We are not interested in any more tedious conferences or assemblies, which draw out hundreds of people, but only for an endless conversation. We are not interested in more ‘symbolic protests’, whether walkouts or strikes, insofar as they are pre-announced to end after one or a few days. More meetings and protests will only waste our energies, while the administration continues to implement its plans without hindrance.
This, from the Imaginary Committee at the University of California, interests me not because of its seeming call for the primacy of action (and activism) but for its implicit criticism of democratic and consensus models of movement. The Occupy California blog’s report on the October statewide conference shows clearly the ways in which some groups use deliberative models of agreement and decision-making to centralize and steer nascent political movements.
“The only conceivable power of the conference lay in giving a statewide legitimacy to what would have otherwise been an isolated and radical proposal [for a general strike],” says Aufheben’s analysis. In that case, not only this conference but the convergence model itself is always already a failure and a diversion. It may be true that there is little other real power to the conference, but if it does wield this power of legitimization then its true nature as a force for diluting the struggle and building a false movement is revealed. What the organizers of the conference as well as the Aufheben Collective are seeking is a false state-wide legitimacy for a false state-wide movement.
They seek a unilateral movement that has some sort of central planning: “we will be working to point the movement in that direction [towards a strike].”
Giving into the convergence/conference model, the Imaginary Committee recognizes, already means giving into its politics, “which claims to represent and take authority for the interests of the people of California – in short, which mirrors the bureaucratic, authoritarian, proceduralist form of everything that [it]supposedly resist[s].” The problem with conference/consensus is not that it’s coercive or even that it’s hierarchical but that it parliamentary-democratic. Which is another way of saying that it’s apolitical, as the New School occupiers learned:
The idea of democratically debating every day those who are against the occupation on the establishment, renewal, and expansion of the occupation is absurd – as if there is ever anything but antagonism between us. At every step, the occupation was brought into being in non-compliance with democratic order, an order that was forced on us precisely by those who opposed the occupation itself – because it was too disorganized, it was too illegal, it was too soon…
From the beginning, many of the figureheads and bureaucrats-in-training of the Radical Student Union [RSU] and Students for a Democratic Society [SDS] were against the occupation because it did not fit into their picture of the “long-term struggle.” First, they did not support its immediate establishment and many disagreed with the tactic entirely. During meetings, they spoke endlessly of their self-righteous feelings about why the time was wrong or why it failed to fit into the long-term vision of the “student movement,” causing the postponement of the occupation and sleepless nights for many. Next, after deciding to join us in the cafeteria once they realized things were happening with or without their consent, they were chomping at the bit to quietly end the occupation after the first night – upon the opening of the business day (of all the insults!). Thankfully, the wildly liberal logic underlying this notion was quickly revealed in all its hilarity and we continued on into the next morning.
Later in the evening, many of these same “leaders” sought again and again to issue “official decrees” against the strategic move to control the building’s exit points, which allowed us to determine who entered the occupation, not security and the police. Finally, they orchestrated another “official” vote on the question of whether or not to forcibly open the fire exits allowing the crowds outside in to join us – the official line, they declared, was opposed. “Too risky, we’re just not ready” – it might upset the administration, their negotiators, the cops, even…
To detail this list is not to get petty – it is to be clear about exactly what happened during the occupation and how it was done. The fact is that every highpoint and expansion of the occupation took place despite these attempts at management. […] In any case, the bottom-line is that we do not have to wait for democratic consensus to act; in fact, the occupation happened because we did not wait.
These forces in the United States who insist on abiding by majoritarian democracy principles and seem congenitally opposed to occupation have their counterpart in SWP activists in the U.K. Earlier this year, an occupation of the SOAS in protest of deportations of the school’s migrant workers ended when SWP negotiators, self-appointed leaders, decided the occupation’s goals had been met. But the goals of many of the occupiers had not been met, as many of the workers were still being detained and other important issues were unresolved. But the SWP negotiators decided the occupation had run its course, and it had the power to declare it over because they had the structural power to do so, a power more or less given to it by the school administration:
The drift towards agreeing to [SOAS’s] offer – one that was not voted on at any stage, even on Wednesday morning – was ultimately determined by the priorities and perspective of the SWP and the leading SOAS students involved in the occupation. Collectively they had, of course, been the most prominent figures throughout and had assumed responsibility for conducting negotiations through the elected student union (at least one of whom, Nizzam Uddin, was clearly opposed to the action and had a vested interest in cautious compromise), using a line of communication which [SOAS] had stipulated on Monday afternoon for reasons of delegitimising the broader membership of the occupation, on the (as it turned out, correct) assumption that indirect, fragmented dialogue would work to his advantage.
Evidently, SWP types and their allies in the U.S. are extremely anxious about occupations. So in addition to being antidemocratic, another reason to believe they are a good strategy.