationality.
        My experience tells me that human beings find REASONS to justify their behavior at all times. Does this make them rational ?
        A quick look at what happened in Europe during WW2 shows how far the majority can go for the “general good”, while giving reasons at the same time.
        It’s AFTER THE HEAT that people suddenly change their point of view and start talking about being irrational. (These days, the word “irrational” is an insult bandied about when people disagree about ideas, and want to discredit each other.)
        But holding ideas up to the candle of reason/rationality is what I am criticizing in the first place. Why put “reason” on a pedestal above other ways of organizing human experience ? Why automatically assume that reason is the best guide for our choices ? (if I am reading correctly…)
        On tools… there is a big difference between a tool that works with electricity, and a tool that works with elbow grease. A BIG DIFFERENCE.
        I think probably that if we wanted to be really.. RATIONAL (lol), we could conclude that tools that work with electricity are what got the industrial revolution all revved up, and continue to exponentially deplete energy sources.
        Probably WE COULD NOT EXPLOIT THIS PLANET the way that we are currently doing IF WE HAD TO RELY ON OUR MECHANICAL HANDS, and elbow grease. I call that.. good containment policy.
        Would this be so terrible ? We would get used to it.
        Think about it. My granny had an outhouse, and drove a horse and buggy. 100 years of merciless progress is not all that eternal… We COULD backtrack. Indeed, I think that we will probably have to… (not necessarily to the caverns though…)
        On the Bookchin quote : I am happy to learn that Bookchin and I share common ground. And I wasn’t dumping on him, either. Just questioning the idea that we HAVE to quote the experts to give weight to what we say. (Although I do not believe that we can separate out capitalism from the technology that I BELIEVE is concommitant with it, re Descartes.) On other blogs, I have been ridiculed for not throwing out a long string of quotations… People like Rousseau did not write their books with constant footnotes citing sources. THEY ALLOWED THEMSELVES THE CREDIT FOR THINKING. And they weren’t worried about intellectual PROPERTY either…
        I make no distinction between “liberalism” and “neoliberalism”, either. The idea of freedom is behind both isms. The ideal of freedom continues its relentless path in our society… for better and worse.

        Comment by Debra — November 24, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  3. Got it. Lots of tapas & hors d’oeuvres, no full course meals. We’ll take what we can get.

    Comment by Pete — November 21, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    • Well, I hope everything I serve is nutritious and tasty.

      Comment by Russ — November 22, 2011 @ 3:05 am

  4. I’ve yet to see a land reform demand from any of the Occupiers (not even the Maoists and Trots, although to be fair I’m not super clear on how their programme fits into the Occupations in any case). The boogeyman threats against propertarianism that are being thrown around by the media (e.g. “They’re taking over PRIVATE property now!! Your living room is next!!”) seem to be getting some traction among the middle class, which is sort of unsurprising given that their property claims are now being actively and openly undermined, although from above rather than below. I think the occupations of foreclosed houses that are starting to happen will go a long, long way to reverse this momentum and demonstrate that the Occupiers fully intend to uphold personal possession while actively undermining corporate propertarianism.

    Comment by paper mac — November 21, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

    • You describe the political tightrope act well. We need to be able to go ahead and challenge propertarianism without being scared of our shadows as far as how the”middle class” is going to take things on a day-to-day basis.

      At the same time the right counteraction vs. the middle class propaganda has to run something like:

      1. No one from this movement is threatening your citizen possession of land.

      2. On the contrary, the corporations and government assail your possession rights at every turn, as per Kelo and other federal (i.e. anti-federalism) pre-emptions.

      3. If people want to talk in terms of “ownership”, aren’t the banks the real landowners, really landlords, and aren’t mortgage holders really tenants? Only propaganda tries to convince people of the opposite, that they’re actually participants in an “Ownership Society”.

      4. Do you really think banks can/should own land? Big corporations? Should the idle rich hoard up vast tracts while increasing masses go hungry and homeless, or become ever more insecure in their food and homes? This includes this middle class for whom foreclosure has become one of the classic experiences. Is there anyone from America reading who doesn’t at least know someone who was foreclosed?

      5. You’d be far more secure upon the land if we rid ourselves of the existing “property” dispensation.

      Something like Zuccotti Park is a good example. It’s not any kind of legitimately possessed land, but public space which was illegitimately privatized by the government. Part of the goal of such embezzlement of public space was precisely to constrain the opportunities for public assembly. (Although that didn’t work too well in this case.) The Occupation is no assault on middle class homes, but the redemption of stolen public ground. This is a Commons redemption movement.

      I made a version of the argument here.


      Like I said in an earlier thread, my anecdotal experience is that some people who are not particularly inclined to reject property in principle will nevertheless listen to this line of argument.

      Comment by Russ — November 22, 2011 @ 3:03 am

  5. I’m happy to see you keeping your hand in. Thanks for the hors d’oeuvre-it was very tasty! 🙂

    Comment by DualPersonality — November 22, 2011 @ 7:13 am

    • You’re most welcome, DP.

      Comment by Russ — November 22, 2011 @ 9:07 am

    • That’s not really meant to be serious about “petitioning” gangsters, is it? For example, I have no idea who “our Government” and “our Leaders” are, if those terms are meant to be taken seriously. The evidence assembled in the indictment proves such things don’t exist. Really trying to petition alien criminals is neither necessary or desirable even if it could possibly accomplish something, which it clearly can’t.

      This, for example, is misguided and misleading:

      We believe that government has been influenced by an external source that has conspired to control it to the point of stalemate. We believe that this was forced upon us by “special interests”, corporations, lobbyists, the banking and the financial sector including Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, who together have used unrestrained financial leverage leading to the corruption of many politicians, regardless of their political party, resulting in great damage to the People and to this Nation.

      It mistakes the intended purpose of government and politicians for a misuse, a “corruption” of them. But to serve as such flunkeys of economic power has always been the main purpose of governments and politicians under capitalism.

      This paragraph is wrong in every way:

      While we who have named ourselves the “99%” may each have our own individual personal concerns and grievances, we know that we must set them aside at this time due to a more pressing need to demand the return of the Representation that has been taken from us. Until such time, we contend that nothing can be accomplished in a spirit of true discourse.

      Strategically, the vigor of the movement is based in part on the fact that participants and would-be participants aren’t being told (by whom – “Leaders”?) to put aside this issue or that one in order to focus on what their betters have decreed is the One Big Issue. That’s part of the tactical genius of our refusal, right from the planning stage last summer, to collapse ourselves to discrete “demands”.

      Substantively, we know that representative government is a failure and a scam. It’s pseudo-democracy, by design. To demand Better Representation, Better Elites, perhaps even Better Democrats, is exactly the wrong direction to go.

      Faced with any kind of reformism I ask, among other things, is it at least on the right vector toward transformational consciousness and action. While some of the stuff in here could meet that standard, the basic fantasy of getting Better Elites is in as wrong a direction as can be.

      Then we have these two sentences which directly contradict one another.

      We certainly do not define you as the whole of the affluent 1% based upon your portfolio and assets. We define you as the affluent who use your wealth to gain self-serving leverage over government.

      Concentrated wealth always acts to further concentrate itself. This is an empirical fact. If concentrated assets exist, by definition they’ll seek further leverage over government. Any prescription which seeks anything short of dissolving all wealth concentrations is no prescription at all. You can’t allow such concentrations to exist but beg for better behavior out of them. if you want the crimes to stop, you have to remove the criminal, who is incorrigible by nature.

      Freedom and political equality are impossible wherever wealth inequality exists. So the first line of the alleged self-evident truths, which implicitly accepts wealth inequality, is already off on a wild goose chase.

      Those are just a few criticisms. It’s a mishmash of reformist delusion with some actual structural criticism, but the basic foundation is wrong. In the end it’s a cry of the heart for the Fuhrerprinzip, the Leadership Principle, just done “better” – we need Better Elites.

      But the proven fact is that economic and political elites as such are the problem. So long as they exist we’ll never know anything but crime, tyranny, and war.

      The original Declaration of Independence was actually a declaration of independence. The more timid delegates to the Continental Congress wanted merely to make another petition.

      We absolutely do not wish for a “class war” between us.

      In case you didn’t notice, we’re already in a class war, unilaterally launched upon the 99 by the vicious and evil 1. To pretend this isn’t true, or that this war will end in any way short of total victory for one side or the other, is no policy at all. In the end it can only aid the criminal 1%.

      Comment by Russ — November 26, 2011 @ 5:23 am

      • Go to occupylosangeles.com and see la general assembly response to the mayor’s plan to site clearing. Very powerful demands.

        Comment by tawal — November 27, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  6. […] […]

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