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The role of anarchists in Occupy

Mark Bergfeld
Queen Mary University of London School of Business and Management

mdbergfeld[at]gmail.com www.mdbergfeld.com

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest - Marxism Matters?

Occupy as an arena of class struggle


Barkers notion of social movement as a mediation of class struggle (Barker, 2011; Barker 2013) Different actors contend with one another, seek to influence the direction and make sense of strategy Epitomised by struggle within Occupy: conduit for Obamas re-election(?), left-wing Tea Party (?), revolutionary party in the making (Dean, 2012) Movements thus always heterogenous networks, always in flux and ever-changing

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

Idea(l)s in practice
but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. (Marx, 1844)

Ideas can either further or inhibit the development of a social movement (i.e. unity of cause between environment and labour - Teamsters & Turtles in Seattle 1999) Different actors (nodes in the network) hold different ideas which they seek to test against reality (Occupy Oakland General Strike) Ideas cross-fertilise in the course of a movement (Occupy as an American idea, Graeber, 2011, Graeber, 2012)
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

From my own experience


Participated in COP-15 mobilisations, UK student movement, solidarity demos outside Spanish embassy, and Occupy LSX Encountered a common sense anti-authoritarianism or anarchism actvists favoured informal politics as opposed to formal politics Notions of leaderlessness, decentralised and horizontalism dominant inside movement and activist circles The reasons why people became activists and what they expected from being an activist had changed
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

One, two, many anarchisms

By 2001 [] a new, open-ended pragmatic anarchism was emerging as the spiritual centre of the revolutionary left" (Graeber, 2012: 425)
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

Who are the anarchists?


Difference between small-a anarchists and capital-A Anarchists (Graeber, 2002) anarchists draw upon the student revolts of 1960s, spontaneist groups of the 1970s, and the German Autonomen Draw heavily on the uprising of the inidigneous peoples of Chiapas Mexico, their democratic practices and the uprising of the EZLN Most importantly have imported movement-practices from the Global South, and in particular, Latin America (Sitrin & Azzellini, 2012)
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

What did they do this time?

Photo from Toronto G20 demonstration

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

Did we only end up with this?

Source: http://digitalpolitico.net/2011/11/02/i-hateto-copy-guido-fawkes-but/

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

Or this?

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

What role they played


Provide their infrastructure (i.e. soup kitchens) to Occupy as a whole (Bray, 2013; Khatib et al 2012) Use previous movement-knowledge to advance movement (rf to Seattle, 1999; PGA; WSF) Create a culture of encounter and horizontalism which allowed people to participate who experience a life without democracy (rf. Sitrin & Azzellini, 2012) Provide an ethico-political framework for the movement through prefigurative politics Created movement-practices and forms of communication which diffuse (Della Porta, 2005) and anti-systemic (Wallerstein & Arrighi, 1997) in form (rather than content); Graeber calls this contaminationism
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

The function of the anarchist


Difference between role and function important theoretically adopted vanguard function (Nunes, 2013) similar to Gustav Landauer as elaborated by (Swain, 2013). This can be taken up by a number of actors in social movements. Characterised by those taking initiatives (rf. Bray, 2013; Graeber, 2012) As the vanishing mediator (Dean, 2012) they allowed people to enter the movement until their ideas clashed with the scale, size of movement and was not able to provide further impetus Popularisers of anti-capitalism and class politics Leaders (Fox Piven, 2012) - can rest in collective groups as well as individuals; can be formalised or informal; manifests itself in new ways; Leaderfull (Occupy Research Collective 2012); "There are no leaders (or, more radically, everyone is a leader)." (Williams, 19)
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

The turn in anarchism


"Anarcho-populism is the dominant ideology in contemporary protest movements. It is a form of mass anarchism, or of libertarian populism, in which political traditions apparently at odds with one another come together in contradictory ways. This development can be understood as a consequence of the current situation of economic and political crisis, in which traditional anarchist and anti-statist themes are capable of resonating with sectors of the population well beyond its traditional heartlands. At the time of the NSA scandal and of the politics of austerity, being against the State is no longer an identitarian declaration that only befits the mouths of dishevelled drop-outs hanging out in squats and communes, but it is a persuasion that wide sectors of the population can at the very least relate to. (Gerbaudo, 2013)

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

Conclusion
Culture of encounter creates initial opportunities (new activist culture) but also a strategic impasse for movements (demandlessness, rolling jubilee etc) There is a valuable shift: no insistence on ideological purity. Instead translated anarchy (Bray, 2013) or become pragmatic anarchists (Harvey in Khatib et al, 2012) work with faith groups, political parties, trade unions. Already saw that during COP-15 and discussions on diagonalism (Mueller, 2010) Problem with popular agency (due to the role-function problem) needs to be resolved - in theory but also in practice as Occupy Oakland showed with the General Strike on November 2, 2011
MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?

The End
For full bibliography please e-mail mdbergfeld[at]gmail.com For review essay on Graebers The Democracy Project and Khatib et al.s We Are Many check Contention Journal http://bit.ly/1eyRgav For other writings please visit www.mdbergfeld.com

MeCCSA Social Movements Network Conference Generations of Protest Marxism Matters?