Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 21, 2011

Those demands? Forget about them!

The OWS General Assembly disavows the Demands working group, saying, in a grandiose and narcissistic fashion, “We are our demands”: Demands Working Group.
Is fame going to someone’s head?

 

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Responses

  1. Was thinking of heading up to Columbus Circle, but I’m 90 minutes away. Do you know if Pete Seeger, Suzanne Vega, Arlo Guthrie, Tao Seeger, and other performers will still be singing there on the street at 1 a.m.? Very tempting …

    Mitchel

  2. Once again, the Sesame Street wing of the left seems to fall for anything smacking of 60s revivalism, so here is the OWS catching fire, speaking truth to power, building clubhouses, providing the wind in a thousand appeals for donations from righteous non-profits
    What will become of this movement? The same thing that has become of the Obama Hopey Changey movement, the same thing that became of the Battle for Seattle movement, the anti-Iraq war movement, WBAI, – shall the list go on?
    At some point, the ascetic folkish left needs to be held accountable for its idiotic foolishness every time a dissident peep gets heard – no, we (the left) are not in power; yes, it is a terrible condemnation of power status that there is not a single “demand” coming out of the OWS junior wing that will ever cause a single 1% reduction in supersystemic command.
    I grew up in the Granola Valley – I know the precise feel of self-ennobling grandiloquence always masking social reality. Here we go again with the micro-left, speechifying and process-building and patting the Jesus children on the head for issuing positions while being herded by the cops – and yet the supersystem rolls on in full control, letting these obediant
    protestors think they’ll elect a hippie mayor or two in the future while the world burns.
    Okay, you’ve diagnosed problems accurately, yippee! How far are you away from having the slightest effect upon the dimensions of these magnificent, absurd, accelerating problems?

  3. A month ago, all this seemed fine as far as it went, but as we head into November, I’m worried about sustainability, part of which involves ideology. It is worth looking at the comment thread under the de-authorization of the demands working group, since it provides a clear picture of the perspective that sees demands as disempowering. What struck me about the OWS “debate” at Bluestockings–besides the fact that no one seemed very concerned about how black and brown people in Brooklyn and Queens are supposed to participate in this–was the personal-political immaturity of the anarchists. Right now their perspective looks like a perfect recipe for this to turn into small group sectarianism before it gets off the ground. If autonomy means a law unto oneself, it also means self-government, which is why indigenous movements throughout the Americas demand autonomy within their respective nation-states. My question is: how is the 99% to govern itself? Surely not by wishing that nation-states and financial markets will melt away under pressure of the creativity of a relatively small group of activists.

  4. Is that the General Assembly speaking, in disavowing the demands working group? I don’t see any claim that it is. I see the (self-selected, unaccountable) people who run the website denouncing the (also self-selected, unauthorized) people who came up with a demand.

    This is, of course, what happens when there is no kind of organizational structure because too many people view it as hierarchical and oppressive.

  5. My one demand: Robert’s Rules of Order!

  6. What bulldookie. “We are our demands”=”We are the change we’ve been waiting for”, or whatever the Obama-speak phrase was. We know full well how “we” turned out with that one.

    “The ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of its ruling class”–in this case, the empty slogans, utter ideational cluelessness, and “rotten social formation-ness” of our ruling class has trickled down to the OWS General Assembly.

    “We” could use a little class consciousness right about now.

  7. Hmm.
    Here’s desperately hoping the controversy here–seems to me Kal is right on the money w his comment–leads to something other than infighting and go-nowhere-ism.

    You’d have thought recent political history would offer some tragically vivid examples of why ‘self-ennobling’ up-with-people rhetoric just doesn’t get the job done.

    Genuine question: might the critical thing to happen now be for cred-heavy ‘village-elders’ like Henwood (could it be otherwise?) seize–or look to create?–a doubling down on making this case, that movements need to actually ‘move’ if they’re to persist/grow/make change?

  8. I fervently hope that the OWS movement *does* forget about them (the shopping list of demands). I think the demand for demands expresses the frustration of a Left that is obsessed with its own agenda, is used to taking over popular movements and imposing its leadership on them. The Occupy movement is organised precisely to prevent this – this is empowering for everyone taking part, disempowering of left groups who want to take it over and provide all the answers.

    It also exposes a left that has fallen for its own bullshit. The purpose of demands was always supposed to be to teach the ignorant masses a lesson when, as expected by the leadership, the demands – reasonable from the point of view of humanity, totally unreasonable and impossible within the structures of capitalism – failed. This strategy has never worked in the way intended – it does not sow the seeds of revolution or socialism, or provide a useful education, it merely spreads disillusion and despair.

    The left in the 20th century therefore succeeded in nothing but helping to dig the graves of popular movements. It’s no accident that the ruling class is as eager to find out what the movement’s demands are as is the old left. Once the demands are issued, the process of divide and rule can really begin. Demanding that the state provide jobs is particularly puzzling. The state would provide jobs if it could – nothing would be more useful in destroying the OWS movement than channelling everyone back into wage slavery. If there’s going to be demands, it should be for direct and free access to the means of living, and of restrictions on (and the eventual ending of) ruling class power. Jobs is the source of ruling class, not working class, power.

    My hope is that the demand for demands and the old left will fail and that OWS and its offshoots around the world will prove the start instead of something genuinely new, something to democratise social life and, eventually, control over the means of production – the original and true meaning of socialism.
    All the best
    Stuart

  9. Stuart – your argument would be easier to take seriously if it weren’t framed as part of an (old, tired) ‘new left’/’old left’ divide. Seriously, do we not remember the ‘new’ lefts of the 50s, and of the 60s-70s, and of the 80s-90s? We’ve been through this before…

    But since we have to go there again, let’s please note that anarchism is not actually a new political current, and that the ideas of the informal leadership on the ground at OWS did not spring into their heads fully formed a couple of months ago. And maybe we can consider the possibility of a relationship between the all-too-frequent leftist demand that we forget everything we ever learned, and the late capitalist fetishes for novelty in branding, and amnesia in political history (eg of US interventions)?


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