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Should the uOMSA and the PCR-RCP Ottawa have Withdrawn from Occupy Ottawa?

This post is inspired by a comment from Morgan Finch on my previous post regarding the University of Ottawa Marxist Student Association (uOMSA) and the Revolutionary Party of Canada's Ottawa branch (PCR-RCP Ottawa) decision to currently withdraw from Occupy Ottawa.  In my response to Morgan Finch I indicated that I would probably edit and revise my thoughts for a future post which I think is important for three reasons: a) my responding comment was messy and disorganized; b) my blog readers don't always comb the comment strings; c) I was already thinking about the points this comment raised.  So I must thank Morgan Finch whose well-intentioned and considerate thoughts inspired this post.

Upon reading the uOMSA and PCR-RCP's joint statement regarding their current withdrawal from Ottawa's #occupy site, and spending a short period of time writing a post about red-baiting, I found myself considering the political efficacy of their withdrawal.  Since I still feel that the spaces opened by the "occupy" movement are possibly spaces that are filled with organizational potential, there was a part of me that wondered whether the abdication on the part of these comrades was correct.  As Morgan Finch rightly indicated, "in Toronto we've managed to defeat red-baiting by having lots of commies in the camp."  Thus perhaps, as Finch argues from what logically follows from this Toronto context, the Ottawa comrades behaved in an "excessively pacifist" and non-militant way to the red-baiting by choosing withdrawal over confrontation.  I think Finch's comments (which must also be noted were extremely respectful because they not only reject the red-baiting but end with the qualification that s/he respects the Ottawa communists' decision to withdraw from a context where they are clearly not wanted) might be correct when judged in accordance to the Toronto situation; at the same time, however, I feel they open up questions regarding: a) the concrete context of Ottawa; b) the general concrete context of the Occupy Everything movement.

Some of the criticisms levelled at the Ottawa comrades, after all, have treated their decision as irresponsible, possibly even "uncommunist", because it is the job of communists to be militant in these contexts, to whether criticism, and to be prepared to organize against great odds.  But such an assessment, in my opinion, only makes sense if one is to grant, a priori, that the Occupy Everything movement is a world historical pre-revolutionary space; it also depends on the fallacy of composition where, if something is true for some of its parts it must be true for the whole.

First of all, the claim that the Occupy Everything movement is a world historical revolutionary space, the only space where we can and should organize at this period of time, is a false syllogism.  The argument proceeds as follows: the "occupy" movement is the most important organizational opportunity that has happened in the past few decades (p1); this movement is essentially revolutionary (p2); to remain in spaces that are both [p1] and [p2] is the responsibility of communists (p3); therefore, withdrawing from the occupy movement is against the spirit of communism.  But this conclusion only follows if we buy the first two premises.

Secondly, due to the heterogeneous nature of the movement, it is clearly the fallacy of composition to assume that the political possibilities of one site can be generalized as the de facto axiomatic rule for the entire movement.  The possibilities of Occupy Ottawa are different from the possibilities of Occupy Toronto––perhaps even the possibilities of Canada's version of the #occupy movement are utterly different from the possibilities discovered in the United States.

So, the question still remains, should the Ottawa comrades have withdrawn?  Were they acting in an uncommunist manner, were they demonstrating a failure to be militant, was it their duty to persist in struggling against the red-baiting?  Should they have spent their time trying to become a strong voice in the General Assembly, thus rising in the ranks of the [non]leadership, in order to avoid what led to their withdrawal?  I will attempt to answer all of these interconnected points below.

1.  the concrete context of Ottawa's #occupy, not homogenized in accordance to other occupy sites; the total concrete situation not defined by the best or worst examples of its constituent parts.

According to the statement of withdrawal, t 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 the statement of the uOMSA and PCR-RCP Ottawa was put forward more for the intention of unity-struggle-unity within the concrete circumstances of Ottawa #occupy, though I doubt it is even possible to unite with the mouth-pieces of the class forces, and their consciousness, described above.  So I feel that it was written in an attempt at reconciliation or, at the very least, in an attempt to make the Occupy Ottawa folks soberly examine their practice.  While I highly doubt that the #occupy [non]leaders in Ottawa are capable of self-criticism (and based on the current responses from these people it is clear that they won't), I think that it is more principled to approach the situation in this way than prove the bullshit claim that you, simply by being a communist, are (as the Ottawa anti-communists were arguing) "divisive."

Regardless of the supposed abdication on the part of the Ottawa comrades, I think there is a larger and more frightening abdication of responsibility amongst communists involved in the total circumstances of the #occupy movement.  That is, as I have argued in other posts, there is a rather despicable blanquism.  The amount of communist individuals and groups involved in this movement is significant, but what is more significant is that people coming into this movement are generally unaware of this involvement.  Moreover, by placing all their revolutionary eggs in the #occupy movements petty bourgeois basket, these communists are abdicating from their historical responsibility.  Agog with the spectacle of people who are on the street (and rightly justified for being so), critical thinking and historical awareness amongst so many anti-capitalists has been reduced to unscientific comments about the supposed "world historical" and "revolutionary" movement they are now part of––there is talk of building "new revolutionary structures", as if the old ones are suddenly useless or as if these "new" ideas of structure are even new.

But communists in the context, rather than getting drunk on the peoples' justified anger, should be doing what has historically worked to build socialism and which has been proven through struggle: building an organized party (which does not have to look identically like the parties in the past, just so we're clear, because all vanguard parties in time and space have been different), and accumulating the revolutionary forces necessary to do so amongst the proletarians who possess a revolutionary 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 same proclamations surrounding "Arab Spring" on the part of people in North America 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.  They did not do this by imagining the movement was revolutionary in and of itself, and they definitely did not begin this process by being blanquist and tailist.

Thus, for communists to waste their time becoming part of the [non]leadership of a petty bourgeois movement when they should instead be building a revolutionary party is something I cannot support; this is a larger abdication within the larger context of the #occupy movement than the Ottawa comrades' withdrawal.  In spaces such as the #occupy movement it is better to serve the people, 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.  Which leads me to the next point.

2.  should the Ottawa comrades have tried to become a significant force in the #occupy General Assembly; should communists everywhere become significant forces in the #occupy General Assembly?

Since this movement began, and after listening to friends/comrades' stories south of the border and throughout Canada, I am not entirely certain about whether or not we should involve ourselves in the leadership of this occupy movement.  As a maoist, however, 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.

In the Ottawa situation, for example, it was clear that there was the asinine belief that communists are "divisive" and want to take over movements.  So in this context, 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 (yet again, it always keeps happening!) 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 [non]leadership has become normative, and I was vaguely talking about that in my previous post.  Why are there so many "rank-and-file" occupiers throughout the movement  bemused that communism is even a viable ideology when it is clear that there are a lot of communists 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 about 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.

The Ottawa comrades made a decision based on a critical assessment of their concrete circumstances that the #occupy movement was not necessarily their prime sphere of organization.  They did not assume it was the "only game in town", nor did they make the facile and ahistorical argument that it was a priori revolutionary, the only way to organize revolutionary forces, and thus a space that they should intervene as a part of the #occupy [non]leadership.  Clearly those communists involved in [non]leadership positions are not representing their principles but the #occupy movement: they have most often become mouth-pieces for a limited 99% discourse, attempting to slyly push people towards a communist understanding––which seems more like dishonesty than principled politics.  And when you do not accept that the #occupy movement is the primary and only organizational space in your concrete circumstances (which any class investigation should tell you), and thus do not buy the false syllogism mentioned at the outset of this post, the decision to withdraw isn't abdication.  

You aren't betraying the revolution when you abandon a non-revolutionary space.  You are not being uncommunist by realizing, against the fevered hopes of every jaded communist who is today misled by commodified rebellion, that there are still other spaces that, though perhaps initially unspectacular, might prove extremely fruitful in the days and years that will follow the certain collapse of the Occupy Everything movement.  And if you do not commit yourself fully to this moment, and accept its petty bourgeois boundaries as a revolutionary duty, then you aren't overly invested in what only seems to be the greatest radical thing in the world because, since we are always more impressed by the manifestation of the peoples' anger than the hard work of building a sustainable revolutionary organization, you will also be invested at those deeper and wider points from which future revolutionaries, the wretched of the earth left out of this movement, might possibly emerge.

3. the question of militancy

So if these spaces are not essentially revolutionary, and the Ottawa space seems rather diametrically opposed to radicalism, why should the Ottawa comrades have responded to the harassment with the spirit of militancy that has given the PCR-RCP the reputation they currently possess?  Was their decision to withdraw an act of non-militant pacifism; should they instead of stayed and fought the people responsible for assaulting their tent and materials?  In order to answer these questions we need to examine the nature of the PCR-RCP's militancy: this is not a militancy aimed at other activists, however confused these activists might be, nor is it a militancy that wastes time fighting for spaces that lack any organizational potential.  This is because the militancy of the PCR-RCP, judging from their public emergence and public growth, has always been: aimed at the violent forces of the bourgeois state; designed to be political, to grow the organization, to introduce the masses to the limits of the state, to protect even confused activists, and to have concrete political goals.  So just where would the militancy of the Ottawa comrades have been aimed in the context of Occupy Ottawa; what political goals would it achieve?

We must pick our battles wisely, asking ourselves what sort of politics they will concretely produce.  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 thing, it might end up targeting a proletarian individual (the mentally ill person) who was clearly manipulated.  Militant posturing in this space will likely only end up scapegoating someone who was mentally ill, perhaps even exposing her to the cops at which your militancy needs to be aimed.  Acting with this sort of 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.

Nor do I think it is particularly fruitful to respond to violence in a space that claims (however limited this claim) that 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/activist 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?  Militancy in the context the Ottawa comrades experienced is nothing more than macho posturing.

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.  They did this because they understood that this was a space where, regardless of the [non]leadership's failings, they were not going to try to "take over" or become militant against petty bourgeois activists.  We can only judge these things based on their circumstances.  Maybe some 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 I prefer to accept their analysis and autonomy in this situation.  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.

The point is that, depending on your first principles, you can either judge the decision of the Ottawa comrades as irresponsible or responsible.  If you begin from the position that the Occupy Movement is a great revolutionary whirlwind that will bring freedom to the masses, then the withdrawal of the Ottawa comrades can only be uncommunist abdication.  But if you grasp that this movement is far from revolutionary, is not a stand-in for the hard work of organizing, and is ultimately limited by the petty bourgeois principles that so many of us, possibly tailing and blanquist, unintentionally endorse, then you can only see their withdrawal, and the manner in which they withdrew, as principled.


  1. All that without even saying Krapsama! ;)

  2. Although I know the Kasama folks are involved south of the border, and am clearly annoyed by how their members understand the occupy movement and the statement made by the Ottawa comrades (especially when, in the comment thread of the uOMSA's facebook posting, they're even accused of lying about it being a joint statement with the Ottawa branch of the PCR-RCP), this post is also and mainly meant to address the Canadian mainstream left which has similar positions regarding the occupy movement and its importance. All of the potential criticisms of the UofO folks I raised above, after all, came from well-meaning and engaging comment on the previous post.

    These are larger issues and I'm less concerned with what a group in another country thinks than how the lefty groups in my own context possess a similar attitude. For where does this attitude come from, why do we keep acting/thinking in this way when it comes to these moments?

  3. sks here...

    As I said in Facebook, Kasama's and Mike Ely's

    I cannot say - at this point - that the sharpness of line expressed here is correct or not as it applies to OWS. I say none of us, not Kasama, not the PCR/RCP, nor Ignite, not FRSO, no one, can claim to be operating on a deep investigation of the true nature or direction of the OWS movement, in the USA, in Canada and Quebec, or globally. IN Oakland the revolutionary line rises, in NYC the struggle sharpens, in Philly Ron Paul dominates, in Phoenix the US Border Guard, a fascist militia, shows up with guns to "protect against the police.

    We correctly, are left with principles, but often when principles meet reality they are transformed or confirmed in complex ways we cannot have possibly scientifically considered in the less than ten weeks of this movement.

    However, an unmovable principle of revolutionaries should be solidarity in the face of anti-communist forces doing physical attacks, regardless of other questions of line. In the absence of a mass communist movement, in the absence of a mature line struggle with historic consequence, we are laid at our barest.

    In the context of Maoists, this would be the rough equivalent of launching line polemics thick on abstraction with Comintern-line or Trotskyites while they are under direct attack of the Japanese.

    I cannot phantom, nor understand, the unprincipled opportunism of Kasama, or more specifically, Mike Ely - and this lack of explanation makes me consider seriously what JMP raises: that in choosing to engage in ferocious line struggle in the heat of resolving a question of tactical survival, Kasama views their abstract line - and the struggle for its supremacy - as more important than the physical security of the comrades.

    In the context of what Kasama itself recognizes as a movement of abstract potentialities, not concrete realities, this is the hallmark of the most unprincipled opportunism.

    And the outright gall of Mike Ely to claim the communication didn't have the sanction of the PCR-RCP (even if clearly signed but the Ottawa PCR-RCP) was - to say the least - one of the most unprincipled and bad faith claims I have seen someone make on a line struggle - an attempt to intervene is a splittist, predatory, fashion. It was kicking the comrades when they are down - something we should reserve only to our worse enemies.

    And this attack was unwarranted - they were not engaging Kasama, or even Kasama's line. Kasama burst into the dance guns blazing and taking no prisioners.

  4. Thanks for these thoughts, sks. I'm not going to comment on your analysis of Kasama or its members because, as I indicated above, although I was in part responding to the comments they made on the initial facebook posting, I was also responding to the larger context in which these fit because these are comments that have also been made by others in my own social context: whether they were simply echoing Kasama's position or representing what was already an accepted understanding might be something worth investigating. Also, it's not my intention to start a flamewar with the Kasama folks (I had some of their supporters attacking me over the Arab Spring position a while back and I found it both annoying and fruitless).

    I would like to concentrate on your well-meaning comments in the first paragraph, however. As much as I agree about the heterogeneous nature of the movement––and how it is clearly more progressive in some spaces than others (you named Oakland but Boston is also a candidate, I think)--I also think it is important to note that overall there are clear limits to this OWS discourse. Considering that it is a very pale echo of May 68, and we know how that ended, I think it is extremely important to be sober. And if these movements are to become transformed into something revolutionary, I would argue that this could only happen if there are structured revolutionary forces there to organize these movements into something more revolutionary (the subject forces combined with the objective, so to speak). IMHO, history has taught us that these movements do not, by themselves, suddenly produce revolutionary structures (which is why I am not a fan of the Draperist thesis).

    At the same time, however, I would be more than happy if there was a historical freak of nature that disproved this analysis: there are and have been historical anachronisms in other areas, after all, and if anything social relations are messy. Still... My point has always been sober analysis here. Simultaneously, however, I am against dismissing the organizing potential in this movement as a whole: some cities are clearly demonstrating that the movement has reached its limits, others aren't.

    Also, I really do believe the Canadian situation is different. Even the Toronto situation, which is not openly anti-communist like the Ottawa one, is a far-cry from the Oaklands and the Bostons of the US. I think in many ways this is the United State's iteration of the Arab Spring, Europe Summer explosions, and there have been problems in importing it fetishistically into Canada––especially since the demands for a kinder capitalism (which seems to be the extent of the non-demands) feel less immediate (though they will become so in the near future) due to the remaining strength of welfare capitalism here.

    Also, on a side note, there is one thing that I think is very important, at least in the Canadian situation, in terms of the analysis I've been promoting. In the summer the PCR-RCP was classified as a "criminal organization" by the state and targeted with home invasions, arrests, and surveillance. An anarchist who did not like that the PRAC-Toronto site was pointing out the fact of this targeting, and who was indicating that the same squad established primarily to deal with the PCR-RCP was also dealing with a few student groups on the side, argued that the police were only concerned with another European style insurrection and not with the PCR-RCP. And yet this European style insurrection has arrived and, lo and behold, the Canadian police have been nothing but cooperative. If, as those of us who are maoists argue, "to be attacked by the enemy is a good thing", then the inverse is also true: if you aren't attacked by the enemy, and they even condone your behaviour, then that's probably a bad (revolutionary wise) thing. And in the Canadian context, the state has been nothing short of conciliatory.

  5. Thanks for the reflection, I'm glad to have this blog as a place to engage more substantive than facebook comments.

    I think that, if we are serious about a world without cops, than we have to be serious about our own defense. There is either the armed state regulating things or the people doing it for themselves as a collective. In the 'occupy' spaces, currently there is neither, and things have degenerated into a 'everyone is a marshall' kind of 'anarchy' where no one is in charge of safety of all. In these spaces, communists have to be ready to defend themselves.

    This is not about talking- I agree that talking to shit towel throwers is pretty useless. This is about defending our comrades from attack, be it by shit towel throwers or neo-nazis. Because we are organized, people should be scared to attack us. Because we don't call the cops, we have to be willing to defend ourselves. This does not necessarily mean violence or intimidation- perhaps a postering or leafletting campaign against the stupidness of occupy ottawa, perhaps street theatre in some other location that demonstrates, maybe through comedy, how stupid and cult-like the general assemblies are.

    In the very least one should name and shame the actors who did this. I don't see any concrete action from the Ottawa commies whatsoever, except a strangely passive-aggressive facebook post that names no one and accomplishes nothing except making them look like wusses on a larger scale.

    Whether or not 'occupy' is genuinely revolutionary space and worthy of our engagement is irrelevant to the practical expediency of keeping ourselves safe and defending our interests in a manner consistent with the traditions of communist movements. You can leave a space you find stupid and useless, but you can't do so in a way that makes you look like an easy target.

    Either one is dependent on the state to keep one safe, or one keeps oneself safe through solidarity and acting together.

  6. Thanks for these points, and I agree with them in general. Clearly it is important to have a group that is organized to defend against these sort of attacks. Two forseeable problems, though: a) responding to these attacks in the specific concrete context of "occupy" could give the police reason to intervene (which might be useful, admittedly, because it could expose the limits of the movement and the class position of the cops); b) it also has to do with capacity.

    I think at this moment, though I can't speak for them, the Ottawa comrades are just explaining their withdrawal. One of the things they pointed out was that, in Ottawa, there is an absence of left forces and, rather, it seems like just a bunch of problematic liberals (and now some nazis). Perhaps if they felt the occupy site was worth organizing in they might have stayed. I really don't think it makes them look like wusses on a larger scale because they did stay for a long period as the only significant lefties there, nor do I think they would have withdrawn had they felt that there was a larger reason to stay. From how they've described it, it doesn't seem like a useful site for agitation or organization.

    The idea of a postering and leafletting campaign is actually a really good idea, a creative intervention that could be useful. I don't know if we can just rule these out on the part of the Ottawa folks; IMO their statement seemed more designed to expose the shittiness of the Ottawa occupation. I'm still not entirely certain whether or not they should have named names, especially since naming these names, in the context of something that is quite clearly an illegal act, might give the police an excuse to target individuals. Obviously such individuals should be targeted, but not by the state.

    (Also, I think one of the individuals mentioned outed herself on the comment string under the initial facebook post.)

  7. Oh, and also I should add, in light of your comments about the need to defend ourselves from police/fascists (which is an important comment, obviously, and with which I very strongly agree), there's a reason I talked about the militant history of the PCR-RCP as an organization. Since it is clear that, as an organization, they are known for being probably more militant in an organized and concrete manner (so much of their reputation comes from this fighting spirit), and many of us came to respect them because of this (such as how we saw them behave in the G20 for example, which was light years beyond the behaviour of the black bloc), then I think it's worth asking why the PCR-RCP Ottawa branch chose to withdraw in that situation. Clearly they didn't think it was worth militant investment, and I think it's worth taking their overall understanding of militancy into account when examining this decision.

  8. I like the Phoenix Class War Council's tactic of advertising their local occupy movement with incendiary revolutionary rhetoric:


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