Thursday, December 29, 2011

Article Comparing the Occupy Movement to Populism

Worth a read, check it out:

I like it, it is good, read it. That being said, the Farmers’ Alliance and the populists voted on things. They didn’t practice “true consensus”. Neither did the labor movements in the early to mid 1900s or the civil rights movements. I personally think voting which is easily understood and learned is more empowering and inclusive to people than is lecturing them on confusing hand signals and why “90-10″ consensus (or worse) that allows tiny minorities to balk the will of overwhelming quantities of rational people in a room is a good idea. Consensus was invented, in my opinion, by small groups of internally oriented and often unsuccessful activists who had very limited perspectives on or experience with mass participation. They often came from academic circles and were trying to build movements in a period of generalized working class retreat from political activity. In my humble opinion, trying to impose consensus today on a new and actually vibrant movement is as mechanical and unhelpful as is a dogmatic “marxist” distributing their newspaper outside the factory gates and telling the workers if they don’t organize in such and such a way and join this or that party, they are somehow wrong or "counter revolutionary".

I agree with Malcolm X that “I’m for what works”. If occupying something works, I’m for that. If consensus can work (I don’t see this happening), I’m for that. If voting works, I’m for that. Sometimes voting doesn’t work, like drawing up a schedule at work. Have you ever made a schedule for a job? It can be confusing and you can’t make one in a room with 70 employees all trying to make it and trying to vote on every shift. You have to get everyone’s availability and skill level and then you need one person to centralize that information and then draw it up. Of course you can always modify it later, and switch shifts with people, and make it a little more efficient, but it is an example of a time of organization where mass democracy is better suited if it elects one person to do it. Same thing with making a flyer. You don’t make a flyer with 70 people all trying to think of how to format it, crowded around one screen. You can delegate.

What is great about the current moment is that authoritarian, Russian and Chinese style single party police state “communism” is discredited and the parts of the left that always looked to foreign governments (instead of to their own conditions) for their blessings of purity and a correct, general party “line”… that kind of politics doesn’t dominate the left any more. That part of the left is gone and what is left of it doesn’t convince anyone.

At the same time, the liberal left that tells us to always vote democratic party is also discredited. Nothing better for that than to actually elect a democrat. That’s why Nader was so strong in 2000, and not in 2004 or 2008. People just had 8 years of democrats and they knew they didn’t work.

Similarly, nothing out of the “anti-globalization” or anti war movements is really that large or real, in terms of impressive sizes of any organizations, or victories in terms of number of battles won that we can learn from. That kind of punk rock anarchism that the black block kids were into, or the people who tried to split from every anti war march and go down another street and break things, that hasn’t won or gotten huge either. So that’s a dead end, and dressing up like a seattle protester from 1999 and trying your best to act like one isn’t going to make you a successful winner of radical gains either.

These are all, intellectually, very liberating things. We’re not controlled by past ideologies, at least most of us who are thinking people are not. Re-inventing the wheel is bad, but far worse that than is being permanently hitched the the wagon of dogmatic adherence to ineffective political ideologies.

On a whole, I liked the article, and I think the author’s perspective is great. Let’s look at past movements, see what worked and see what didn’t. Lets repeat things we thought were good and try to avoid mistakes.

And most importantly, let’s not think just because we’ve read more about past movements that we are somehow going to be more correct, politically, on certain questions. “Theory is gray, green is the tree of life.” Life experience is always the best educator and former of political opinions. People seem to almost always form better opinions when they listen first, and speak second.

If you're interested in learning more about the populist movement, I highly recommend you read C Vann Woodward's book Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. Other good books about the early Socialist Party which grew out of the remains of the Populists are Ira Kipnis' The American Socialist Movement and Ray Ginger's The Bending Cross

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