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October 20, 2011


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I share some of your concerns about this demand, but it's important to make clear that the demands group has always been explicit that they see this as merely the first in a series of demands, and that this demand does incorporate a wide-range of separate smaller demands the group came up with. It is also considerably more radical than anything the Obama administration would willingly touch (but the fact that a militant grass roots movement might be able to force the state to adopt it seems to me to be a strength, not a weakness). Your suggestion about the "living wage" demand is a powerful alternative, but I'm not sure that it would sound as compelling to the unemployed guys standing in front of my apartment building, and these are also the people most severely impacted by NYC's cutbacks in public services. But I've come to see the real strength of this demand as the hostility it's provoked from many of the central actors in OWS. I was at the demands meeting last Tuesday evening, and I watched a group of college-educated, young, (predominately) white men shut down the demands meeting (by filibustering it). These guys red-baited the demand supporters and openly mocked the idea of government programs distributing aid to poor people (as "Obama socialist crap"). There is zero chance that this demand will pass through the OWS general assembly (90% consent is required and few people who are not sleeping in the park have the time to participate in that vote), and that simple fact is evidence of how profoundly anti-democratic and elitist the occupation itself is. Having left-wing organizations working under the OWS umbrella strikes me at this point as really problematic. While I think it's important for these groups to maintain solidarity with OWS, and for the OWS general assembly to represent the beliefs of the people actually living in the park (in this respect the open-source group's competing proposal strikes me as pretty good), we should not allow the OWS general assembly to set the agenda for the broader left movement.


I want to affirm your idea of a productive commons and a basic income guarantee (BIG). I would only want to suggest that we dis-abuse ourselves of the "not for work" frame the plagues some discussions of BIG, which takes for granted certain ideas about the usefulness and worth of work not operating on a basis of exchange. Your idea of a productive commons already anticipates it, but BIG supports people doing work, but not necessarily making (exchange) values. The really radical potential of BIG is that it helps us realize work beyond any conditional exchange relations, something which I think haunts even much historical socialism. Despite what Graeber says about Marx being taken in by "the myth of barter", he was also beating back the productivity-fetishists in Critique of the Gotha Programme.

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