Political Theory – Occupy May Be Novel, But It Also Disturbingly Repeats Radical History – Again We See the Marginalisation of Democratic Assemblies – 11 June 2012


This article is a good example of why I fear Occupy, and no doubt why many of those who embrace it do so.

The argument made by the article can be reduced to a quick summary of its three theses: 1. “It is Possible to Have a Mass Movement Without Mass Organisations”…so Occupy can be the anarchist’s dream of flipping off all existing organisations that have clear stands on issues and stand as a rump group of angry unaffiliated people with vague and undefined feelings about things. 2. “Organisation Has Not Disappeared, But Changed”…by which the author means that organisation consists of motivating people by means of the “weak ties” promoted by the Internet (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) but then enveloping them in the “strong ties” provided by deep personal relationships…so Occupy becomes a unity-enforcing machine by sweeping you up in these strong ties and then holding those ties over your head in case you disagree about anything. 3. “The Primary Organisational Form of 2011 was Not the Assembly”…because people disagree in democratic assemblies, and the point is to dragoon people into a movement where everyone agrees with one another – so the article makes the case, instead, that the primary organisational form is the “camp”.

The most unnerving phrase that appears in this article is the phrase “distributed vanguard”. Those familiar with the history of communist political ideas know what a “vanguard” is – this is Lenin’s term for a small group of political intellectuals inside a communist party who direct a revolution in the name of the workers. By declaring themselves a “vanguard”, those inside communist parties have justified their dictatorial domination of those they claim to be wanting to “liberate”.

According to our author (who splashes a big picture of Lenin in his article so we don’t miss the point), the basic improvement of Occupy is that the “vanguard” group is spread out a bit more. Never mind that it’s still an inherently undemocratic concept. Never mind that the basic idea is still that some people who “know better” are going to foist their ideas on everyone else without even so much as a debate.

If there is one thing that I actually approved of where Occupy was concerned, it was the assemblies. Not that the assemblies ever really lived up to their potential, because Occupy places so much of a premium on unity that no one would ever feel comfortable bringing the movement to address some of its shortcomings via those assemblies…but at least the assemblies might have made that possible.

It is a fairly obvious conclusion to draw from a few centuries of radical history that the radical assemblies (or councils…known in other languages by their word for “councils”, such as “Soviets” or “Räte”) generally get purged by radicals of a more authoritarian nature because democratic decision-making is a threat to how they do business. It does not surprise me that some more authoritarian people associated with Occupy like the model but want to make the assemblies disappear. When have they ever wanted otherwise?

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