What is a Movement and How Do We Get One?

by

In response to the analysis of the Aufheben* Collective

[*not to be confused with the UK anti-state communist journal Aufheben, which we like]

What is a Movement & How Do We Get One?

I want to respond to some of the points made by the “Aufheben Collective” in their recently circulated analysis of the Oct. 24th statewide conference. [see below] I feel the need to do this not to argue with them as individuals – we will probably have those discussions face to face, over coffee or booze – but rather to counter several lines of thinking that I believe are both widespread and erroneous. For this reason, any time I address the attitudes of Aufheben, know that what I am really concerned with is the general attitudes represented by Aufheben’s analysis.

In general, the analysis is characteristic of the logic of creating a unilateral movement – a sort of “united front” – that resembles a campaign of a political party: centrally planned, rhetorically aligned, and claiming to represent the interests of those who are not involved. I would like to counterpose to this the vision of a truly open, democratic movement shaped by autonomous individuals and groups, in coordination insofar as it informs their actions but not claiming representational authority nor a false sense of “legitimacy.”

To begin, we have to look at the framework and thus the very ideology behind this convergence. We have to be very critical about these gatherings, the ends they claim to be organizing towards, and whom they claim to represent. For one thing, there are many, many active groups at UCSC that were not present, and I wonder what their reaction would have been to the charade we witnessed.

We need to be clear about who are our allies and who are not; what kind of organizing is positive, and what is negative. This is not to be divisive – all sectors can potentially play a role. But we cannot have overarching faith in the power of dialogue – indeed, the structural constraints imposed on the dialogical and decision-making processes in that space point to the essential shortcomings of such an approach. Neither can we ignore or blow off such conferences. I will of course keep participating in any way I can. But why must a movement, in order to grow, in order to “represent the interests of the working class,” in order to ultimately lead to not just one militant action, but sustained militant activity, continually glorify convergences that are fundamentally alienating and diversionary?

What Went Down at the Conference

The Aufheben Collective’s analysis claims that “the most aggressive organization set the agenda while the ultra-lefts were left to obsolescence. What was needed was a clear criticism of the process and an alternative revolutionary proposal.” Indeed that was needed, but of course, as mentioned in the same paragraph of the analysis, the structural and procedural constraints imposed by the “most aggressive organization” made this clear criticism effectively impossible. It is not at all true that the ultra-lefts (I kinda like this epithet, I think I’ll keep it…) “failed to participate in the conference,” nor that we “made only a few lone calls for action towards the end of the conference.” If it seemed that way from a different part of the room, that only highlights how effective the organizers were at silencing the type of criticism that Aufheben retrospectively calls for.

In reality, every attempt was made by members of the occupation and other proponents of an indefinite strike to voice our concerns. All of these attempts were forestalled and even turned against us by the bureaucratic/proceduralist/Stalinist blockade. At first we were just confused: are they really framing the vote in this way? Are they really denying us any time for debate, amendments, counterproposals, etc.? One man wanted the option of an indefinite strike to be on the table and began yelling it out. Some of us, however, tried to go a less disruptive route. Members of our faction repeatedly tried approaching the front of the room, where organizers intercepted them and told them to sit down. A group of four students went up hoping to speak, but when denied the microphone they simply requested that a friendly amendment be made to the “compromise”: they wanted the wording to be changed, from “statewide day of action,” to something more open-ended, say, “statewide action (beginning on X day).” This modification would not have changed the nature of the decision much, but it actually may have appeased many of those who were opposed to the day of action. The content would not have changed much, but the language would have been slightly less self-limiting. Still, this simple request was categorically denied by the facilitator who blocked the group from the mic. They could not propose it, and neither would he relay their proposal to the people who monopolized the right to speak. His message was clear: the only people allowed on the mic were those speaking either for or against the compromise – that is, those who fit within their framework. Anyone who had a problem with the framework itself would not be heard. After this final rejection of any avenue for criticism, is it surprising that we were reduced to “lone calls,” shouted above the facilitators, prompting them to belittle us as kindergarteners?

It may seem that I am just trying to absolve myself and those around me from blame, but the reason for picking apart Aufheben’s critique is to point out the fundamental contradictions behind their analysis and their strategy. They simultaneously blame the ultra-lefts for not uniting to the cause of the conference, and for not disrupting the conference when it took its inevitable turn. Likewise, they simultaneously decry the results, and to some extent the process, of the convergence, while at the same time glorifying the convergence model and touting this type of unity as the foremost goal of our organizational efforts. In reality, what we witnessed at the state-wide conference was not simply bad facilitating or poor time management, but rather something fundamental to the nature of any gathering that claims authority over an entire multifarious movement and claims to represent the entire working class – which, not surprisingly, was largely absent.

What do you mean “Political Potential of the Conference”?

“The only conceivable power of the conference lay in giving a statewide legitimacy to what would have otherwise been an isolated and radical proposal [for a general strike],” says Aufheben’s analysis. In that case, not only this conference but the convergence model itself is always already a failure and a diversion. It may be true that there is little other real power to the conference, but if it does wield this power of legitimization then its true nature as a force for diluting the struggle and building a false movement is revealed. What the organizers of the conference as well as the Aufheben Collective are seeking is a false state-wide legitimacy for a false state-wide movement.

They seek a unilateral movement that has some sort of central planning: “we will be working to point the movement in that direction [towards a strike].” But movements do not get “pointed in the right direction” by the agency of wise organizers. Maybe the campaigns of hierarchical political parties do, but not true movements. Movements take shape and direction from a multiplicity of contributing factors, including the actions of individuals and collectives. We cannot find some steering wheel for the movement and steer everyone in a particular direction. Indeed, the desire to do so is vanguardist and manipulative. We can only make sure that what action we take provides an impulse in the direction we wish to see the movement, well, move. That is, as individuals and autonomous groups, we can contribute what we can, how we can. This is not to disregard coordination or planning. If there is potential in conferences such as the one on the 24th, it is the potential for coordination, dialogue, networking, and sharing of ideas. But we do not do these things in order to control the movement; they simply serve to help inform our actions as autonomous individuals and groups.

Time Constraints

The facilitators of the conference used the shortage of time to justify their anti-democratic measures to get the “compromise” decided upon before the end of the conference. But where did this sense of urgency come from? Why must we all “agree,” right here and right now, on the nature and date of an action that’s 5 months from now? These imagined time constraints were accepted uncritically by Aufheben’s analysis, as if the lack of time contributed to the “mistakes” made by the facilitators. However, this false sense of urgency, whether consciously or not, had a function in pushing through the proposal of a small faction in that space. We must counterpose to this logic a genuine willingness for dialogue and democratic decision-making, which implies not just better facilitation but a fundamentally different approach. If there really is not enough time in spaces like the Berkeley convergence to have genuine exchanges of ideas, respectful, democratic processes, and finally a legitimate agreement, it must be the final decision that is sacrificed, not the respect, the dialogue, or the democracy.

The Convergence Model

A single day of action will not bring any change. Just about all experienced organizers know this, including the members of the Aufheben Collective. But the larger issue is that the process that led to the decision at the conference was manipulative; it co-opted the powerful organizing energy that was palpable in the conference. It was as if getting everyone to “agree” was more important than the nature of the action itself. This kind of organizing is dangerous and counterproductive.

The Aufheben collective relies on an idealization of what can and should happen at conferences: “We are supposed to hear the various perspectives, and the folks with the most coherent arguments, who are able to defend their position the best, will receive the most support. This completely failed on the 24th, instead conference organizers substituted an enforced liberal bourgeois politic that blocked revolutionary democracy, not to mention open debate.” The idealization that they contrast with the event relies on the same logic of liberalism that proclaims parliamentary proceduralism to be somehow democratic. Saying that the good, positive potential of the conference was subverted by an “enforced liberal bourgeois politic” is equivalent to saying that the noble aims of the US Senate are subverted by so many corrupt politicians.

Aufheben relies on the assumption that this type of convergence model, which privileges results over actual solidarity, which has this constant false rhetoric of the time constraints, which claims to represent and take authority for the interests of the people of California – in short, which mirrors the bureaucratic, authoritarian, proceduralist form of everything that supposedly resist – is what we should still be pushing for, albeit in modified form. Rather than seeing the alienating, disempowering content inherent in this form, they go on believing that it is the golden key to movement-building, and actually the cure for the alienation and disempowerment of the majority of the oppressed.

For Aufheben, these gatherings become ends in themselves, or at least the primary strategic goals – the only measure of the strength of a movement. By this logic, independent organization and action only serve a purpose insofar as they further the goals set by the convergences, or further the convergences as ends in themselves. I would like to invert this logic and declare that convergences only serve a purpose insofar as they further independent organization and action. I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that “Militants who want to advance the struggle towards actually stopping the attacks against the entire working class need to organize independently . . . ” but not with the restrictive conclusion to the sentence, “. . . [in order] to be ready for the next conference.”

How do Movements Grow?

The members of Aufheben have effectively divorced themselves from all actions being taken by the liberal reformists and from the ultra- lefts, preferring to play an entirely critical role. Much of the critique has been intelligent and to the point, but this alone does not imply that there is anything constructive about it. When asked what actions they are taking (or would take), if the occupations and other proposed actions are so counter-productive, the only answer I have heard from these comrades is “building towards the statewide convergence.” Their approach to movement-building seems to be a simplistic linear progression model in which we start by “talking to people,” with the end goal of getting as many as possible to a conference; next, organize inclusive, inspiring, non-radical demonstrations that the masses of uneducated students can understand; and finally, somewhere down the line, when there is enough momentum, take radical actions that will actually get shit done.

This is not the model we need. Those of us who were more involved with the GSC occupation know that this linear model is not the only way, nor the best way, to build a movement. Several aspects of the organizational potential of this supposedly alienating action were unprecedented: (1) the amount of interest and discussion that was prompted by the GSC occupation; (2) the number of people who came into the space for open meetings, including those who had never been part of any movement; (3) the amount of literature – both on the internet and in flier and pamphlet form – that was produced by the occupiers and their allies; and (4) the extent to which previously apathetic, uninvolved students actually wanted to read this literature. If we were to start the year by simply putting up posters and trying to hand out communiqués in the plaza, the average students’ interest and willingness to engage in dialogue – two major measures of their “organizability” – would have been substantially lower, if at all existent. Thus I reject the opposition between “isolated radical action” and movement-building that Aufheben relies on in their criticism of the ultra-lefts. I reject the opposition between sexy, spectacular action, and the groundwork of talking to workers, handing out literature, etc. that drives any movement. There is a distinction, of course, and an important one. However, the one does not negate the other, nor must there be a temporal divide between them. Rather, each must play a role in expanding and promoting the other. Just as the groundwork sets the stage for radical actions, the radical actions are absolutely necessary in order to have a presence – for there to even be a real movement to join. Therefore, even by the logic of Aufheben Collective and many other elements, which places supreme importance on building a visible movement, judging all action by the extent to which it achieves this – rather than, say, by its direct, material effects – it is a mistake to write off the actions of the ultra-lefts as mere adventurism that is “the strength of liberalism.” It is a mistake to tout the general assemblies and convergences as the way to build a movement. Maybe it is this linear progressionist and decidedly vanguardist strategy which should be considered the strength of liberalism.

Conclusion

Seeking statewide “legitimacy” for a radical action before the movement has been radicalized is simply unrealistic. The students, faculty, and, perhaps most importantly, the workers of California, will not be radicalized by attending a conference – personally, if anything this conference made me want to drop out of the movement. What is more likely to generate a movement and radicalize its participants is immediate action. Again, conferences certainly play a role – they are necessary for networking, for dialogue, and, as the movement becomes more advanced, for coordinating real state-wide radical action (as opposed to pseudo-radical, spectacular action). But they are not the unitary starting-point from which a movement will spring.

Of course, it is extremely important to critique the particular actions taken by the occupiers in terms of the extent to which they have inspired action, inspired people to join a movement, and radicalized people within the movement. The occupations could have done much better in these regards, and in fact most of us who have been involved have been constantly trying to determine how we might do better with the next action. However, this criticism is useful only when it suggests or at least helps others to imagine ideas for better actions. When these are the only concrete actions currently being taken, a wholesale rejection of them is effectively a rejection of action.

—Original Message—
October 24th Mobilizing Conference: Analysis & Next Steps
Aufheben Collective

I. The State of the Movement
II. The Potential of the Conference
III. Political Meaning of the Conference
IV. Democratic Processes at the Conference
V. Next Steps for the Movement

I. The State of the Movement

Faced with cuts, tuition hikes, and layoffs on an unprecedented scale,
student action erupted across the state, in some places on the first
day of classes. Sept. 24th saw a rally and protest of 5000 students
and workers at UC Berkeley; to the south, a week-long occupation began
at UC Santa Cruz; and hundreds protested at UC’s and CSU’s across the
state. The day of action had participation from UCSA, AAUP, CUE, UPTE,
AFSCME, and AFT, to name a few. In Berkeley, a 500 person General
Assembly following the rally made the call for a Statewide Mobilizing
Conference on Oct. 24. It became immediately clear what the challenge
of the conference would be. After the call for the conference was
made, there was an adventurist attempt to undemocratically force the
General Assembly into an occupation of the building, effectively
ending the Assembly. It was this split between isolated radical
actions on the one hand, and mass liberal protests on the other, which
thus far characterizes the budget cuts movement and defines the
challenge of militant revolutionaries in our era.

How do we build mass radical action? The cuts are taking different
forms in each sector and at each workplace, but they are all effects
of the current organizing processes of capital. The ruling class is
seeking to resolve its crisis by reversing the gains of the working
class built over the last 80 years. Thus it will require mass
organization of the working class to defend itself against these
attacks. Furthermore, this organization will have to build the
independent power of the working class; if it remains subordinated to
the established student governments and union bureaucrats’ liberal
politics, we can only hope to mitigate the worst of the attacks, but
never stop them.

Our critique of the ultra-left adventurists must be equally strong.
Isolated radical actions look sexy, and at their best they can provide
a space for further organizing and an example that gets a few people
involved, but they also often alienate people from the struggle. Much
of the occupation organizing has been dominated by bourgeois
individualist ideology, lacks a pedagogical approach capable of
advancing struggle, and fails to provide the type of democratic,
inclusive spaces that can build a mass movement capable of challenging
capital. It seems built largely out of university classroom settings;
reflected in abstracted ideas about action, an alienated,
Left-Hegelian existential orientation, and a lack of clear
understanding with regards to working class life and struggle.

We have to look at the movement’s current failures dialectically. The
failures of adventurism are the strengths of liberalism, and vice
versa. What does a dialectical synthesis of this situation look like?
The masses of workers are able to see that privatization is
occurring, and can relate to an anti-privatization movement, but these
liberal movements lack the correct analysis to move towards the actual
confrontation of capital through independent working class power. The
ultra-left occupationists understand the importance of radical action,
but fail to articulate this understanding in a way that is accessible
to the most workers, let alone organize a meeting that is open to
masses of working people. Thus the synthetic demand is for an open
democratic movement, a movement whose language and rhetoric is
accessible and clear to the masses of working people, yet a movement
with a clear understanding of the nature of the budget cuts, a
movement that recognizes from the outset the necessity of independent
working class organization and power to confront directly the power
and organization of capital. Thus revolutionary militants, and anyone
else who wants to fight against the budget cuts and win, are building
a movement for a general strike against the cuts.

II. The Potential of the Conference

The Oct. 24th Conference represented a real potential for a clean
break from the ongoing failure to build a radical movement. Many
conference organizers expressed that the goal of the conference was to
unite the movement around a general strike to shut down public
education this spring. We, like many others, were pressing for the
conference to call for the building of a general strike movement to
shut down all public education, with the goal of expanding into all
public sectors. Though this was a conference on public education, the
inclusion of the private sector is critical. The budget cuts can only
be stopped by unity in militant action widespread across the working
class, and to pit education against other public sector workers is to
fold to the ruling class’s strategy of divide and conquer.

Organizing for a general strike is not about getting people to not
work, instead it is organizing people to work- to organize more people
who will organize, etc. A strike can only increase its power by
getting as many people in as many sectors as possible to strike. It is
this orientation, where our focus is centered constantly on expanding
the power of the working class to consciously confront capital, that
is the only orientation capable of stopping the attacks of the budget
cuts. We have to start now to promote this strategy. If we’re not
working to expand the movement for a general strike, then we’re merely
stalling, tailing to the liberal wing of the movement.
Simultaneously, we have to recognize that if we called a general
strike for tomorrow, it would be next to useless, we need to organize
first. This then, was the potential of the conference- to orient
organizers from across the state around this necessity, to build as
broad a consensus as possible on the need for a general strike.

We should be careful not to overestimate the potential of the
conference. Clearly it was an impressive organizing feat for a month’s
time, and speaks to the amount of energy of the masses for action.
However, it was still nothing more than a step. There was fairly
minimal participation from K-12 and Community Colleges, and not a
whole lot more from CSU’s. The conference was dominated by students,
with service workers being almost absent. The conference had
endorsement from many of the unions, but most of the union
participation was through the organizers and a few active members.
Let’s be real- the conference was largely a meeting of Bay Area
leftists, with a few exceptions. We know that union bureaucrats and
student governments will be meeting on their own statewide levels to
decide on their strategy. This reality is important in our evaluation
of the conference. Since the conference did not really have mass
participation, it was all the more critical that we use the time we
had to orient ourselves, as the left wing of the movement, around the
necessity of a general strike.

III. Political Meaning of the Conference

Unfortunately, this failed to occur. Instead of a call for a strike a
“compromise proposal” was passed. This proposal calls for a “United
Day of Action/ Strike- including but not limited to strikes, rallies,
walk-outs, informational pickets, or a March on Sacramento, for March
4.” This statement leaves us oriented around no political goal. The
phrase “Day of Action/ Strike” is merely a form devoid of political
content. It might as well be phrased, “Strike! Or Don’t Strike! On May
4th! All out for whichever you like!”

The power of a strike lies in its Manichaen nature- you are either on
strike, or a scab. In the context of building a movement that can
actually stop the cuts, the goal of calling for a strike is to give
material, class-conscious political meaning to what is otherwise a
liberal, ideological action. By calling for a strike, we create a
conflict between action that fails to incorporate anti-capitalist
analysis and action that directly confronts the current processes of
capital by building independent working class power. The actions of
Sept. 24th (except the occupation) received support from the very
people implementing the cuts. Administrators and legislators told us,
“We’re so glad you want to get involved! We’d love to get your input.
Why don’t you start writing letters and lobbying, or come to the
Regents meeting and express your discontent.” It’s easy for a
bourgeois administrator to just say “I’m in solidarity with the day of
action,” and thus relieve his conscience, but if you’re in solidarity
with a strike it means something- you don’t work. The powerful,
liberal organizations, like UCSA and other student governments, or the
union bureaucracies, or the CalPIRG and non-profit groups are all
going to do their best to fit any and all resentment to the budget
cuts into respectable channels that won’t build independent working
class power. If the cuts are to be stopped it’s imperative that we,
the left-wing of the movement, make an intervention against the
dominant liberal strategy, providing a clear alternative as soon as
possible, at the outset of the movement.

Proponents of the compromise proposal relied on a few political
arguments against the strike. One argument focused on “the freedom of
the schools to decide,” others on the “pretentious” nature of calling
for a strike, still more encouraged us to “be realistic” about our
organizational capacity.

If one thing is pretentious and unrealistic it’s the idea that this
conference had the power to impinge on anyone’s freedom. As if there
was some sort of Stalinist bureaucracy that would be visiting
different schools, executing dissidents for failing to organize a
strike properly. No, the only conceivable power of the conference lay
in giving a statewide legitimacy to what would have otherwise been an
isolated and radical proposal. The UC Student Association could have
called for a day of action. No one had the intention or capacity to
impede on any school’s freedom to do whatever they wanted. What we had and lost was the potential to orient organizers towards the political
goals that actually have the capacity to challenge capital.

Solidarity does not happen spontaneously. It’s quite true that some
workers may find it pretentious of a body that was largely students to
call for a strike. However, it’s thoroughly reactionary to respond to
that by not calling a strike in order to not be seen as pretentious by
anyone. The only way to build solidarity is by doing the work. That
means proving in the course of struggle that we are committed to our
ideas, engaging in open and honest conversation about what we think
needs to happen, how we can make it happen, and participating in a
collective manner when it does happen. Organizers who are dedicated to
a strike will not be returning to schools and refusing to work with
anyone who’s not down, but we will be working to point the movement in that direction. Let me pose a question: which renders student
organizers more pretentious- returning to campus oriented around a
radical strategy that has the potential to actually stop the cuts, or
returning to campus with a strategy that fails to confront the roots
of the crisis (capital), organizing workers into the same actions that
have failed so far to build independent working class power?

It’s absolutely true that we don’t have the organizational capacity to
launch a general strike tomorrow, as was suggested by one conference
attendee. However, the only way to build that organizational capacity
is to orient ourselves from the beginning around the need for militant
action that explicitly confronts the current organization of capital.
If we realistically want to stop the budget cuts, it starts with
correct strategy and analysis.

IV. Democratic Processes at the Conference

So what happened? How did such weak arguments prevail? They certainly
were not the consensus of the conference participants. The democratic
will of the conference was sidestepped by the conference organizers.
This process occurred in more ways then one, and surely some of them
were unconscious or uncontrollable, but some of them were clearly
rooted in incorrect political orientation on the part of the
organizers. The constant two minute cap on speaking stopped anyone
from presenting a clear and analytically complex proposal. Every
speaker we did hear was then translated based on the whims of the
typist, who was able to reduce much contextualization of action into,
“Capitalism Sucks.” There was no mechanism to stop the same proposals
being repeated again and again, wasting valuable time that could have
been spent on actual discussion. It’s tough to organize discussion
between 500 folks, but that’s why we had the break-outs, right?
Unfortunately it was there that democracy really started to break
down.

In the UC break-out group the facilitator repeatedly made important
political decisions about where time was best spent masked as
facilitation decisions. The majority of the time was spent discussing
UC specific action, limiting the time for the crucial point of how the
UC should relate to the larger movement. The facilitator made a
personal decision that we should spend time organizing an action at
the UC regents meeting, when there are already statewide discussions
on that point, wasting the valuable moments we had to talk about how
we related to the organizers from other sectors. No time at all was
given to actually discussing different courses of action, which might
have forged real unity through shared analysis. Instead time was spent
laundry-listing tactics abstracted from struggle, so that anyone could
work with anyone else on things they already agreed were good ideas.
Here, as at other points, the conference organizers failed to create a
space that was conducive to actually advancing the struggle, because
they were too focused on building a false unity of, “respect for
whatever anyone else is doing”, regardless of whether it hurts or
helps the movement.

The CSU break-out group, on the other hand, had a decisive vote for a
state wide proposal. It called, by 66 votes to 20, for a general
strike of the public service sector, (as opposed to a March on
Sacramento, the only other proposal presented) with the slogan “No
Cuts/ No War”– connecting the imperialist invasions abroad to the
privatization at home through their shared roots in the accumulation
of capital by the ruling class. In the K-12 break-out, a clear
majority voted for a one day strike. The Community College breakout
group did not come to a consensus on a proposal. Yet it was the UC
break-out, the sector most divorced from the working class, where
there was no actual discussion of the political meaning of any
tactics, which played the largest role in producing the final
“compromise proposal”. UC proposals for state action were nothing more
than the random ideas of things that might be cool. Yet when we
returned from the break-out groups to the main hall, there was no
report-back from break-outs, so no one was aware that half the
conference participants had already made a clear call for specific
militant actions. Instead we were given a “compromise” proposal, which
compromised the UC’s brainstorming session with the other two groups’
militant proposals.

This type of compromise was characteristic of the entire conference.
At many points, the priority was on making space for as many different
viewpoints as possible to be represented, instead of on the political
content of any proposal. It reeks of the same ideology as liberal
multi-culturalism, where the political meaning of racism and
white-supremacy is sidestepped by having many different ethnicities in
the same room. This was especially true of the final compromise
proposal. It was here that a non-transparent, non-democratic, even
authoritarian mis-representation of the political content of the
conference thus far was pushed onto the participants by the
organizers.

In the most important decision of the day, conference organizers
framed the decision in a clearly biased manner that attempted to
staunch real political debate. We were forced to chose between a
compromise ( Who doesn’t want compromise?), or the apparently arduous,
pointless process of, “counterposing every single proposal against one
another.” This attempt to silence discussion was made almost
ridiculous by the fact that at first we couldn’t even see the
different proposals we were supposed to be counterposing. No matter
who you are, you have to admit this was something new. When you lay
out proposals in a meeting, you expect to be allowed to vote on them
later. Instead the conference organizers made the participants vote on
whether they wanted to vote on the proposals. And they attempted to do
it without even having debate on the issue at all! It’s true that
there were serious time constraints by the time it came to voting,
(due to the waste of time earlier in the day) but it wouldn’t have
taken much time at all to vote on the proposals, since most of them
(such as jogging in Sacramento) had very little support. This is just
basic parliamentary procedure.

The point of a general assembly is to provide a forum where different
political stances can be aired and openly debated. We are supposed to
hear the various perspectives, and the folks with the most coherent
arguments, who are able to defend their position the best, will
receive the most support. This completely failed on the 24th, instead
conference organizers substituted an enforced liberal bourgeois
politic that blocked revolutionary democracy, not to mention open
debate.

However, the criticism needs to be spread around a little. Not once
was this critique, in fact any coherent criticism of the decision
making process or the control of time by organizers, aired from the
floor. In fact, the ultra-lefts, the occupationists, made only a few
lone calls for action towards the end of the conference. For the most
part, the ultra-lefts failed to participate in the conference,
preferring to complain about and look down upon it instead.
Furthermore, they neither built nor advocated for any independent
organizational framework but instead kept faith in the possibility of
spontaneous coalescence. This approach conveniently requires no
efforts at organizing but cannot produce the kind of solidarity and
experience required to launch mass attacks against capital and the
state. In that vacuum, those with the most aggressive organization set
the agenda while the ultra-lefts were left to obsolescence. What was
needed was a clear criticism of the process and an alternative
revolutionary proposal. The left as a whole found itself sorely
lacking.

V. Next Steps for the Movement

Again we must ask ourselves the question- what is to be done? Clearly
we keep organizing. Those of us who came together to with the idea of
mobilizing towards more militant action should bear in mind that the
true democratic vision of the conference was with us. The same action
is necessary regardless of the false compromise foisted upon us. But
as we look toward the coming year, and the next conference in LA, we
have some new things to think about.

To start with, for the February conference, we must look at some of
the failed procedures of this recent debacle. These lessons are
especially crucial, since we now face the problem of deciding on
demands among a hopefully even larger movement. First- as many
proposals as possible need to be prepared and sent to organizers ahead
of time, so that we can spend less time presenting proposals and more
time debating them. Second, we need at least some time where people
have more than two minutes to speak if we’re ever going to hear a real
discussion. Most importantly, break-out groups are an important tactic
for dealing with big groups, but only if the decisions and ideas we
come up with in small groups are presented to the whole group for
honest debate.

What would have happened if, in the brief moments that were forced
open for discussion before the final vote, this analysis had been
presented? The course of the final hour of the conference might have
been very different. Instead the few two minute slots were filled by
little more than expressions of justifiable anger at the course of
events. When we needed a clear refutation of the arguments and tactics
of “compromise”, all we had was outrage. It’s understandable- how
could we have known we needed to check in on the status of every
break-out group during lunch in order to be prepared for the vote? But
now we must learn from this lesson. Militants who want to advance the
struggle towards actually stopping the attacks against the entire
working class need to organize independently to be ready for the next
conference. If we get our act together, we can stand up when the clock
is ticking and make a real difference.
Armed with this analysis- the next steps are clear-
• Join the coordinating committee for the February conference- we need
some new leadership.
• Set up independent networks so that those of us devoted to working
class power can collectively decide on analysis and interventions.
• Organize your schools and communities for strikes. In the course of
your organizing, all our decisions must be formed by the question,
“What is the best strategy for building independent working class
power?”

Lastly, militant class-conscious organizers need to be critical as
ever of the ways in which the attempts to dilute the struggle can
easily come masked in false unity, false democracy, and false realism.

Solidarity Forever!

5 Responses to “What is a Movement and How Do We Get One?”

  1. community college student Says:

    Thank you for posting both the analysis and the critique. I learned from both, and both gave me new questions to ponder and discuss with those I’m organizing alongside.

  2. Billie Martin Says:

    I’m just so into being called a Left-Hegelian by an outfit called Aufheben, y’know?

  3. Gerrard Says:

    hey I agree with most of your criticism of Aufhaben. I also agree with most of Aufhaben’s criticism of the conference. You are right about criticizing the time constraints and your emphasis on real movement building. But I do have to say that there are moments when the direction of an incipient movement can be changed one way or the other with a direct and precise intervention in an event like the 10/24 conference. The Leninists manner of “seizing power” is bullshit but there is a sense in which opportunities must be seized. The ideas of general strikes and occupations are in the air right now, with a lot of people starting to consider them as good tactics. We need to be able to make the argument for these things at every opportunity, of which the 10/24 conference was one. Anyway thanks for your very thoughtful criticism. I’m down with SUP at SFSU. See you on the streets.

    • caitlin manning Says:

      I agree with what I think you are saying. During Oct. 24th, at the CSU breakout, a couple of interventions were all that was needed to change the tenor and direction of the meeting, which began with a proposal by a moderator to get “reports” from unions and other organizations.
      In general, I feel that there are many opportunities to present views and deepen understanding and promote participatory, anti-capitalist ideas and action, and we need to learn how to seize the moments to invite people to think and act radically.
      We need to work on articulating in public (not just on the internet) and putting out there positive alternatives that can be acted on now.
      Caitlin

  4. Recording Surface :: SWP as universal condition :: November :: 2009 Says:

    […] criticism of democratic and consensus models of movement. The Occupy California blog’s report on the October statewide conference shows clearly the ways in which some groups use deliberative […]

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