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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?
Snafu on Fri, 6 Jan 2012 20:17:27 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?

On 1/6/12 4:49 PM, Keith Hart wrote:

[...], but the paper that launched
this thread reminded once more of my mentor, the West Indian revolutionary
CLR James. He often drew attention to the intellectuals' impotence in the
face of mass pressure for enhanced democracy. When the force of people on
the move fails to conform to their own ideas, they make abstract calls for
them to fall in line. Many of them end up serving established powers of the
right and left, not that there are many of the latter these days.

I am not sure whom you are referring to here, Keith. But there is nothing abstract in the piece Jodi and I wrote. In fact, the three kinds of objections to demands we discuss in the article have been raised in several OWS meetings. The second part of the article argues that demands can be tactical weapons once you try to rebuild society around communal practices. Some of these practices already exist within OWS and tend to build autonomous institutions (Negri would call them self-valorization). Yet the notion that the General Assembly or the Spokes Council will scale up and one day will replace the functions of a national government is delusional. Increase the scale of democratic participation (something every Occupier desires) entails a radical transformations of the institutions that are supposed to articulate the decision-making process.

When I started attending GAs in August in Tompkins Square Park, we were about 50-80 people attending these meetings and the discussion was moderated but also quite informal. By October you had to compile a form in order to submit a proposal to the GA. The Spokes Council, which was created to overcome the paralysis of the GA is completely bureaucratized and yet still paralized by the ideology of consensus and participationism. De facto, anyone can create a working group and send a delegate to the Spokes Council with the sole purpose of disrupting it (something that is happening on a regular basis).

What we are saying in this article is that instead of pursuing consensus at all costs we should begin by acknowledging existing divisions. From there we can begin looking for commonalities. But if basically one or two individuals are endowed with the power to block any proposal, you end up with a dictatorship of the more vocal individuals--some of whom are aptly infiltrated so as to make self-government anything but an incredibly frustrating experience.

Finally, in the second part of the article we link the struggle for democracy to the struggle for social justice and environmental justice. We recognize that the commons is a training ground where democracy is exerted in relation to material resources. And we ask how do we go from local to large-scale commons when capital allows the commons to exist only insofar as they do not threaten private accumulation? This is a criticism of those who believe that you can simply expand alternative economies through incremental change. On the contrary, we believe that we need to mark a clear discontinuity with the current economic and legal framework of contemporary capitalism as this system does not have the resources within itself to overcome the crisis. We also think that this discontinuity has to go hand-in-hand with developing alternative economies from below.

Yet demands are critical for claiming back the space of thinking (and acting) big. To begin with, we propose a national campaign to reclaim the ground waters as commons. We also suggest that such campaign could be extended to other resources and sectors of the economy. If we do that, it is because we know that there are many activists that are already thinking and acting along these lines. For instance, OWS is working on an alternative bank called "The Commons." The direct action of December 17 was titled "Take Back the Commons." There are several working groups, forums, and other initiatives inspired to the notion of the commons. And even those who do not use this term, often assert communal practices around the production and reproduction of specific resources.

From my point of view, this is exactly the opposite of "making abstract
calls." It is an attempt to say, we do have a lot of little pieces of a giant puzzle, but we won't be able to see the larger picture if each of us remains focused on his/her own detail and if we assume that these pieces will recompose themselves as if by magic (i.e. by "consensus").

best, snafu


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