– via n +1: This piece first appeared in the third issue of the OWS-inspired Gazette: OCCUPY!

RACHEL SIGNER, Dec 26, 2011
I arrived at the New School in the fall of 2008 to do a master’s degree in anthropology. Tuition was $23,000 per year—this did not include room or board—but the opportunity to be in a great intellectual community eased my anxiety about the cost. A little bit.

Tuition was high for a reason: the school, I soon learned, was on shaky financial footing. Founded in 1919 in part by Columbia professors disgusted by their university’s support of World War I, then expanded in 1933 as a refuge for scholars fleeing Fascism and Nazism in Europe, it wasn’t the sort of place that produced the sort of people who turned around and gave their alma mater millions of dollars. The endowment was meager, and the school relied on tuition for revenue.

The New School needed to improve its financial situation and its status, and it was going to do it, like any New York institution, through real estate. It owned an old two-story building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street—a former department store whose slogan had been “Fifth Avenue Values at 14th Street Prices”—that it was going to tear down and replace it with a state-of-the-art gleaming sixteen-story tower, home to studios for designers and artists studying at the New School’s profitable design institute, Parsons, and laboratories (for whom, no one could tell you; the New School offers no courses in hard sciences), retail food vendors, apartments, and—most insulting of all, I think, to the symbolic heirs, as we liked to consider ourselves, of refugees from fascism—a fitness center. At the time, the building, at 65 Fifth Avenue, was a multi-purpose meeting place where graduate students could read quietly, have lunch in the café, or find books in the basement library. There had been classrooms upstairs, but at that point they had already been relocated to the Minimalist-style building a few blocks away where my department, Anthropology, was crammed together with Sociology.

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On the one hand, critical theory condemns the occupation. (see letter below)

On the other hand, critical theory defends the occupation. (see letter below)

Can it do both and still be itself? As an old dialectician once said,

CRITICAL THEORY has to be communicated in its own language — the language of contradiction, dialectical in form as well as in content: the language of the critique of the totality, of the critique of history. Not some “writing degree zero” — just the opposite. Not a negation of style, but the style of negation.

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Denouement

November 27, 2011

211. IN THE LANGUAGE of contradiction, the critique of culture manifests itself as unified: unified in that it dominates the whole of culture — culture as knowledge as well as culture as poetry; unified, too, in that it is no longer separable from the critique of the social totality. It is this unified theoretical critique that goes alone to its rendezvous with a unified social practice.

Occupiers Evicted From the New School; Graffiti Is Left Behind
November 26, 2011, 3:49 PM
via nytimes

A weeklong occupation at the New School in Greenwich Village ended with a whimper on Friday morning when university officials evicted the handful of remaining protesters from a campus gallery that was defaced sometime before they left.

But the events leading up to that point were uncertain, as some of those who had participated in the occupation said they did not know who the evicted demonstrators were or why slogans were scrawled on the walls of the ground-floor gallery. (One read, “Spoiled New School Anarchists.”)

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808. However, the other aspect of spirit’s coming-to-be, history, is that mindful self- mediating coming-to-be – the spirit emptied into time. However, this emptying is likewise the self-emptying of itself; the negative is the negative of itself. This coming-to-be exhibits a languid movement and succession of spirits, a gallery of pictures, of which each, endowed with the entire wealth of spirit, moves itself so slowly because the self has to take hold of and assimilate the whole of this wealth of its substance.

 


Since November 17th, students, non-students, workers and others have transformed through political occupation a formerly isolating, frigid and closed study space into a 24hour educational hub for not just all students, but all people.  We have held this space for seven days and in that time we have set up multiple general assemblies, established a safer spaces group, dismantled institutional oppression with the immediate creation of gender neutral bathrooms, fed and housed over 200 people, provided teach-ins from an anti-capitalist perspective on the financial crisis and political struggle, and created a gathering place for political conversation.  In reclaiming a New School building, a private university with astronomical tuition, there has been a sometimes pre-conceived perception of elitism and exclusivity; some have said they feel alienated, that the space is still too white, or that the theoretical discussion is too pretentious or academic. Some of these issues weren’t resolved nor they could have been resolved in such a short window. But this contradiction–where anti-capitalist/anti-racist debate is viewed as an elite politics–is precisely what we are in the process of shattering in this space.  Hundreds of people have come to hear talks and have conversations about capitalism, revolutionary practice, anti-oppression, queer politics and international struggle.  Most who have had problems in the space have consistently returned, recognizing that the politics surrounding the occupation are not solidified, but are instead immanent to the space itself.

Last night, November 22nd, marked the first attendance by many emphatic participants in the General Assembly.   Through several manipulative acts, including the creation of a town hall that was somehow broadly attended in spite of a mere two hours notice, the Assembly was packed by antagonists including several faculty and a large group of students who had not previously been involved in the occupation. For many of us the large attendance was a success, but very soon it became clear that the sole goal of the majority of participants present was not discussion, but a yes vote for the destruction of the occupation.  The intention was to disrupt any possibility of dialogue and to frame the voting of the assembly in the manner of representational politics and parliamentary theater.

At this assembly the faculty, the bureaucratic manipulators and students hand picked by administration revealed their faces.  Arguments about race and alienation, couching pro-capitalist rhetoric and theatrical fear mongering, were used to disrespect and disempower the open assembly.  Immediately after a perceived victory in “accepting” Van Zandt’s proposal, these individuals removed themselves from the process and demonized the continuing deliberation of the assembly’s remaining participants.

We are writing to expose the misinformation and the constant sabotage that has being circulating through media and disseminated by specific individuals whose only purpose is to break this occupation from within.  We also see this document as an opportunity to put forward a political perspective on these events, and on hopes for the future.

It is clear that we should not have trusted negotiations with the President of the New School about the security and the character of this occupation.  After six days of dealing with this matter it is evident that it has caused fragmentation not only of the occupation itself, but poses a larger threat for the entire student struggle and the growth of the occupation movement. Political organizations still playing ping-pong on the back of the student body, in favor of specific ideological positions and with vested interests, have succeeded in the creation of media misrepresentation, the recruitment of students against the occupation, and the disruption of any possibility of dialogue.  This has happened only for their own benefit to legitimate their bureaucratic actions, and to expand their conservative and archaic way of organizing.  This method of organizing is one that they are unable to and refuse to transform when confronted with a movement that is against of any form of leadership or representation. 

The struggle can only develop with the opening of a space that is initiated by political praxis that remains open for any political analysis. 

Any jeopardization of autonomous practice will doom the struggle to failure.

November 23rd , 2011

I am the 99%

November 23, 2011

from dpp
by Jarrod Shanahan

Hi, my name is Jarrod, and I am the 99%! I am the meeting place of a breathtaking variety of dreams, desires, and impulses. Many have sought to form me in their image, to set me on an orthodox path, and to lay out my future in meticulous detail. But at present, my image merely reflects the unreconciled diversity of these bodies and aims, and is accordingly amorphous and inchoate and awesomely awkward. I am the premise for an unlikely roommate comedy that will never get past the censors intact. Some forces within me are willing to analyze every situation in its nuanced detail until the opportunity for action has passed and they can secretly breathe a sigh of relief. Some forces are bored with the repetitive review of every minor scruple and compel me toward unreflective action, possibly to my peril. Some offer an impossible yardstick against which I must measure my behavior, while others are satisfied to just get me all worked up and see what happens. Some want one specific thing and they want it eventually, others want everything and they want it now. Some desire a five year plan as a practical necessity, others scorn a five minute plan as the death of spontaneity. Some are really into repeating verbatim everything said by those around them, while others are more aristocratic in their tastes. Some see only the individual case, others only the totality, and both are thusly impaired. Some secretly aspire to seize power over all others, while others live for nothing more than the day when they will shut these megalomaniacal aspirations down. Still more yearn for quiet, the cessation of conflict, sleep, peace, man. Like it or not, I am a multitude, dissonance and dissimilarity pump through my veins, and sooner or later I’ll just have to learn to roll with it. Only a theologian or fascist or worse would consider the absolute resolution of all of this tension possible, let alone forthcoming, in anything besides my own organic death. But I must strive nonetheless for tenuous working resolution, and reap the hard-wrought fruit of compromise in a series of cautiously bumbling, self-aware steps and missteps across an unmapped terrain. My style is one impatient with itself. Without centralized rule I must constantly battle high pitched emotions and implacable libidinal urges, seeking to keep unified a body so dissonant, and so spontaneous, and so tenuously held together in its very tissue that its coherence for a mere second in time is a complete and utter fucking miracle. Yet, I believe this horizontal organization to be my chief strength, with which I arm myself against docility, complacency, and laziness masquerading as mature pragmatism, all of which menace my meandering path toward the unprecedented. For I embody the contradictions of the world which gave birth to me, I give them breath and a physical form, the aesthetic of which has been debated on the Internet. And I have therefore chosen to give voice to the insanity and schitzophrenia of our rational world, a voice I offer in a mad gesture of desperation to hypothetical ears and against all odds, and must strain myself to shout in the face of sirens and snark and deafness and drumming.

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Premonitions

November 20, 2011

The coming occupations will have no end in sight, and no means to resolve them. When that happens, we will finally be ready to abandon them.”

 

When we wrote that in December 2008 in New York City, after occupying a university building by Union Square, we were treated as youthful idealists, nihilist anarchists, even fascist thugs.  What are your demands? they asked. But what are you for? they wondered. Occupy everything? they shrieked.

 

Alas.  Our premonitions have come to pass.

 

It was only a matter of time. When the crisis first hit in the fall of 2008, its effects were diffuse, with individuals all over the country feeling it simultaneously, yet not collectively. Students, who have both the time to act and think free from the imperative to work, naturally reacted first. With an insurrection in Greece brewing, and a legitimation crisis of the American economy at hand, occupations without demands spread from New York to California, with thousands involved. Demands are irrelevant when no one can hear you, and so the only real demand was to occupy itself. Immature maybe, but not stupid. With foreclosures growing exponentially, and unemployment skyrocketing as well, occupying one’s space and means of living is the most obvious of actions. In the most unpolitical of Western democracies, one must first create a space for politics to emerge.

 

But students on their own are nothing. Especially left radical ones.

 

Always half way in and half way out of work, the student can only express frustration of what is to come, not what has been. Hence, the theoretical advantage of the current wave of occupations, which takes it starting point not as the looted future, but rather the broken present. From here, one no longer needs to “convince” others what “may” happen; rather, the present itself is cracking underneath everyone’s feet. And only those living in skyscrapers can avoid the initial fractures.

 

Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent multiplications follow the trajectory of American social struggle which began in the labor riots after the civil war and continued with punctuated equilibrium up unto the most recent flare ups in the anti-globalization protests of the early second millennium. What is this trajectory? Simply put, at the beginning of the refounded republic of America, the working population demanded shorter hours and better pay, with independent representation and collective bargaining rights. These specific demands, which sometimes merged and sometimes conflicted with demands for women’s suffrage and civil rights, were backed up with massive waves of violence: strikes, sit-downs, street battles, riots, looting, arson. While demanding specific guarantees for life by words, they demanded nothing from the destroyed factories and trains by deeds. The normal American citizen, the 99%, from Reconstruction to the Second World War, was baptized in blood and blessed with material gains. Citizen engagement in politics receded to the background of enjoying fresh commodities. With a relative peace gained for white working men, the sphere of political engagement opened to the other 99%, the black population. The slowly building postwar struggle for civil rights exploded in the 60’s, with not only demands for equal treatment and respect, but also demands for inclusion in the material gains which the white working population temporarily secured. These political and social demands voiced in Washington and Selma were only the small foreground to the colossal mute rage in the background which, when heard,  shattered the merchandise filled windows of Newark, Detroit, LA, Oakland, Chicago, and almost every other inner-city neighborhood in America. The self-destruction of their own neighborhoods was the sign of having “nothing left to lose,” a political position which can’t but win.

 

As the movement for equality and civil rights crested, the youth and anti-war movements of the mid 60’s and early 70’s gained in strength. Taking the physical message of the race riots to heart—that there is no victory without struggle—the young radicals mixed early labor tactics with civil rights strategies, which blended into an ideology that asserted its right to own the fruits of American society. Everything was up for grabs, and everything shall be ours. The specificity of political movements in this period was in the nature of its general demands: freedom, equality, peace, everything.

 

But the struggle for a total demand broke in the mid 1970s, when the crisis of the American economy led to a renewed class assault on those who make the country run. This assault is ongoing. No longer could anything be given to those who demanded, no longer must business and government be beholden to its employees and citizens. This new relation between governing and governed, between owners and laborers, was called austerity. From this point on, the gains of the last century slowly receded. Real wages stagnating while prices increasing, income inequality exploding while unemployment rising, unimaginable wealth produced while unbelievably few own it—the American dream bought on bad credit, paid with a high interest rate, only softened by a coupon to the movie theatre. What can one demand when there’s nothing left to give?

 

“Not” having a demand is not a lack of anything, but a contradictory assertion of one’s power and one’s weakness. Too weak to even try and get something from those who dominate working life, and simultaneously strong enough to try and accomplish the direct appropriation of one’s soul, time, and activity apart from representation. A demandless struggle reveals the totality of the enemy one fights and the unity of those who fight it. Such a struggle “lays claim to no particular right because the wrong it suffers is not a particular wrong but wrong in general.” This ‘general wrong’ is the impersonal structure of exploitation at the heart of our economic system—the forced selling of one’s time and life activity to someone else in return for a wage—which can never be overcome by any particular change, only by a total one.

 

Yet the demandless struggle is not ‘radical’ because it has no demands, just as the struggle for better wages is not ‘reformist’ because it does. More important than the demands waged against power are the demanding responsibilities that the situation itself calls forth. What is specific about the current moment is the explicit recognition by people themselves in public, together, out loud, indefinitely, of their own condition in the conditions of others. In other words, people are materially recognizing themselves while mutually recognizing each other. The forms of these encounters, while spectacular, are nothing compared to their contents. The questions of work, money, community, family, sex, color, time, class, education, health, media, representation, punishment, and faith are no longer individual questions. To think any is to think through all, and to really think through all requires an occupation without end. Occupations without end are infinite and free, not because they are everywhere and last forever, but because there is nothing outside determining them but themselves. The overcoming of the occupations is the practical realization of such freedom, a task that can only be accomplished historically.

 

Take heed: there is a rationality at work here, a reason of social inferences which is made even more clear by the current lack of adequate concepts to understand it. The major premise of the 99% perfectly synthesizes the universal emptiness of the modern American, expressing fully its entire being without reference to one determinate quality. The truth of the occupations is not only in their substance, but in the subjects as well. The minor premise of occupation locates the subjects of the syllogism in a particular place and a particular time. Tied together through material relations of interdependency, one is compelled by logic to conclude that not even revolution is impossible.

 

The new era is profoundly revolutionary, and knows it. On every level of modern society, nobody can and nobody wants to continue as before. Nobody can peacefully manage the course of things from the top any longer, because it has been discovered that the first fruits of the crisis of the economy are not only ripe, but they have, in fact, begun to rot. At base, nobody wants to submit to what is going on, and the demand for life has now become a revolutionary program. The secret of all the “wild” and “incomprehensible” negations that are mocking the old order is the determination to make one’s own history.

 

Occupy Wall Street is the first major American response to the economic crisis of 2008. But the economic crisis of 2008 is the first major result to the failed response to the crisis of the 1970’s. In effect, the delayed class war of the last three decades, in which Americans with good faith gave businesses and government a generation to fix the problem, has emerged with a vengeance. The time for waiting is over. The age of austerity has hit its limit. Occupying everything without demands is only the first baby step in the gigantic shoes of the new American proletariat.

 

Q. Libet

October 2011