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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?
Keith Hart on Sun, 8 Jan 2012 00:19:08 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> A Movement Without Demands?

Dear Snafu,

I found your and Jodi's article meticulously argued, as was Brian's
response. I read both carefully and am sure that I will incoprorate some of
your analysis into my own thinking. I am grateful for the care you took in
responding to what reads now as a rather contentious off-the-cuff remark.

I was reacting at a more metaphysical level to an apparent agreement
between you and Brian concerning the ideological weakness of the Occupy
movement. This was related to the movement's lack of intellectual and
political clarity in relation to social divisions. I took your argument and
Brian's to rest on a sociology in which social classes and their strategies
matter. The opposition of the 1% to the 99% fails, according to you both,
on these grounds. The method of seeking consensus in a presumed escalation
from micro- to macro-situations is held to be similarly naive. Anarchists'
blanket rejection of the state is an obstacle to realistic politics and to
an effective anti-capitalist strategy. This all adds up to a critique of
their refusal to make political demands. There is an issue of tense here,
about how the present is constructed as transitional between past and

I accept that you have studied the phenomenon empirically, even in a
participatory way. But I also detect in your discourse an appeal to
abstract ideas with a definite political history. That's what it's about,
isn't it? I admitted as much when I said that James (and not just him of
course) identified class struggle as a dialectic of ideas. But his
dialectical pairs moved with history and he had a particular appreciation
of the sociology of revolutionary situations which he took initially from
the writings of Trotsky and Lenin after 1917 and then from his own work on
Haiti's slave revolution and Africa's anti-colonial revolution. This may be
summed up as the erosion of stable social categories in periods of rapid
political change. Many intellectuals cling to old ideas under such
circumstances and privilege them at the expense of being open to the
movement. Reading one article is no basis for making that claim about you.
I admire Brian and his work immensely, but I detected something of the
current I sought to oppose in this particular comment. Polemic always
distorts in this way.

I believe that 2011-2012 are possibly a time of world revolution and that
means we have to be open to unprecedented movements of people and ideas.
The real significance of OWS for me is that insurgents in Madrid, Cairo,
Santiago, Damascus, London and Athens took inspiration from the sudden
knowledge that the US monolith could also generate active resistance that
reinforced their struggles. Look at the viral diffusion of Occupy events
around the world. Given that the world is still in the grip of the American
empire, that is significant. To my mind, this series of global events
matters more than the social mechanics of OWS seen in local perspective. As
I said, I think that the drive to topple a small plutocratic elite is a
powerful one and it has to be strong in America itself. I would give such a
focus priority over detailed analysis of social divisions and political
organization that owe much to twentieth-century social science and

But that is just an opinion. I was stimulated by your presentation to write
in, but I was not expecting a direct exchange since you said you are fairly
busy these days. I am glad that I got one. I apologize for making a number
of fairly banal statements here. I certainly don't underestimate your
intelligence or knowledge. But I would rather say what someone already
knows than not say something they don't.



On Fri, Jan 6, 2012 at 7:42 PM, Snafu <snafu {AT} thething.it> wrote:

> 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.

Prof. Keith Hart
135 rue du Faubourg Poissonniere
75009 Paris, France
Cell: +33684797365

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