Why the Occupy Movement Accomplished Nothing and Never Will

From Kate Khatib, Margaret Killjoy and Mike McGuire (editors), We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation, (AK Press, 2012): The occupy ‘movement,’

refuses to acquiesce to our traditional notions of analysis and action, shuns the antiquated idea that there is a single right answer to any problem, scoffs in the face of a single set of demands. Our demand? We want everything and nothing. Our perspective? We are all a little bit right and we are all a little bit wrong. What matters is that we are doing something.

The book might be more appropriately titled, Reflections on the Absence of Movement Strategy from Media Flash-in-the-Pan to Utter Irrelevance. Of course, I could be a little bit wrong here, but then again, I could be a little bit right too, depending on whatever your notion of analysis— traditional or otherwise—happens to be.

55 thoughts on “Why the Occupy Movement Accomplished Nothing and Never Will

  1. snakearbusto said, on August 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    That seems a reasonable assessment. There are many recent indications that mass movements are unlikely to get off the ground. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. The elites have fine-tuned divide and conquer and thus its principles, tactics and strategies are well-documented. It’s more likely than not that the 1% has fringes, diversities and weaknesses just as prone to exploitation as any other group bound by a central theme.

    It would probably be safer, and more satisfying, to explore that avenue now that the mass-movement route has attracted so many safeguards. And it doesn’t require brawn derived from a mass movement to start that ball rolling; as they themselves have amply demonstrated. There is no perfect plan. There are only bad plans, good plans and better plans.

  2. I think with mass numbers, no one can stop us….I didnt say that the lifestyle is the same….US poverty is different….we tend to have tv’s and PC’s but are not able to keep warm in winter….it is just a odd kind of poverty amidst plenty. In order to have the change we need, the military must be turned…soldiers, the muddy boots ones, are proletariat too and can be educated to take strike action and, maybe even fight for our side…that’s just my experience working with Vietnam vets…..and other vets for peace…of course, they will always out gun us…but the alternative to taking action is to continue our downward spiral of choosing medicine or food, housing or clothing and that is not really living.

    All Anglo based societies are slow to take action (you know the history of UK when rest of Europe was deposing their monarchs), but, as US becomes more and more Hispanic/Latino, I think (hope?) that it will shift in our favor….Latinos dont seem to be as prone to taking shit and adoring elites as Anglos, IMHO

  3. I’ll reply to both you and Anarcissie, with apologies, because I don’t have a lot of time. Clearly we are not yet in a prerevolutionary situation, BUT we are in the latter stages of the imposition of de facto military rule. The process by which it is being imposed is not what it would have been in the 19th or the 20th centuries. One aspect of that process is control of information. Another is distraction of the population. Together, they subvert consensus about what the real problems are. As a case in point, you imply that the US lifestyle is not so different from that in the poor countries, whereas the fact is that the lifestyle of the US is directly related to the deprivation of the poor countries. But do you really feel that the deprived have a chance of “taking” the privileges from us in the “developed” countries? They do not, and one reason they do not is the global military apparatus – which now, as it colonizes law enforcement and turns it into counterinsurgency, insures that no mass resistance movement can arise, including in the developed countries. And one thing that OWS revealed is the extent of the nationwide (and global – take the example of EuroGedFor cops from Holland beating protesters in Athens) surveillance and repression that is now in place. Whether that awareness can move us towards a prerevolutionary situation is another question.

  4. Convincing ppl. is part of it, but, the emphasis at this point in time should, IMHO, be on ACTION, because, without action, many ppl. who would be part of proletariat are going to die young, not be able to finish school, commit suicide, get shot, OD on drugs, etc I can’t tell you what a “liberaL” is, but I think th “no labels” movement has gone way too far, with the useless “dont label me!! I am an individual!” crap. A new liberal or neoliberal must be willing to give up some material privilege for things to change, or, those with less privilege must take it fROM THEM.

    OK, I’ll give you that they verbally agreed that financialization of whole economy was destructive. But what alternative did they agree on? Consensus, esp with large groups, almost never happens, and, is prone to sabotage…no country, state, or even city or family uses complete consensus. It causes paralysis. Majority, with agreed upon leadership is, IMHO, the best way to accomplish goals.

    I also think the argument that , “in the US, we are so much better off than”, say Zambia, etc is a straw man. And there are plenty of ppl in this country living Third World status everyday. Wage slavery is not only not improving, it is spreading. With “globalization” the bourgeois has even degraded the US proles’ status as “consumer”…they dont need “our market” anymore…there is simply no incentive for the elites to allow reform or “regulation” and “our reps” are the enemy.

    To quote Frederick Douglass, ”
    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

    The time for “endurance” is over, IMHO

  5. Indeed, one of the problems of privilege is that one often cannot escape from it, because it is conferred not by the will of the individual but by the social order as a whole upon the category to which the individual belongs.

    The function of OWS was to make trouble about certain things, and they did. Some people helped them, most did not. Certain opportunities were opened up by the trouble, and public discourse was changed. But if, in an area containing several million people, one can summon only a few thousand to actually do anything (even as minimal as sitting in a park), then we do not yet have a prerevolutionary situation.

  6. What do you mean by “get anywhere”? Is it a matter of convincing someone of something? At what point does a person cease being a “liberal” – or a “conservative” or any other label you might want to use, for that matter? Or is one born into being a liberal, as one is born into hereditary privilege? If not, what material conditions make a person a “liberal,” and how must those material conditions evolve in order for them not to be liberals?

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say that OWS agreed on nothing. In broad terms, they agreed that financiarization of all aspects of the economy, and in particular vital human services, was a destructive force. As for consensus, up to what point does a system of governance have legitimacy if it is not based on some form of consensus? And as for privilege, don’t forget that the 99% in the USA are the 1% of humanity as a whole.

  7. You will absolutely never get anywhere with liberals, everyone , I would think, would accept that by now…I put a reply here and it seems to not have made it —in any case, to sum it up, they agreed on nothing, demanded consensus in all things, and were not willing to give up one ounce of their own privilege, IMHO

  8. I agree. However the leisure necessary for examining material conditions and evolving philosophy from them is not given to the average member of the working class, nor is the mastery of language necessary to articulate it. It’s a waste of time to discuss whether OWS was in some way legitimate or not. What needs to be discussed is those very material conditions, whose impacts a growing number of members of the dying middle class are feeling.

  9. Yes anarcissie,the material is always primary.I will be more precise,The OWS is not Marxist and hence will lack the historical and dialectical materialism that will bring its members to a comprehensive understanding of why their material conditions are suffering and what needs to be done.It might also be said that philosophy stems from the material conditions of life,matter is primary in everthing after all.im sure you would agree.

  10. The people who started Occupy Wall Street were radicals. Had they been sticklers for the correct line, they would never have agreed with each other, much less attracted several thousand non-radicals — people who, if they had any ideology at all, we would probably have to call liberals or social democrats, people who still believe in capitalism and vainly wish it would be nicer to them. It was good for them to be exposed to some radicals and radicalism and that exposure may bear fruit in the future as the conditions of life in America continue to deteriorate.

    I think revolutionary content grows out of material social conditions, not philosophy.

    But in any case, as I said before, there is nothing stopping people with better philosophy, propaganda, tactics, organization, leadership, whatever, from doing something better and showing us the way, whatever that might be.

  11. I enjoyed those articles, Anarcissie, thanks. mark h. , I very much suspect that you are correct….Neil M—where were the bankers in opposition to Occupy? What about Occupy bothered them in the least? I am sure they had no need for Zucotti Park. Occupy never took up[ space in any space that they wanted. I know what 1% was supposed to mean….but it sure left a lot of very wealthy ppl off the hook. Part of the prob. IMHO, is that many of the ppl. in Occupy were totally unwilling to give up any of their own privileges, and, that, if the number was enlarged to include, say the “5%”, some of the Occupiers (or at least, their parents) would have been talking about themselves….there was no real discussion against Capitalism…just a rather Anarchic type of Libertarianism, most of them….which is really something that sits nicely with Capitalism, IMHO

  12. I suspect the OWS movement lacked a revolutionary philosophy and therefor revolutionary content.

  13. I believe the various forms of ranking, oppressing, and exploiting human beings reinforce one another, usually systemically, and the ‘hippie’ principles of freedom and equality, even if only cultural, work to weaken such systems and open a space in which resistance to the existing system becomes more possible, along with opportunities to construct or discover a better one. It is true the existing state has become more explicitly oppressive in recent decades, but that development may actually be evidence of its weakening.

  14. Racism, sexism and homophobia: agreed, but that doesn’t change the power structure does it. Opposing imperialism, militarism and police-statism carries significant risks, I would have thought – evesdropping, no-fly lists, confiscation of computers, SWAT teams at dawn, and all the while building up dossiers on networks of “troublemakers” for use later, when social breakdown escalates due to the next financial crisis.

  15. The concept of the 1% is merely an alternative euphemism for The Establishment – insular people with too much wealth and power and too little empathy. They could have ignored OWS but chose not to. However, by opposing it so blatantly, they effectively transformed (aimless, harmless) OWS into an ambush for themselves, thereby confirming OWS’s founding proposition.
    As a fictional Pretty Woman once said “Big mistake! Huge!”.

  16. About the ‘hippies’…. I’m using the term very broadly, as in the term ‘hippie-punching’. Since, say, January 1,1960, there has been a considerable cultural shift in the U.S., as the result of which many pernicious social practices, hitherto not only permitted but required of the middle and working classes, were challenged, weakened, and even destroyed, among these official, legal racism, sexism, and homophobia, and a lot of the underlying cultural support for them. It is also now possible to oppose war, imperialism, militarism, and police-statism openly without getting beaten up (usually). People who were not at least teenagers in the 1950s may not realize how much change this represents. A radical political movement could grow out of the cultural substrate that has been thus formed. Unfortunately, we all know the joke about how leftists form a firing squad.

  17. What? Did they get Peace, Love, Freedom and Equality? The machine hasn’t given them any of those things, in fact its war-like, mean-spirited, controlling, elitist position is stronger now than ever.

  18. Well, unfortunately (perhaps?) it is not exactly “the 1%” alone who are causing the most trouble for the bottom 60% or so…I think that the 1% stuff has been carried too far…I am not sure what % of world rich folks own stock, but I think it is a lot higher than 1% (anybody sell any yet?).Yes, the elites ordered violence, and, then, the protests pretty much broke up…no victory there, IMHO…I am not sure what your point is on “peaceful protest”…but that’s what Occupy was…screamingly so, here in this city..so much so that any suggestion that we “refuse to move” or even “feed the homeless” was met with Occupy rage…things changed after lots of “hippie” protest, but ultimately, “integration” (which has yet to happen) was done at gunpoint, and revoking the draft (which may have questionable value now) took at least, “four dead in Ohio”….so go figure..it just seemed to be so pregnant with potential…how not to be disappointed?

  19. Considering its studiously aimless and leaderless nature, #Occupy produced several worthwhile outcomes.
    1. It identified and popularised the notion of the 1% as the people who own the USG lock, stock and barrel – and to the exclusion from influence of ordinary people.
    2. It scared the 1% sufficiently to order the USG to use violence and propaganda to intimidate (peaceful) OWS protesters.
    3. It made peaceful protest in the USA look unfashionably, and disastrously, limp and pallid.
    4. People seeking change in the US won’t quickly forget those lessons.

  20. But, as far as I can tell, Occupy doesn’t “believe in leaders”–if a huge part of the younger “left” subscribes to that “theory”, aren’t we FUBAR?

  21. There definitely seems to be some kind of structural problem, as witness the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In any case, we on the Left seem to be going nowhere fast with or without leaders. If leaders are going to do anything about it, they need to get out there and lead. Occupy Wall Street isn’t stopping them.

  22. I have to agree with that…reading “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” –but, not just that, it seemed to me that all that effort, energy and humanity was pretty much wasted..ppl kept telling me to give it time and it would come together, leaders would emerge–then i heard them saying it HAD to be “leaderless” (they said it very loudly in this city) and everyone had to completely agree before any action was taken…well, i guess they never agreed, because nothing has happened (except a lot of ppl quitting after some intense arguing)

  23. You’re generalizing and succumbing to metaphysical thinking. You want a sure bet? There’s no such thing. It’s true that leaders can sell you out or make mistakes, but without leaders we’re going nowhere fast.

  24. I’m not familiar with the present NDP. When I lived in Canada back in the Middle Ages, it was supposed to be a socialist party. If it has moved away from socialism and the labor unions, I suspect its leadership is being bought off.

    As for the various maximum leaders from Lenin to Castro (and such as Khomeini), it may be that they could not be bought off, although it seems Tito was. However, it’s apparent that the leadership structure can be bought off, or in a sense even buy itself off, as occurred in the Soviet Union with people like Yeltsin. If you have a small number of people who believe they are somehow better or more enlightened than everyone else, and have more power than the rest of the population, you have the beginnings of a class system and (bourgeois) class consciousness. The big class system of capitalism begins to look all right to such people because it corresponds to their actual practices and personal and group interests.

    I don’t know about the other Occupy movements, but Occupy Wall Street did make alliances with some local unions, I believe the Communications Workers and the Transport Workers. These included supporting one another’s actions — one of them was on strike and people from OWS joined the picket lines.

  25. I was there. I did help out and participate. I donated money, supplies, time, and gave support in various other ways. I blogged in support of the movement and debated and argued with friends and family about the potential of the OWS movement and why they should disregard the media’s propaganda lies – why they should lend their support. I planted a “We are the 99%” sign in my front yard; when it was stolen I replaced it with another. Finally, about a year after the occupations began I had to concede defeat and move on. Despite its flaws that I recognized from early on, I felt that it was worthy of support initially because it called out the real enemy of the people and seemed to be the beginning of a popular rebellion. It was a mainly petite bourgeois faux rebellion, but I thought it was the best we could hope for at the moment.

    I will, however, say that the U.S. working class deserves some blame for not having the integrity or courage to stand up and overlook some of the petite bourgeios silliness and realize that this was something to give at least qualified support to. They (the working class) are the primary victims of capitalist society, but sometimes I have to say, “Damn!, when are you going to wake the fuck up?!” I have working class bona fides myself, but I can’t deny that the U.S. working class seems to be happy to wallow in ignorance and slavery. Racism and chauvinism continue to reign supreme here, unfortunately.

  26. They had a chance to become more than what they became. Occupy could have become a springboard to a larger working class movement, but a loose coalition of anarchists, liberals and right libertarians was perhaps doomed to fail. I actually still think that sincere anarchists can play their part in the beginning stages of a popular revolutionary movement. Lenin mentioned the spontaneous nature of revolutionary movements in the beginning stages. I think anarchists and other forces can help spark spontaneous revolutionary urges, but they can’t finish the job – that takes a mature, organized and disciplined Marxist-Leninist type of party structure. That’s what I’ve come to understand anyway.

  27. “…as you form one (a hierarchical organization) that is at all visible, the established ruling class starts buying off or otherwise suborning its leadership.”

    Well, not all of them, unless you think the ruling class bought off Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Stalin, Mao, Castro and countless others leaders of hierarchical organizations who, by virtue of the disciplined and concerted effort organization and hierarchy allowed, brought about remarkable achievements.

    If organization and hierarchy are necessary, but not sufficient conditions, for effective political action, then we would expect that in some cases they don’t produce much, and in other cases they do. That they don’t always produce success, is not evidence that organization and hierarchy are detrimental to effective political action—only that by themselves, they’re not enough.

    By the way, you make the unwarranted assumption that the members of the NDP want what you want, and because the party hasn’t achieved what you want to achieve, its leaders must have been bought off and suborned. That betrays a misunderstanding of who belongs to the NDP, and what their political aspirations are.

  28. That comment ought to serve as a fitting epitaph to postmodernism’s conspicuous failure to achieve anything at all in the cause of human liberation. Ever. Fashionable in the heady liberal “anything goes” haze of the long fake credit boom of the nineties and noughties – the happy-clappy luvvy-duvvy phoney social-democratic afterglow that followed the tragic collapse of Communist “tyranny”, it finds itself utterly bankrupt and bereft of any ideas at all in the face of the return to “business as usual” capitalist immiseration and the steady march of slow-burn fascism.

    Can we get back to Marxism-Leninism now please? The Left needs a strategy that works.

  29. Hi, Kdelphi.

    The NDP is the Canadian New Democratic Party, at one time supposedly a socialist party, like Labour in the UK, I think.

    A problem with these political parties, as with the unions, is that on the one hand to deal with the existing political environment effectively on its own terms you need a distinct, hierarchical, institutionalized sort of organization, but as soon as you form one that is at all visible, the established ruling class starts buying off or otherwise suborning its leadership. They have gotten very good at this; remember, creative destruction (or destructive creation) is their métier. OWS represented an attempt to get outside that trap, but not enough people showed up to dissuade Bloomberg and company from crushing it and other scenes like it.

  30. And speaking of AFL-CIA, what have they done to stand up to corp. for worker rights? the few unions we have now are sold out rich ppl who prefer to be insiders as opposed to actually defending the working class

  31. a “few hundred”?? It was thousands (my sister was there) and, yes, they were anarchists, but, someday the initial days of protest ()and overthrowing the govt, which certainly hasnt happened yet), there has to be something that you WANT–and those you want it from should know that…if you can cut off traffic to Times Square for a day or so, I think you wil get a response…get ’em with the only thing they care about–$$

  32. Well, remember, ‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.’ When unions became institutionalized as part of the capitalist system — this was accounted a victory by many — they became subject to its laws of constant destruction and recreation under the guidance of a ruling class whose primary motives are accumulation and exploitation, not anyone’s having a good life (whatever that may mean — tastes differ). This was not good for the unions or most of their members, insofar as they did have a coherent, stable vision of a good life — hence their current state of decay and dissolution.

    In any case, I agree that we can’t expect a few radicals camping in a park to replace the AFL-CIO.

  33. Hilarious.
    One has to laugh then cry.
    Capitalist democracy is such an impressive political-economic system.
    An unthinking (brainwashed) populous is fed up and disgusted by the corruption and lies but fails to contemplate any alternative (certainly not socialism) and therefore is obliged to use the useless and ineffectual tools provided by the very system they detest.
    Elections and protests change nothing.
    The only effective force with any power to challenge capitalism is the organized working class which unfortunately is currently led by class collaborators, liars and business unionism bureaucrats.
    Purged long ago of those militants (socialists, communists, Communists, etc.) who could have created a labour movement that was willing to engage in serious class struggle we now are dealing with a situation of steep decline in the the number of unionized workers and an isolated labour force which self-identifies as “middle class” and whose main political action is to support a reformist (NDP) party which wants less and less to do with unions except for money and election workers.
    In the USA the situation is just as bad where organized labour’s head is so far up the ass of the Democratic Party (a capitalist and imperialist party) it can’t see the light of day.

  34. What chance was that? A few hundred anarchists managed to attract several thousand non-anarchists and occupy a park in the Wall Street area for several weeks, causing a media frenzy. Given the initial resources employed, that seems like about as much as the instigators could be expected to accomplish.

  35. There’s no doubt OWS saved it for a while. In order to start the chopping process, a certain amount of talk was necessary, but once there were people in the street about it, Congress wouldn’t talk about it any more — they were afraid to. That was quite a change, and was widely noted. Of course a few hundred radicals camping in a park couldn’t save it permanently. That would have required a broader movement consisting of a wider variety of people, which, as it happens, did not show up. I don’t think the OWSers can be blamed for that.

    People who think things should be done differently could always do those things. No one from OWS is going to stop them.

  36. i thought that when i watched them live, from Times Square, nose to nose with the cops, the enforcers of everything hateful and they backed off….I honestly wept over that lost moment….they had the numbers, they couldve made demands….WHY??!!

  37. “saved Social Security and Medicare”? Last time I checked it was on chopping block, and a very bipartisan one.
    Maybe they also “saved” Snowden from Obama?
    But do not feel put down. There is a new, fashionable “struggle” – against Russia, because, you see, they have anti-gay law (a stupid law, I admit) and thus are equated with aparteid SA. Go to fight them and Obama will bless you, by the way.

  38. I think your article Class and Elections in Zimbabwe is very relevant here. The Occupy movement is still trying to work out whether it wants to reform the present system (which will never produce the desired changes) or to bring down the system and have something else (which is scary). There is currently a sense of outrage, but it will morph into a sense of utter hopelessness when yet more austerity is meted out, and then the strategy will change.

  39. OWS’s purpose is the same as that of the so-called “Arab Spring” – to cause trouble.

    See: Occupy Wall Street’s Strategy and Philosophy – Occupation and Decommodification

    See: Fake Democracy Revolutions – CANVAS, USIP/ICNC, Washington, Egypt, and OWS

  40. Well, speaking merely of very practical things, the Occupy Wall Street events seem to have saved Social Security and Medicare by changing the terms of public discourse. Now, this is definitely antitheoretical in that most of the people who organized it were anarchists or some sort of socialists, whereas Social Security and Medicare are Social Democracy; but it is a fact that all through the summer of 2011 Obama and his buddies were talking about ‘reforming’ Social Security. The knives were out. After Officer Bologna kindly publicized the occupation, all that talk was put away for the duration. So they accomplished at least that much, which was not nothing.

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