April 8, 2010
Takethecity.org – Recent events have raised many important questions: What does a real and vital movement look like? What is the nature of leadership in struggle? Is there a ‘correct’ way for us to fight against our conditions? Below is a statement from some friends addressing theoretical and practical concerns that have arisen in the last month or so.
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…. The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.” Karl Marx – 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The above quote is just as integral to revolutionary struggle in the 21st century as it was for France in 1852. Across the vast human topography of class society, clear lines are being drawn between those who parody and fetishize the movements of dead generations in order to dominate the movements of today, and those who seek to expand forms of praxis and theory created in the current cycle of struggle, through the self-directed struggle of workers and students themselves.
After several weeks of smears, ad hominem attacks and political diatribes, the conversation surrounding the events of March 4th has finally shifted to the terrain of tactics and ideology. The small segment of humanity actually paying attention to this debate has been gifted with lapidary critiques of Anarcho-Imperialism, Anarcho-Situ-Autonomism, Demand-Nothingism, and – most recently — dangerous, “anger-based” Anarcha-Feminism. While these critiques are coming from various activist quarters, they all focus their attention on the supposed Take The City “Organization.” Each of these critiques (even if accurate) could land only a glancing blow, because the people who comprise their opposition are neither a party, nor an association nor even a website. In fact, the alleged saboteurs of March 4th, the occupiers of last April, the self-proclaimed “bitches,” the militant feminists, and many others are merely tendencies within a larger, informal network. This group has no party-line, no hierarchical structure and little theoretical unity. The only thing that unites us is camaraderie and solidarity on the one hand and an understanding of direct action and self-organization on the other. The following is a partial critique, by one tendency within this group, of the tactical and theoretical composition of what has been called the ‘student movement’.
Can a couple hundred students at an outdoor rally at Hunter be considered a movement? Can six or seven hundred people standing in a Midtown police pen be considered a movement? The reason the NYC ‘student movement’ must be put in quotations is because the label is largely self-flattery. We hope to show below that the tactics of the coalition of movement-builders are, at best, unhelpful to the development of a strong and vital movement and, at worst, preventative of one.
March 12, 2010
The purpose of this statement is to cut through the sensational rhetoric surrounding the events of March 4th and outline several underlying political disagreements so far obscured in this discourse. We do not mean to discount particular accusations of misconduct, which are being taken seriously and addressed elsewhere, but to point to points of tactical divergence which these (often dubious) accusations have been allowed to supplant. This letter is meant to counteract the shopworn stereotyping that has set the tone for so much of what has already been written concerning these events. Let us then lay out the points we wish to discuss.
Who speaks for the students of New York City? Who speaks for the “Black, Hispanic, and immigrant activists” championed by one respondent? What is the proper leadership of a student movement? Who may claim a public university as their political turf? We find these questions problematic.
As autonomous students and workers, it is not our intent to be in charge of anyone. And we expect this to work both ways. Our organic association, which has arisen in response to this crisis, lacks central leadership, a homogenous identity, or a single set of goals. And this is its greatest merit.
Those who seek to harness and channel our energies toward their partisan purposes insult us. Aspiring politicians, replicating bureaucratic forms, have ensnared many well-meaning and energetic activists in reformist ventures doomed from the start, and call this “the movement”. The resulting partisan organizations are primarily concerned with prolonging their own existence in the most tacit of ways. Anything to avoid direct action and remain in the so-called safe spaces of liberal democracy.
Those who claim to speak for “the students”, “the workers”, “the people”, etc., have appointed themselves to this noble position which we do not recognize. As the ranks of the unaffiliated grow, we will help condemn the anachronism of the Revolutionary Party to the dustbin of history.
2. On Decorating the Wall of Your Cell
Every weekend, around the world, billions of adherents gather into designated spaces to be told by their self-appointed leaders that despite all of their problems, someday everything will be OK. All they need to do is listen and wait. For the next two or three days their soul-crushing existence under capitalism is made slightly more bearable. Why is it that those who claim to be unhappy with exactly this sort of proselytizing are so eager to impose it on the most active among the present “student left”? Students and workers spend enough time being told what to do. Do we really need more speeches? No. We need not be reminded of our problems. We are all too aware of them. We need to act. If not during a city-wide gathering, then when?
Anyone who has ever spent time in a steel cage, guarded by officers of the bourgeois legal system (which, by the way, includes security guards and university administrators) may find it bizarre that some-on-the-left seek to relegate the desire of others within such rigid perimeters. The self-appointed protectors of the March 4th rally sought the quiescence of a partisan political rally. These so-called leaders tell us not to chase waterfalls, but rather to stick to the protest pens and sidewalks we’re used to. To do so is to decorate the wall of one’s cell, which we reject.
3. Security Culture No-Nos
We have the audacity to hope that those who have spent the days following March 4th calling attention via the internet to their perceived political “opponents” come to the understanding that in addition to this inexcusable security culture no-no, they are also calling attention to themselves. It is possible that this is what they want, but it is certainly against the spirit of a proper revolutionary movement (let alone a revolutionary anything else). And those who are so quick to point to the history of COINTELPRO as a rhetorical tool should certainly be aware of how such information (names, pictures, etc.) has and will be used by agents of state repression to neutralize the energies and intentions of participatory movements. Our political disagreements may be here to stay, but this sort of endangerment of fellow activists must stop immediately.
Some envision a post-revolutionary society as one of management and policing. This is a discussion for another day (albeit, one soon to come). However, when you assist the police in any way, as this circulation of names and photographs in public forums most certainly does, you are empowering capitalism’s hired thugs and endangering fellow dissidents, whether you intend to do so or not.
We hope that these points of tactical divergence can gain a place in a discussion otherwise marred by finger-pointing and hackneyed stereotyping which does no good for anyone. As indicated by the language of the police, the CUNY administrators, and conservative spectators, the discussion so far has been exactly what these elements would hope for in their wildest dreams of “leftist” infighting and internecine doom.
In solidarity with mostly everyone,
James (footman of the Chilterns) and Semyon Podsekalnikov
March 11, 2010
Another varmint statement posted on Take the City:
on march 4th the vanguard of submission (the I.S.O., maoist allies, & activist “organizers”) denounced the truly radical contingents that refused their policing. confronted w/ a loss of power, the specialists of protest took every measure to sabotage those autonomous subjects who refused reification as objects in their “movement.” the implications of possible native ‘uncontrollables’ being too much to bear, every student that called for concrete subversive action was branded an “outside agitator” or “agent provocateur.”
the comedy of all manner of guevara worshippers indicting anyone as an ‘outside agitator’ does not escape, but the implications of invoking this ever present counter-revolutionary watchword are sincere. in such an invocation a real division is made clear:
on the one side: those who represent spectacular conflict, who play the approved role of a “social conscience,” who side with the police when sedition belongs to desire, not party functionaries. this reformist bloc is committed to maintaining the reign of specialists, of even the school administration, for to question one hierarchy would counterfeit them all. their role is essential in the mystification of progress. “moralizing the marketplace,” wherein the world is delivered back into the hands of the same bosses who’ve decimated it, is the realm of this permitted resistance.
on the opposing side: those who would not separate revolution from daily life, those who refuse to be executed under the weight of “objective conditions,” but prefer to disrupt the continuity of the probable, the routine, the expected, & explore the possible, who recognize that there is no dialogue in hierarchy/no democracy under bosses, who extend their critique to every wing of the commodity life & refuse the lure of “causes,” who recognize that there is no ‘outside’ because of this totality, who realize poetry in the lyricism of action, who accept no revolution but the revolution of all creative life. Read the rest of this entry »
March 5, 2010
Oh how lovely it is to be accused of causing all the fantastic actions at the CUNY Hunter rally on March 4th! If only we were such a large, nebulous conspiratorial varmint army. If only we were all privileged white boys! If only the Hunter organizers weren’t all ISO trots and maoists claiming to speak for everyone! If only there was such thing as outside.
The issue in this debate is not inside/outside agitators, or oppressed/less oppressed — these are disguises for the real issue: the conflict between those who are angry and those who want to control other people’s anger.
1. there were “outside agitators”, and that is a good thing. it is a good thing because
a. it is everyone’s struggle, and everyone wants to work together to fight it. this is how we are strong.In the coming months, we will see more cuts, more police, and more struggles uniting us.
b. thus, there are no real ‘outside agitators.’ This label is specifically designed to i) deny that any hunter student/faculty/staff could be critical of hunter and want to see it attacked and taken over and ii) paint everyone who did something “undesireable” as coming from the “outside”.
c. to clarify: those who came in from outside hunter were not only from “New School” and “NYU” but workers from around the city and other CUNY schools.
d. Conservatives are famous for using the term “outside agitators”.
e. in the new school and nyu occupations, everyone at those schools accused the occupiers of being outside agitators.
we challenge the opponents: what is bad or wrong about non-hunter students/faculty/staff participating? don’t you want the “WORKERS OF THE WORLD TO UNITE”?!?!?!!!
2. it was not only “outside agitators” who escalated tactics.
a. “they varmits” (see the “Hunter Word” blog post from Owen Hill) was in large part HUNTER STUDENTS. In california, they varmits are occupying universities.
3. the ISO and other manipulative, authoritarian organizers killed the potential, the momentum of the event.
a. at every juncture, they pushed to destory the indoor demo: during organizing meetings, when we were on the 3rd floor, when we were walking through the building.
b. they told people not to go back inside the school once they were outside, even though most students in the crowd wanted to.
c. they smothered the dance music and the chants in order to continue to lecture the crowd, even though people were sick of being talked at and wanted to chant and dance.
4. The ISO and other manipulative leftists with their newspapers co-opt the activity done by others, while trying to smother people’s anger and desire to act when it arises.
5. The ISO are happy to call out people who do not accept their scripted perspective. They malign those who don’t dogmatically agree with their ‘idea of the movement’ and they call security and cops on them. They defuse anger and the power of students and workers.
written by: students/workers from at least 4 different schools and 24 different jobs. (including hunter, assholes)