September 19, 2013

Note on What Happened to Occupy

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 6:28 am


This analysis is similar to my own. Occupy started with a wonderful action and commitment to direct democracy, but proved to be unable to develop its own movement coherence. There turned out to be no agreement on end goals, let alone operational goals, and little on strategy or tactics. In the absence of a developing movement culture, Occupy reified (Campbell’s appropriate term) the physical occupation itself, and turned the “consensus” process, which can never be anything more than a tool toward a goal, into a fetish and the goal in itself.
While the movement was right to refuse to make “demands” on governments and corporations, and was stellar in rejecting Democrat Party attempts to hijack it, it didn’t recognize that a movement must still make demands upon itself. It must still formulate its goals and impose them upon itself. Otherwise it remains incoherent, as in the end Occupy did.



  1. Hi Russ – I guess the comments to that link express the reasons why no common program was developed. No one will be able to agree at this point. When the current economic superstructure crumbles we will have to see what is left. In the meanwhile, it is important for people of good will based upon humanist principles to stay in touch. Hope you are having a good harvest.

    Comment by Ellen Anderson — September 19, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    • Hi Ellen. My tomatoes and potatoes are doing great, and my same kale from spring is still puttering along. I harvested one giant pumpkin a few days ago, and there’s a few more on the vine. How’s things at the farm, and at the Grange? Still organizing film screenings?

      Comment by Russ — September 19, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

  2. Phillip Mirowski heaps scorn on Occupy in his latest book, for many of the same reasons.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — September 19, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

    • I think few of us are in any position to scorn it, given its accomplishments, and that’s not what I was doing. But we do need to learn from its weaknesses.

      Comment by Russ — September 20, 2013 @ 1:48 am

  3. An alternative viewpoint. I’m in this camp, not the Occupy bashers camp. Tao Jonesing, thanks for letting me know Phillip Mirowski’s position on Occupy. I’ll most definitely keep that in mind when reading his books.

    Comment by Paul — September 20, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    • Neither I nor the piece I linked “bashed” Occupy by any stretch of the imagination. (Are we having an example of how Americans today can’t take disagreement and controversy? But I thought that was characteristic of “progressives”.)

      The fact remains that it failed to cohere as a movement that could impose principles and goals upon itself, act upon them in a sustained way, and articulate them to the public.

      Not that the people assembled at the occupations likely could have done this as one mass, since they were an aggregation of so many different viewpoints and aspirations.

      The piece you linked was a good counterattack on liberal stupidity regarding Occupy. It studiously avoided answering radical critiques. And while I’d love to believe what it said about Occupy having effected a sea change in the public consciousness, I haven’t seen much of this myself.

      Certainly, it’s too soon to tell what’s Occupy’s influence will be. But in the meantime there’s a vast and increasing hunger for alternative ideas, spirit, and organization, and so far the movements which could organize and deploy this force are not arising.

      Comment by Russ — September 21, 2013 @ 2:48 am

      • Perhaps my use of the word “bashers” was too harsh, but it annoys me to no end that so many commentators demand that a horizontal anarchist-inspired movement like OWS instead be a vertical vanguardist-inspired organization, like a political party. I should have respect for Robert Reich and the Huffington Post? Or Sydney Tarrow and Foreign Affairs? Was the world-wide opposition to an American strike on Assad inspired by an organized movement? Roos engages in wishful thinking on several occasions, because he lives in an isolated world with his fellow anarchists, but his critique is sharp and to the point:

        “Nor do Occupy’s liberal critics ever really develop a clear explanation of just how adopting the failed and co-opted methods of the Democratic Party could have made the movement any more successful, given that even the country’s most liberal President and Congress in a generation remain wholly enslaved to the interests of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street.”

        “Occupy was first and foremost a symptom of the crisis of representation against which it arose. The emergence and resonance of its leaderless organizational form and its rejection of the political establishment should be attributed more to the failure of the present system than to the political orientations of the core activists themselves. The only reason the anarchist and horizontalist principles of Occupy’s early organizers resonated so widely is because the capitalist and institutionalist principles of liberal democracy have so utterly disqualified themselves that no one really believes in them any more. No leftist can still credibly claim to take the Democratic Party seriously as a vehicle for social change.”

        “In this sense, Occupy’s most immediate victim was not the capitalist system per se, but rather the ideological illusion that this capitalist state of affairs is somehow the only way to organize society, and — much more perniciously — that it should therefore be considered the only appropriate basis for the struggle for social change. In this sense, Occupy’s critique of representation and its reinvention of the democratic narrative virtually killed off the last remnants of party and state fetishism within the grassroots movements of the anti-capitalist left. Occupy’s horizontalism did not so much smash the vertical structures of the institutional left — reformist and revolutionary alike — but simply dissolved them through its emphasis on radical equality and open-ended inclusiveness, and its revolutionary vision of the directly democratic urban commune.”

        “By occupying Wall Street instead of making demands on Capitol Hill, the movement propelled a new diagnosis of power into the public discourse. In today’s Empire, sovereignty does not reside with public officials but with private capitalists — and with investment bankers most of all. Vying for state power or even making demands upon the thoroughly co-opted political class is pointless when the state itself is so utterly symbiotic with finance and so structurally dependent on capital for its own survival.”

        Never underestimate the power of events like OWS. It wasn’t the intent of OWS to seize power. There is a Black Swan coming but we don’t know in advance what form or when it will arrive. Whether that event results in a better world cannot be known in advance, but your work organizing opposition to GMOs certainly advances our agenda. It gets people to focus on how corporations are killing us, the same goal that was at the heart of Occupy Wall Street.

        Comment by Paul — September 21, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

      • The best influence of OWS would be an enduring contribution to killing the cult of “representation”, and the revelation of how the police state, including the most impeccably “progressive” administrations like that in Oakland, will try to deal with anyone who attempts any kind of real change, any kind of real resistance to organized and institutionalized crime.

        If it’s true that Occupy forced negative ideas about the system, and the fact that alternative affirmative ideas do exist, into the public consciousness, that’ll be a major step toward realizing these ideas, once the great crisis comes, however it comes.

        Although I want to help organize anti-GMO action here and now, I see the main anti-corporate task as being to publicize anti-corporate ideas and to prepare an organization based on these ideas, so that when a revolutionary situation comes, people will remember these ideas and know where to go to activate them.

        Comment by Russ — September 22, 2013 @ 7:41 am

  4. Occupy is still alive and quite vibrant in our collective consciousness. I have occupied some land and endeavor to steward it- ‘Salatin style’- for the rest of my days. The battle for Food Soveriegnty is on. Thanks for the inspiration Russ. Remember, little ripples make waves.

    Comment by Pete — September 20, 2013 @ 6:50 pm

    • I have no doubt that when the history of the anti-corporate movement is written, Occupy will be found to have had a significant influence. Part of this influence, along with its inspirational one, will be in helping to clarify (as in, what does and doesn’t work) questions of organization, strategy, and tactics.

      Congratulations on becoming a farmer. Like Salatin you say? How’s that going?

      Comment by Russ — September 21, 2013 @ 2:53 am

      • It’s going great, thanks. The first year is definitely a learning process, particularly because I lived in a major city for 20 years and never even owned a house plant…Polyculture is thrilling though. We are raising pastured Tamworth pigs, broiler chickens in mobile pens, layers in the moveable ‘egg mobile’ and have a couple acres of market garden that combines raised beds and field crops with about every veggie you can think of. The ten year plan builds on permaculture techniques, soil building, and includes things like aquaculture, an edible forest and an educational component. It’s kicking my ass, but in a good way. I stumbled into a great opportunity. I now live in a ‘walmart town’ where despite the rural setting, folks can still be totally ignorant about food and the importance of how it is grown/raised. There is much work to be done.

        Comment by Pete — September 21, 2013 @ 8:16 am

      • That’s fantastic, Pete. Congratulations. One of my friends and co-workers has a vision of “buying a town” and centering it on a hundred acres of farmland divided into small farm plots, attracting farmers to work them, and having an organization to provide infrastructure and marketing support. There would be shared greenhouses, tractors, etc. A great idea, if we could find the money to get the land.

        Comment by Russ — September 21, 2013 @ 9:03 am

  5. What a great vision. Vision and imagination are what we need to cultivate. Maybe you could approach existing farms with the concept. There are many older generation farmers who are unsure about what to do with their land holdings because the yungens went off to jog on the corporate hamster wheel and have no interest in such things.

    Comment by Pete — September 22, 2013 @ 7:07 am

    • I’ve heard of the problem, and of organizations dedicated to bringing such landholders together with landless aspiring farmers.

      This kind of organizing needs to be combined with education about how much better direct retail farmers are doing than those who go the commodity productivist route.

      Comment by Russ — September 22, 2013 @ 7:45 am

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