Joshua Clover

out to be the baseline formulation of tactics and strategy for "the Occupy
movement" (an awkward yet inescapable designation) .
It was a stance at frst implicit and then increasingly evident at Wall
Street (#OWS); it was explicit from the outset at the more militant Occupy
Oaand (#00) . Wat is almost untecognized is that there were actually
three distinct political positions, or theoretical analyses, concealed within
this slogan. Tese three logics in turn imply diferent directions of struggle.
My goal is here is, accordingly, to set forth the three logics-perhaps focus­
ing on the one which has been the least remarked, the logic which escapes
the ongoing public opposition of 'liberals' and 'anarchists' (an opposition
often conducted by people with little sense of what these terms actually
mean, hence the scare quotes) .
Te question of tactics and strategy is a forward-looking one. None­
theless, to grasp the three logics behind the slogan " OCCUPY EVERY
THING DEMAND NOTHING," I want to travel backard to one of the
immediate and domestic roots of the Occupy movement-specifcally the
US student occupation movement that began in New York in late 2008 and
peaked in California in 2009.
One reason for such a return is that communities of struggle which
formed in those situations would contribute signifcantly to lOWS and
especially #00; that the two epicenters of the Occupy movement would
appear precisely in the places of the two student occupation waves is mani­
festly signifcant. But another reason to return is that the mythical moment
of inception for the Occupy movement-Adbusters' call-itself drew heav­
ily from the experiences of 2009 at the University of California, and from a
single document circulating in that moment.
I do not want to exaggerate the signifcance of this history, nor prom­
ise it any primac among origins. Tere are many available. Tere are the
events in the Maghreb and Mashreq known as the Arab Spring; there is the
• 96 • We Are Many
movement of the squares, largely in Europe; there are anti-austerity insur­
rections in Greece, the UK, Chile, and more than a handfl of other hot
spots. In the Bay Area itself there was the committed militancy following
the police murder of Oscar Grant earlier in 2009. Herein, I mean only to
track down the arrival onto a broad political stage of the slogan OCCUpy
EVERYTHING DEMD NOTHING, so that it can be thought in full.
Despite Adbusters' initia reference to a "Tahrir moment," the forensics
are decisive in leading us to the Bay Area. Adbusters' brain trust, founder
Kalle Lasn and his aide-de-camp Micah White, formulated their scheme
in June of 20 1 1 . Lasn chose the name on June 9, but was unable to pass it
along immediately, as White, a Berkeley resident, "had already lef for the
University of Californias Doe Library, where he spends his afernoons look­
ing for snippets of radical thought." So wrote Te New Yrker, adding that
it was "the point in his day when he leaves behind his electronic devices to
seek what he calls a ' burst of clarity. ' "
A it happens, Doe had been occupied by 600 antiprivatization protest­
ers the October before. We don't know if White was present for that burst;
we do kow he was present on November 20, 2009, when 40-odd people
occupied Berkeley's Wheeler Hall and engaged in a protracted, rainy stand­
of with hundreds of riot cops looking for blood and sometimes getting it.
We know because he wrote about it.
'' Open Letter to Students" ofers a clear sense of what White and
Adbusters did and did not grasp from that struggle. Clearly White got the
occupation part: "Srudents, I write this letter in celebration of your passion.
Te campus occupation movement is now a global phenomenon: from the
recent actions in California to last year's events in New York and the oc­
cupations in the UK to the almost 70 universities currently locked down in
protest in Austria and Germany."
Te letter continues, "In protesting against your 'absent fture,' the stu­
dent movement has the potential to spark a cultural insurrection against
consumer capitalism." Note the adjectives here: "cultural insurrection," "con­
sumer capitalism." Tese register not the commitments of the campus oc­
cupation movement but Adbusters' house politics, opening onto White's fnal
passage. "It is time to acknowledge that there is no going back-neither to
the days before climate change nor to the times when state governments were
fush with money." Tis is a clear material account, which ascends suddenly
into the purest idealism: "I calI on you, students of the ' frst world,' to shift
your struggle and link arms with us as we build a mental environment move­
ment capable of smashing corporations, downsizing consumer spending, and
building egalitarian communities," It cannot be surprising, given a program
of building mental environments, that the horizon of revolution will turn out
to be "downsizing consumer spending." j Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
Te letter ends with a rhetorical four­
ish: "Together, the fture is ours." Such
optimism is a far cry indeed from the
"absent fture" previously mentioned.
Nonetheless, it is evident enough that
some signifcant portion of the Adbusters
program and its account of the situa­
tion, and the tactic of occupation a a
response to economic and political crisis,
is drawn from this moment.
Many readers will recognize the
document that White would use with­
out quite citing, would borrow without
quite grasping, and which would ar­
ticulate the reason and rhetoric of the
NOTHING platform. "Communique
from an Absent Future: On the Termi­
nus of Student Life" had been circulat­
ing widely that fall (hosted digitally by
AK Press among others) . Among its top­
ics is the matter of demands: "Our task
in the current struggle will be to make
clear the contradiction between form
and content and to create the condi­
tions for the transcendence of reform­
ist demands and the implementation
of a truly communist content . . . . We
must constantly expose the incoherence
of demands for democratization and
transparency What good is it to have
the right to see how intolerable things
are, or to elect those who will screw us
over? We must leave behind the culture
of student activism, with its moralistic
mantras of nonviolence and its fxation
on single-issue causes. Te only success
with which we can be content is the ab­
olition of the capitalist mode of produc­
tion and the certain immiseration and
death which it promises for the twenty­
frst century."
Josh Clover • 97 •
"We must constantly
expose the incoherence
of demands for
democratization and
transparency. What
good is it to have
the right to see how
intolerable things are, or
to elect those who will
screw us over? We must
leave behind the culture
of student activism, with
its moralistic mantras
of nonviolence and its
fxation on single-issue
causes. The only success
with which we can be
content is the abolition
of the capitalist mode
of production and the
certain immiseration and
death which it promises
for the twenty-frst
• 98 • We Are Many
It then defnes the tactic of occupation as itself contrary to demands,
and thus logically intertwined with the refusal of demands (I take this to be
in fact an early formulation of what would become lOWS's answer to the
question asked over and over: "Te occupation is its own demand") .
Occupation will be a critical tactic in our struggle, but we
must resist the tendency to use it in a reformist way. The
different strategic uses of occupation became clear this
past January when students occupied a building at the
New School in New york • • • • While the student reformers
were focused on leaving the building with a tangible con­
cession from the administration, others shunned demands
entirely. They saw the point of occupation as the creation
of a momentary opening in capitalist time and space, a
rearrangement that sketched the contours of a new so­
ciety. We side with this anti-reformist position. While we
know these free zones will be partial and transitory, the
tensions they expose between the real and the possible
can push the struggle in a more radical direction.
We intend to employ this tactic until it becomes
Tis would be the f  of 2009's antiprogram. It was not clear what it
would look like but swiftly it came into focus. In the end, it would be far
larger than anyone expected, the largest wave of campus activism since the
Sixties. There would be a massive student, staf, and faculty walkout across
the UC system, several union strikes, teach-ins and teach-outs and hue and
cry. And occupations. One at Berkeley failed. Another, at Santa Cruz, was
an odd but brilliant success. Its slogan, circulated via handbill and banner
But this is not to say that the spirit of the communique held sway, or
simply transmigrated intact to Zuccotti Park. Obviously it did not. In some
sense the series of transfgurations beteen the antagonistic call of 2009
and the variegated response of 20 1 1 is entirely understandable via a clear­
headed account of what populism is, and how it must always turn away
from any hint of nihilism, much less political-economic eschatology.
But I think these concepts around "the future," or more accurately about
the possibilities that retain actuality within the present situation, are sig­
nifcant. Tey are also inseparable from the question of demands itself, a
question which is for me a decisive characteristic of the Occupy movement,
alongside the lived practice of mutual aid and care. Let me then set forth the
three logics as I understand them.
Joshua Cl over • 99 •
Te frst is a negative one. In this regime, the fomenting of a new
political hegemony allows an endless array of individual grievances, but
precludes any single demand to which everybody must submit, as its par­
ticulars might exclude some portion of the everybody hailed by the for­
mula of "the 99%. " Michael Levitin, managing editor of Te Occupied
"l Steet Joural, wrote in October, 20 1 1 , "Let's get something straight:
this movement has issued no demands . . . . As we wrote in the editorial
that appeared in the second edition of Te Occupied "l Street Joural on
Saturday: ' We are speaking to each other, and listening. Tis occupation
is frst about participation. ' "
Te second logic a rms that there is no one who could meet our de­
mands. Judith Butler has articulated this logic eloquently, drawing in turn
on Gayatri Spivak. It is this rej ection of demands that has generally been
adduced to the "theoretical wing" of Occupy:
But anyone who argues that demands must be capabl e
of bei ng satisfed assumes that there i s someone or some
existing instituti onal power to whom one coul d appeal to
have one's demands satisfed. Uni on negoti ati ons backed
by the threat of stri kes usual l y do have a l i st of demands
which, if satisfied, wi l l avert the stri ke, and i f not, wi l l
commence or prol ong a stri ke. But when a company, cor­
poration, or state is not consi dered a l egiti mate partner
for negoti ation, then it makes no sense to appeal to that
authority for a negotiated settl ement. I n fact, to appeal
to that authority to satisfy the demand woul d be one
way of attri buti ng l egitimacy to that authority.
Te third logic insists that the meeting of any demand worth making is
an impossibility within the present social arrangement. Tis may initially
seem to blur together with the previous logic-no one can meet our de­
mands, they can't be met-but is fnally quite distinct. It does not concern
itself with power ad political legitimacy, but with the conditions of pos­
sibility for the meeting of needs. It rests on the basic contradiction: the
lacks that are worth making demands about were produced by the current
political-economic order. It exists by producing these lacks, this immisera­
tion. It cannot stop doing this and continue to exist. Demanding an end to
immiseration would be tantamount to asking capital to abolish itself
Tese three logics can be schematized in a couple of diferent ways.
Tere are some terminological difculties here, and the schemas will re­
main fgural; they are meant to show resonances and relations more than
rigid structures.
• 1 00 • We Are Many
Te frst schema notes that these three logics come from three diferent
philosophical traditions: liberalism, post-structuralism, and Marxism. One
might continue by associating these analytic frames with political forms, al­
beit imperfectly: democracy, anarchism, communism (though here we must
allow a strong distinction between Soviet or PRC communism and the idea
of communization embraced in the "Communique") . I believe in particular
that this schema useflly limns the afnity between anarchist politics and
poststructuralist thought which has increasingly manifested among the re­
markable autodidacts and theorypunks of the west coast anarchist milieu
(and perhaps others, though I am not positioned to know either way) . It
is an afnity for the identity-problematizing thought of Butler and Hoc­
quenghem, but also for the Tiqqunist embrace of Foucault and Agamben,
for the rhetoric of the biopolitical and "forms of life. "
In a cavalier way, we could aso add that the disciplinary markers here
would be those of political science (the apologetics of liberal democracy) ,
ethics (which undergirds the "legitimacy in Butler's reasoning) , and eco­
nomics (said to be the "last determining instance" of Marxism) . Tis sche­
ma doesn't stand up to real scrutiny, as we would want the distinction of
political economy for the lattermost, and we would want in general to take
seriously the ambitious and sometimes tendentious debates of the last two
decades or so regarding the status of the political as such. I am happy to
leave this debate to Badiou, Ranciere,
izek, Esposito, Moreiras, and the
like. Tat is to say, the political as a purifed zone is now the province of
philosophers, j ust as economics is now the province of mathematicians and
fnanciers. Political economy barely registers, much less critiques thereof
Tis has turned out to be true in the Occupy movement as well; the third
logic, though demonstrably central to the Occupy movement's conceptual
core-the very one which Adbusters appropriated-now goes unremarked
and unrecognized in assessments of the political situation. Tis remains true
even as "anticapitalism" remains on everybody's lips.
Anticapitalism is by now only common sense; one scarcely need be a
Marxist to arrive at such a position. Perhaps the time has come to ask:
toward what end does one engage in such schematizing, such parsing of
various logics, when all parties have come to congruent if not identical
As I suggested before, it concerns the fture of the movement, if it has
any at all. But even if something else, like and unlike Occupy, is constituted
next in this global cascade of misery, militancy, and experiments in social
antagonism, the question of strategy and tactics will remain for us. Logistics
too, but that is another discussion.
Occupation is the tactic. Demandlessness is a strategy. Tere is some
general agreement on both. It is clear, in the "Communique" -j ust as in the
Argentine factories in 2001 , to choose
perhaps the most relevant corollary­
why this tactic and this strateg are mu­
tually constitutive rather than merely
yoked together. Tis, we might say, is
the distinctive feature of the analysis on
ofer: the conj unction itself the insis­
tence that objective conditions implied
NOTHING as indivisible tactic and
strateg. Tis generalizd itself more than
anybody foresaw, but the analysis which
bound the two halves of the slogan into a
unity did not survive tis generalization
in any meaningful way.
. a result of this dissolution, the
tactic and the strateg became divis­
ible, and each lost some fraction of its
material force. Tus we have seen some
slippage, some mutations, which we
cannot elide. Occupation has traversed
the threshold from inside to outside to
nowhere-from the buildings to the
squares to "Occupy Love" and "Occupy
Elections" -scarcely tactics at all. In de­
fense of this slippage we must concede
that such traversals have to do with quite
serious matters-most evidently, the
struggle to outmaneuver or at least avoid
violent physical and legal repression. Te
truncheon is one sort of materialism. But
its imperatives cannot fnally do away
with that other materialist analysis, with
the questions of production, circulation,
and reproduction. And these matters
will occasion what it is we occupy next.
Ad so I must apply one fnal sche­
ma, this time with my thumb on the
scale. I would suggest that the frst logic,
the Adbusters analysis that passes easily
through OWS, concerns little or noth­
ing of materiality-hence the language
Joshua Cl over • 1 01 •
The lacks that are
worth making demands
about were produced
by the current political­
economic order. It exists
by producing these
lacks, this immiseration.
It cannot stop doing this
and continue to exist.
Demanding an end to
immiseration would be
tantamount to asking
capital to abolish itself.
• 1 02 • We Are Many
of "cultural insurrection" or modulations in the intensity of "consumer cap­
italism." Tis logic functions in the realm of the idea, the informed choice.
Te shadow of this is cast most distressingly in the dual fascination with
reciting passages from the Bill of Rigts, and with such matters as Ctizns
United or Glass-Steagall: concerns which accede to the regime of legisla­
tion, of almost absolute indiference to the question of immiseration locally,
much less globally.
In turn, the second logic fnally avails itself of distributive solutions; it
returns again and again to the promise that maldistribution of everything
from food to time is a consequence of power itself, with its disciplinary re­
gimes and diferentiations-power which must therefore not be recognized
or legitimated. Once power is broken, goes the proposition, its artifcial
scarcities and imposed separations might be overcome.
Ad the third logic of demandlessness, predictably by now, seeks its truth
in production. Tis is the meaning of our "absent fture." Some authors of
the "Communique" would eventually argue that the span from 1 973 on­
ward was in fact a single variegated and extended crisis of value production,
periodically masked and deferred by various kinds of what Robert Brenner
calls ''sset Price Keynesianism"-and that 2007-2008 was the end of the
line for such strategies, and thus a "terminal crisis" in the terms of Giovanni
"Absent future" did not mean apocalypse, exactly. But it did mean, to
retain the theological tonality, that the debts imposed on or elected by all
beings in this era (human, corporate, and state beings) would not be re­
deemed in that airless vault of the future-that the current regime of value
production could promise no such redemption. And with the amount of
value being produced relative to population waning decisively, no redistrib­
utive approach could succeed-it would simply be an increasingly brutal
struggle over diminishing resources, not even zero-sum but negative-sum.
Tis is part of what is meant by a crisis of reproduction-the productive
forces no longer have need, nor ability, to reproduce a nonetheless increas­
ing population.
Tis brings me, via the future and the past, to the present. I do not think
there is any way out of this crisis for the global working and sub-waged
population that is not a fundamental reorganization of production. But
this opens onto the problem of the present structure of capitalism, and the
limits of the "Communique." It is with these that I should end.
As some of us have begun to understand, the failure of production can­
not be understood simply as a failure to produce value adequate for capital­
ism to continue along its course, in the classical Marxian account. What we
have seen in the last four decades is a decisive shift of production into the
sphere of circulation itself Indeed, unbeknownst to Hardt and Negri and
Joshua Clover • 1 03 •
many others, the much-ballyhooed rise of immaterial labor is not so much
a dematerialization as a departure from the factory foor of production via
a leap into circulation, toward the reduction of what David Harvey calls
Socially Necessary Turnover Time-be it Walmart supply chains, massive
development of communications networks, containerization, or vast de­
ployments of fnancia liquidity.
Tis cannot reverse the directionality of the value catastrophe; on that
we are agreed. But it does shif the terrain of antagonism, of direct and im­
mediate intervention which occupation both signaled and was. Ad in this
regard the slippage awa from the indoor occupation-for which the locus
classicus is always the clangorous industrial factory, with its greasy brick and
hufng smokestack-toward some other space of fows, is not a mistake,
but an intuition. Te occupation is elsewhere: in the spaces where capital
conveys itself ever more swifly through the circuits, drawing production
and circulation ever closer even as they press against the limits of space and
time. In that sense some of the mistakes of Occupy have in fact been incom­
plete inventions, unfnished thoughts-and I believe we are still thinking.
communism anarhism democrcy
political economy ethics political science