Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 3, 2011

Jodi Dean on phases of struggle

[posted to Facebook]

Jodi Dean

One benefit of the model in use at occupy wall street is the possible formation of a group, collectivity, out of folks who have a hard time thinking and acting as a group. So, if we think of the occupiers as primarily people who don’t union membership as an option and don’t see any existing parties as persuasive, then they are trying to build a different kind of group. An interesting problem they face is how to describe it–it’s not an ‘identity category’ or an ‘interest group’ or even an issue-based group. Given that absence, the non-expression of core ideas makes sense–there aren’t any so, armed by some pretty influential theory (anarchists, Hardt and Negri, Tikkun) and a read of recent politics influenced by that theory, the activists are turning (or trying to turn) a weakness into a strength. What I hope will happen is that this will be a stage (the inchoate stage wherein previously dissipated rages begin to consolidate) and that we will see another stage of more organization and specificity emerge. Graeber suggests as much when he mentions the thirty working groups. The thing is, folks committed to anarchist ‘horizontal’ organizing might be really good at one phase of struggle and a barrier at another. Graeber’s description makes it seem like unions are the ones who make it difficult for the ‘movement’ folks, but it makes more sense, I think, to recognize that their commitments can become a detriment at another point. I heard last week (maybe this has changed) that some law folks were very interested in helping with the larger first amendment issues around the protests (masks, tents) but that they weren’t getting very far because there was no ‘there’ (no substantial entity) to represent.
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  1. [...] Jodi Dean on phases of struggle One benefit of the model in use at occupy wall street is the possible formation of a group, collectivity, out of folks who have a hard time thinking and acting as a group. So, if we think of the occupiers as primarily people who don’t union membership as an option and don’t see any existing parties as persuasive, then they are trying to build a different kind of group. An interesting problem they face is how to describe it–it’s not an ‘identity category’ or an ‘interest group’ or even an issue-based group. Given that absence, the non-expression of core ideas makes sense–there aren’t any so, armed by some pretty influential theory (anarchists, Hardt and Negri, Tikkun) and a read of recent politics influenced by that theory, the activists are turning (or trying to turn) a weakness into a strength. What I hope will happen is that this will be a stage (the inchoate stage wherein previously dissipated rages begin to consolidate) and that we will see another stage of more organization and specificity emerge. Graeber suggests as much when he mentions the thirty working groups. The thing is, folks committed to anarchist ‘horizontal’ organizing might be really good at one phase of struggle and a barrier at another. Graeber’s description makes it seem like unions are the ones who make it difficult for the ‘movement’ folks, but it makes more sense, I think, to recognize that their commitments can become a detriment at another point. I heard last week (maybe this has changed) that some law folks were very interested in helping with the larger first amendment issues around the protests (masks, tents) but that they weren’t getting very far because there was no ‘there’ (no substantial entity) to represent. [...]

  2. “The thing is, folks committed to anarchist ‘horizontal’ organizing might be really good at one phase of struggle and a barrier at another.” – Another problem is once that phase is finished, there will folks (for example, Van Jones) who will arrive with a ready-made identity-branding and issue list, which will unsurprisingly mirror rhetoric coming from the White House with its newly found ‘progressive’ re-election voice, the Nation, Mother Jones, Alternet, associated NGOs. And if the activists reject Van Jones or union management intervention, then the media will simply appoint Van Jones et al as the spokespeople. Or perhaps the media will just go back to: “they’re a bunch of irresponsible hippies playing bongo drums”. The cooptation express is coming to town, and if they don’t hop on board, every effort will be made to marginalize those who don’t join in.

    What will the “anarchists” do then? (I can’t bring myself to write the word without scare quotes because provocateurs, agents, and trust-fund protestivists operate under the banner… frequently.) Once the crowds thin and the police move in to clear the officially designated “dead-enders,” there will be a lot of upset people and a lot of pressure to abandon the democratic process that seems to be used now. Pressure to do something “radical”-seeming, but reckless and without popular support. Looking forward, I think we have to plan for that.

  3. Stephen, that’s an odd little fantasia you’ve spun there: that the problem of systematic cooptation, and of being folded by main force and ideological torque into a recognizable, pre-figured, and officially designated politics…that the danger there is the possibility of radical action. Funny, I would have thought the danger was that of being coopted, and folded into officially designated politics.

  4. The #occupyAtlanta General Assembly didn’t let Congressman John Lewis speak. Which caused some rifts; and to me it seemed rather silly for a group trying to reach out to the bulk of the 99% who haven’t even heard of this movement. But looking at the bulk of the General Assembly in attendence I wouldn’t say they are even at a place to understand the challenges and complexities of true change. These are mostly anti-political people; they aren’t linked in with unions or party politics for the most part. So maybe this mechanism is how they build, learn, grow… maybe; err hopefully.

  5. [...] Doug Henwood has a nicely cogent analysis that suggests that an authentic movement should be, in effect, rudderless, at least for a while.Robert Reich has pointed out that it’s going to be difficult for the Obama led Democratic party follow the lead of the protesters, simply because Wall Street has done so much to support the current administration. I think the left, maybe especially the educational left, needs to start talking. [...]

  6. [...] Movement.  But does this really lack an ideology?    Jodi Dean and Douglas Henwood seem to think it does so far.  Or,at least, its ideology is still [...]


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