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Red Baiting at Occupy Ottawa

A recent statement from the University Ottawa Marxist Students Association (uOMSA) and the Revolutionary Party of Canada's Ottawa branch (PCR-RCP Ottawa) has revealed that the #occupy site in Ottawa represents, perhaps, the political nadir of the "Occupy Everything" movement.  Here we have a group that involved itself, concretely and thoroughly, in the occupy movement of their city and tried to use this involvement to not only serve the people but to push for a more revolutionary agenda.  In the past I have spoken of the need to openly organize as communists in these spaces and the possible potential these spaces permit when it comes to radical organizing.  Although I think this statement holds as a general axiom, I believe it is also true that, due to the very nature of this occupy movement, there will be sites and spaces in various cities that, due to class composition and a willful liberal mindset amongst those involved, are politically bankrupt.

And yet the situation in Occupy Ottawa, though not identical to the situation in Toronto for example, perhaps demonstrates the logical limits of the movement as a whole.  That is, while the occupy sites may in fact be (judged on a city to city basis) spaces where radical organizing is possible, this movement by itself cannot be revolutionary and may in fact, as judged by the report from Ottawa, become rather counter-revolutionary.  From all appearances it seems as if the [non]organizers of Occupy Ottawa are quite pleased with their red-baiting, imagining that this is some sort of badge of honour in the occupy movement, and some of them have even, on the facebook string, pointed out that they wanted to push the communists out because they do not want communism associated, in any way, shape or form, with "their" movement.

Red-baiting has always been a counter-revolutionary tactic, divisive and ultimately pro-capitalist.  It isolates activists, smothers attempts at radicality, silences debate, and reifies capitalist business as usual.  Reactionaries consciously use red-baiting and it is rather telling, if not extremely disheartening, that the Ottawa #occupy representatives used the same tactic.

What this demonstrates, though, is that the movement's extremely nebulous character may often permit the default common-sense liberal thinking to become an a priori organizing principle, just as the supposed "leaderless" [non]structure allows people who come from positions of privilege (and whose consciousness is thoroughly petty bourgeois and/or liberal) to become informal organizers.  Furthermore, the fact that it is now becoming extremely evident in the US movement that communist groups––even those who control information and organizational committees––are being utterly blanquist in their organizational approach, perhaps imagining that the movement will create revolutionary structures and consciousness out of thin air, anti-communism and red-baiting will always be a possibility.  In Ottawa organizational efforts were short-circuited by the movement's anti-communist [non]leaders; elsewhere, communists are refusing to organize beyond organizing a banal "occupy" consciousness––even those communists who are the [non]leaders.

My problem with some of the over-excited thinking regarding this movement is that those of us who are anti-capitalists tend to leave our brains behind when we enter these spaces.  This movement that apparently lacks demands does have a demand, presupposed and sublimated, and that demand––due to the ideology expressed, the movement's main slogans, the actions of the [non]leaders––is simply a demand for a kinder capitalism.  The comrades in Ottawa understood that it was important to be involved but, because they didn't want to represent the politics actually expressed (in even the act of supposed "non-expression") by the movement, chose to involve themselves in committees that would serve the people rather than become leaders––they were interested in organizing for something beyond the occupy movement rather than "taking it over."  Ironically, they were accused of the latter… So in their space it was impossible to organize, even if it was done honestly and without any attempt to "control" or "divide" the movement, and the movement's invisible committee went out of their way to be anti-communist.  Even more ironic is that the nebulous pseudo-anarchism of this movement usually professes to despise communism because of authoritarianism, social planning, and ideological divisiveness and yet, judged by the report (which has not been denied by the Ottawa organizers but actually defended) cited above, the pseudo-anarchists acted as divisive authoritarians who went so far as to social plan where the "maoists" should be able to have their tent.

All of this is to say that we are not dealing with a revolutionary movement and that honest anti-capitalists need to accept that this is a fact.  Nor will this movement become revolutionary if we continue to tail, hide our principles, and imagine that everyone involved is "the proletariat" (they're not, do some social investigation) who will magically form a revolutionary party on their own (they won't, just examine historical precedent) without honest agitation.  The thing is, if left to follow its own logic, this movement can easily become, wherever it is found, as it became in Ottawa.


  1. Radical Liberalism.

  2. This was such a weird document (not your post, the ottawa thing). First off, i can't imagine any of the communist, anarchist, or anarcho-commie groups I've associated with behaving in such a manner. (although its true I don't associate with the IS or socialist action or anarcho-pacifists and maybe they would do that). I really think they behaved in an excessively pacifist way to this provocation. They don't even name names in their denunciation, which i find particularly weird. How can we protect ourselves from this guy in Toronto? Isn't the violence of a blood soaked towel greater than the 'violence' of naming names?

    At occupy Toronto, we've managed to defeat red-baiting by having lots of commies in camp, we don't even always know who each other are, but make arguments like "For some people being angry is an important part of their politics" and "this is a diverse space that includes zietgiesters, communists and even libertarians and to censor politics with anti-oppression wording is not what this movement is about".

    On the other hand, i respect the rights of the Ottawa commies to leave when they are clearly not wanted. It just seems to me they didn't handle this situation particularly well, or in a communist manner. It seems that the refusal to become part of the leadership in the camp was a mistake as well, and that's one we can learn from.

  3. The points are well taken but I think that it is also important to consider the context of Occupy Ottawa and thus, perhaps, the broader context of the occupy movement in general. First of all, it seems clear that the Ottawa comrades were beginning to realize that the class composition of the occupy movement there (and this seems rather clear by now) lacked any organizational potential and so their resources were better spent elsewhere. From what they've described it seems like a degenerated NDP-esque space and thus a space where there would no longer be any fruitful organizational engagements - a space far from anything that possessed revolutionary potential. These are not spaces you should fight to control because they will do nothing but co-opt your energies.

    Furthermore, I think this statement was put forward more for the intention of unity-struggle-unity, though I doubt this is even possible, so while I agree that names should maybe be named in the future, I feel that it was written in an attempt at reconciliation or, at the very least, for the occupy Ottawa folks to take a sober look at their practice. While I highly doubt that this will happen (based on the responses from the Ottawa folks it is clear that it won't), I think it is more principled to approach the situation in this way than prove the bullshit claim that you, simply by being a communist, are "divisive."

    Nor do I think it is particularly fruitful to respond to violence in a space that claims it is progressive: perhaps the overall left will be harmed if the situation devolves into fights between groups, even if one of these groups was clearly assaulted. Decades ago in Canada the CPC(ML) used to physically attack other communist/anarchist/social dem groups for real or perceived slights and this––regardless of the CPC(ML)'s pre-parliamentary politics that were excellent in confronting neo-nazis for example--produced a very negative situation amongst the left. Is our energy best spent as communists fighting with other groups for a space that is predominantly petty bourgeoisie or is it better spent in organizing in those spaces that are being ignored and where the proletariat live and work?

    Since this movement began, and after listening to friends/comrades' stories south of the border and throughout Canada, I am not very certain about whether or not we should involve ourselves in the leadership of this occupy movement. As a maoist I am becoming more convinced that, if we become involved, we should actually involve ourselves at those points where we actually serve the people rather than try to become a mouthpiece for a movement that, according to its own logic, is in many ways at odds with our politics.

  4. Because it is clear that (at least in Ottawa) there was the asinine belief that communists are "divisive" and want to take over movements, placing yourself in a position of leadership would result in two unappealing options: properly representing your politics and thus confirming that you are "trying to take over the movement"; being blanquist and, out of a spirit of "cooperation", doing nothing more than representing the limits of the occupy discourse. From what I've observed and heard so far throughout the movement, it seems as if the latter practice amongst communists in occupy leadership has become normative, and I was vaguely talking about that in this point. At occupy wallstreet the "rank and file" occupiers are bemused that communism is even a viable ideology even though communists are involved in [non]leadership and various important committee positions... there is a disjunct here between what communists should be doing (for the only important thing, imo, of this occupy movement is its organizational potential but you can't organize when you muzzle your politics and keep people ignorant of what you represent) and what they are doing.

    Whatever the case, communists in this context should be doing what has historically worked to build socialism and which has been proven through struggle: building an organized party, accumulating the revolutionary forces necessary to do so, amongst the proletarian who possess a revolution consciousness. The mistakes of past revolutions were mistakes that happened *after* socialism for reasons that are very well theorized, not mistakes (at least in my opinion, since I disagree strongly with what I take to be a very ahistorical anarchist counter-argument) in the theory of making revolution. And it is clear that reinventing this wheel has never worked: just look at all the proclamations surrounding "Arab Spring" and compare them with what the socialists/communists are saying, for example, in Tunisia: they know that it led only to another comprador-capitalism but that the importance was that they were able to find other possible members of the "advanced guard" and, because of this, begin to build a revolutionary party. So wasting your time becoming part of the leadership of a petty bourgeois movement when you should instead be building a revolutionary party is something I cannot support. Better to serve the people in these spaces, reach out to similar minded people, have real political encounters within a context of service and humility instead of becoming, as so many communist groups (i.e. the International Socialists) aspire to become, the mouthpiece of a movement that was never yours.

  5. So back to Ottawa, where the comrades have withdrawn from the occupy space, and where I would argue that this withdrawal was probably wise and principled. Part of the maoist practice, at least theoretically (and I will be the first to admit that I know many maoists and post-maoists whose actions don't fit this theory), is to serve with humility, discipline and principle. We must pick our battles wisely, asking ourselves what sort of politics they will concretely produce, and starting a fight with a buddhist pacifist who manipulated a mentally ill woman into throwing a shit/urine/blood-soaked blanket on your tent will produce nothing politically admirable. For one thing it will waste your time arguing with people who are probably your class enemies (the "pacifist" and his friends) and who it is not your job to organize because they are already organized around a politics contrary to yours; for another it might end up targeting a proletarian individual (the mentally ill person) who was clearly manipulated. Posturing for "justice" and "rectification" in a space like this will likely only end up scapegoating someone who was mentally ill. Acting with arrogance, as so many of us are wont to do, will never draw anyone to your politics––especially if you are supposed to represent social relations that are outside the bounds of capitalism.

    Whatever the case, we can only judge these things based on their circumstances. Maybe you are correct in arguing that the Ottawa comrades should not have withdrawn––maybe they should have found another way to respond to the activities of the GA––but it is difficult to say. Since they are familiar with the Ottawa context, and the circumstances of its occupy movement, I'm guessing that their decision was based on critical discussion and considerations of the concrete context.

    In any case, Morgan Finch, thanks for the fruitful comments/questions. As should be clear from my long and laborious response, I was turning over similar questions ever since reading the above mentioned statement and writing my support post... I might consider editing these comments and posting them as their own post in the near future.


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