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October 10, 2011

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Alain

Thank you for the quick and thoughtful response to his speech. Where I would disagree with you is that I think his pitch was well suited to an American audience - I believe that if the OWS folks want to attract a broader audience they cannot start by calling for the abolition of capitalism. I understand that you are a communist and that you do not want to hide your intentions - but marketing and attracting more people to the cause should also be part of the equation.

Perhaps the message of egalitarianism is the place to start - that oligarchy is not acceptable and that striving for the common good is above all else. I have to say my own experience at the Occupy MN was that everyone talked about love, being responsible for each other, and yes, participatory democracy. The process was definitely given priority over demands and objectives - but there was something that felt right about that. This is the beginning of a movement (if we are lucky) and the strict delimitation of antagonism you are calling for maybe appropriate later on. Just my two cents.

I am not sure if any of this will lead to anything but at least the fight has been joined by leftist forces. In the words of the great philosophy George W Bush, bring it on!

Douglas Lain

Is it not true that many of the most ruthless Capitalists in Russia today are former Communist Party leaders in what was the Soviet Union?

Account Deleted

Hello, I was at his talk yesterday, and have a class with him now. I have been involved with OWS since Sept. 17th, and have comrades who were involved planning it from the start (though I share none of the anarchist/voluntarist/consensus politics currently dominating this movement).

“In my view, it's important to shift away from a language of democracy.”

Yes, the signifier ‘democracy’ has been co-opted, and lost its potentially emancipatory meaning in common practice. No arguing there. Its default meaning has long been identical with whatever is conducive to US policy. This however, is not a reason to let the ruling class determine our tactics and goals. Many more people are defining democracy as fundamentally against capitalism than one might be led to believe. It is, after all, the name for the decision making process that can serve the rule by the entire proletariat.

“To speak in terms of democracy de-radicalizes, and de-politicizes the situation”

Abandoning ‘democracy’ as an aim, I think, follows the same logic by which one identifies as ‘communist’ rather than ‘socialist’. In this way, the antagonism will always appear. This logic smacks of radicalism for its own sake, a comfortable position of resistance. In spite of how ‘democracy’ functions in the US, we are still taught what it is supposed to mean. I have won more people to lifelong commitments to radical political organizing through an appeal to true democracy, defined explicitly against capitalism, than “speaking in terms of the abolition of capitalism” forthright. It is tempting to assume that appeals to democracy are made at the expense of anti-capitalist arguments, but this is not the case.

“We need more than patience: we need courage and will.”

I agree: patience alone will not destroy capitalism. However, don’t fall into the trap of many long-organized leftists I’ve seen at OWS – (constructively?) criticizing the protesters for not immediately demanding an end to capitalism. Right now our task is exactly what Lenin constantly stressed: to patiently explain. Why? Because this movement is minuscule, but it is growing. Our task will be to recognize the most strategic moments to assert our will, the most strategic demands which, instead of ending in compromise, will strike the correct chord throughout the growing left/labor movements and lead only to their further growth and empowerment.

Douglas Lain

What Sean says in his last paragraph is key. This movement has to grow and it has to find its target. Frankly, nobody knows quite what the target is yet, not Jodi Dean, not Slavoj ZIzek, and not me. In Egypt the movement could grow quickly because the target was clear. Everyone wanted to get rid of Mubarak, but in the US the working classes aren't sure who they want to get rid of and yes this is because of the lingering sense that we live in a "democracy," but it is just this that might give us a chance to do more than get rid of a dictator.

Jodi Dean

@Douglas--I don't think it makes sense to call those folks who pushed the USSR to capitalism and then capitalized on their power communists; it completely distorts the terms, actually trapping it in an elision with cynical power and erasing its emancipatory core.

The claim that the movement has to grow and find its target is both right and misleading. It's right because if it doesn't grow, it dies. It's misleading insofar as growth is treated like an organic feature separate from the efforts of those within it to push in one direction rather than another. I don't think a target is found in the sense of being outside the movement. Rather, I think the target emerges through the growth of the movement. So, the target will be a product of the currents within the movement. I think those currents should be encouraged to flow in an anti-capitalist direction, and not anti-capitalist simply in a moral sense but anti-capitalist in the sense of replacing capitalism with an economy premised on common production and distribution.

Alain--what you are saying makes a great deal of sense; a movement that is being born has to form itself, form its practices and its norms, build trust and enthusiasm among its participants; it makes sense to me that emphases on process right now would feel right, especially insofar as those emphases avoid disagreement and promote agreement. I would guess--hope--that discussion of strategies and aims would emerge later, and likely somewhat organically insofar as folks feel the need to keep building momentum.

@Sean -- I know what you are saying when you mention that there are people defining democracy against capitalism. Michael Moore does that in his Capitalism: A Love Story. I can also see why leftists would want to use a language that does not alienate people from the beginning. Yet, I disagree that 'abandoning' democracy as an aim (rather than treating it as a means) is radicalism for its own sake. And I also disagree that making antagonism appear is radicalism for its own sake. Particularly with respect to the latter, recognizing fundamental divisions is crucial if the movement is not to become completely absorbed into the miasma of mainstream pluralism--this is what lets OWS blur into the Tea Party or into a face-to-face version of the internet where the aim is just to let each person say what they want to say.

Patiently and persistently and systematically and thoroughly--all crucial to Lenin in the April Theses. And, then we need to be honest about them. At this point I think the process is crucial, because it cannot rely on the assertion of a will. What matters is the creation of one. Here the emergence of General Assemblies all over the country (world!) is exciting and crucial.

Finally, on demands--the only one that I think matters is communization. But that's not actually a demand on anyone but ourselves. Everything else follows from that--one people's bank, elimination of finance sector, elimination of property, collectivization of all industry, elimination of all debt, public servants paid minimum wage and subject to recall at any moment, elimination of corporate agri-business and breaking up of massive feed lots, etc.

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zssbm

An analysis of European/American celebrity "leftists" (like Slavoj Zizek) who spew a lot of Communist (sic) rhetoric in the abstract but concretely act to coopt movements like Occupy Wall Street:

American liberalism attempts to corral Occupy Wall Street movement for Democrats
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/oct2011/occu-o14.shtml

Danielibnzayd.wordpress.com

The mix of religion and politics is going to be a reality for the majority of the planet without the luxury or privilege to rise above it. Given this street reality, it actually behooves us to work within this realm for openings as it were, and the works and writings concerning Liberation Theology are inherent to this process. For those of us here in the Southwest Asia-North Africa region, there is no getting around it, and so we end up looking to tie in the political with existing religious concepts, and this works. Dabashi's book "Islamic Liberation Theology" is a good treatise here, as well as the works of Dr. Ali Shari'ati. Point of fact, the so-called "secular, Enlightened, Western, civilized, democratic" left is something to fear, given their penchant for neo-colonialism and a missionary zeal for converting the natives....this while their countries still have state religions and monarchies....Just some food for thought.

João Carlos Graça

To put it in famous Clark Gable's terms: frankly, who gives a damn about what Slavoj Zizek thinks or claims to think?... Or, if you prefer Léo Férré's bravissimo comment, referring to François Mitterand: "je connais pas..."

Marvin Gonzalez

Great response. I also had a problem with his commons communism.

On your point."This doesn't quite make sense. The system collapsed in 1990 and now ruthless capitalists are in power in Russia. So, it's not that 'those communists' are capitalists--'those communists' are gone. China is not communist."

I think this really just points to a conceptual problem within Zizek theoretical apparatus. He has often reiterated that he believes Lenin was a Marxist despite not following marx to the letter, same with mao, and, riskiest of all, Stalin himself. He also does this for the Nietzsche and the Nazis. As far as i can tell, for Zizek fidelity always entails an element of betrayal. Or at least of tearing always from its native soil. And because there is no big other (no metalanguage) to declare otherwise, how does we compose a proper genealogy? This is tricky because, as Zizek says of his first book but can be applied to various points in his oeuvre, it ends up verging a transcendental schematazation where the real is reduced to an impossible thing. How does one conceptualize 'proper" innovation, which necessary entails tradition, without the guarantee of a dogma? This is pertinent to all communist who acknowledge the culminating failure of communist movements but refuse to abandon their emancipating kernel.

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