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So Many Marches, So Little Time

Today I am skipping out of a giant march from my city's occupy site partially because, after yesterday and the march described in my previous post, I am not entirely interested in going to a march composed primarily of the trade union labour aristocracy, the usual left activist groups, police cooperation––all of the "family friendly" characteristics that have become commonplace in our demonstrations.  (Confession: I am also skipping the march because I have a bunch or reading to catch up on, the rest of my group isn't going, and today I am being lazy.)  This is not to say that I have a problem with "family friendly" marches, that I boycott them because I'm some sort of super radical who only wants marches where we might possibly fight the police: I am not some macho ultra-leftist who thinks the only people who should be on the street protesting are those who are able-bodied and without children––hell, as much as I hate the limits of these marches, I usually still attend them.

At the same time, however and as noted in my last post, I have grown tired of the stale "let's just walk around this giant block and make sure the police know where we're going" ethos practiced by Toronto's mainstream left.  And during this week, after attending other marches connected to the occupy movement, I am less interested in a march of the converted left, or at least semi-converted left, who will only be marching altogether to reinforce to each other that they aren't happy with the system.  Of course displays like this are important, but a trade-union led march is the kind of march that is normative in Toronto and this one will be no different from any of the others except that it has tied itself to this #occupy movement.  There will be the same groups involved and the same sad string of speakers––some preaching to the choir, others representing the NDP or some bureaucratic echelon of the labour movement.

Yet Again: the context, the concrete circumstances

What I have found compelling about this occupy movement (and those lazy readers who misinterpret what I've written please take note), is that it is a space where you can actually have political conversations that are not forced––where you are able to talk about anti-capitalism with people who might have never encountered a real anti-capitalist position until recently––and thus a space where organization is possible.  Yes, I believe in organizing for a revolutionary party but, since I also reject every straw-person conceptualization of vanguardism as pejorative idiocy used merely for rhetorical effect, I think that the possibility of the advanced guard is not necessarily limited to the forces I support and that, if everyone who claims to be an anti-capitalist tries to organize according to hir anti-capitalist commitments, then this is also excellent.  What may be the advanced guard now might or might not be the political advanced guard in the future: the question is always tied to the political line, the practice, and how we are growing, unified in theory and practice.

In any case, this is a space brimming with potential: in the everyday political discussions feel forced, maybe because they are not considered "polite" or maybe because we on the left have stopped bringing political discussions into the everyday, but within these occupy spaces they are far more likely to occur.  Moreover, people are actually open to talking about the general concepts of communism.  But since this is also a space currently determined by the limits of its supposedly absent structures, limitations I have already discussed in a previous post, and continue to be patently obvious from what we have observed, anyone who thinks that it is politically worthwhile to hide their political commitments is, or who imagines without any social investigation and just proclamation that the space is brimming entirely with "the working class" and some Draperite magic, is in my opinion being politically irresponsible.

Moreover, I think we need to critically engage with the very exceptionalist claims regarding the newness of the #occupy movement.  Queer agit-prop filmmaker Bruce LaBruce recently wrote a pretty great, and also funny, piece about the Wallstreet occupation that also questions the uniqueness:
"Occupy Wall Street, of course, started not in America in the fall, but in the Middle East with the Arab Spring, followed by the Greek and Spanish summer, where tent cities sprung up in cities such as Barcelona as early as May. (Leave it to New York to take all the credit.) Now the Arab Spring seems to be on permanent summer vacation, with power being shuffled from one neo-liberal entity or entrenched military institution to another, and the spontaneous complaints choirs of southern Europe seem to be languishing a bit too, probably owing to protest fatigue."
And back when Arab Spring happened I remember debating, with more than one irate commentator, the limits of this movement and, though my position was proved correct, I find it rather telling that the same spontaneist or Draperite arguments are being made about this #occupy business, but now with a North American exceptionalism.  (As an aside: the title of LaBruce's article could not help but grab by attention considering that an earlier post of mine also uses the "whither thou" title.)

Furthermore, LaBruce's article had evoked the same rejection of political criticism that I complained about in an earlier post––this close-minded idea amongst the [non]organizers that there should be no critiques, well-meaning or otherwise, within the #occupy spaces since this "divides the ninety-nine per cent."  And I will say it again: any movement that rejects well-meaning and principled criticism is a movement that cannot grow.

In any case, criticisms aside, it needs to be asserted that this context is brimming with political potential. At the very least it is a space that has recaptured something of the political commons; for that reason, though it should be engaged with critically, it should not be ignored or dismissed––this has always been my point, as well as the point of other organizers, both in the US and Canada, who have decided to critically involve themselves in the movement.  The social democratic parties are organizing in this space (the NDP, for example, maintains a constant presence in the Toronto occupation site), as are the libertarians and, in some very depressing cases in the US, neo-nazis––the ninety-nine versus one per cent discourse can be used by all of these political positions.  So anti-capitalists, and most definitely communists, should be doing the same (and many of us are); otherwise we are surrendering the terrain to our political enemies.

Within this Context: marches, agitation

So in the context redescribed above, I am less interested in a march that will be the same as other trade-union marches than with the other opportunities and political moments the occupy space can produce.  Even if there is an anti-capitalist contingent in this march I am uncertain as to how it will matter considering that these are always the types of marches where anti-capitalist contingents are welcome.  And if you're going to have a march pulled off just by anti-capitalists, then it should be more confrontational––it should possess the glimmer of anti-capitalism in how it deals with the state, how it represents itself to the masses on the streets and in their workplaces.  Within today's march, an anti-capitalist contingent will just be a group of people who may or may not respect each others' anti-capitalism, who will sell competing papers only to each other, and will generally, with honourable exception, refuse to agitate beyond the same organizational confines it has always agitated within.

Again, I am not arguing that these marches should not exist and that no one should participate.  As briefly mentioned above, I usually attend these sorts of marches.  Indeed, if this was the only march/action going on this week then I would probably be there.  But this week I have been more interested in spending my energy in those alternate spaces that this movement, regardless of its limits, has opened up.  Yesterday there was a small but confrontational anti-capitalist march that, by returning to a style of demonstration that has been largely absent in Toronto for around a decade, probably made more of an impression on the everyday life of the people living and working in downtown Toronto who witnessed its confrontational moments.

And then there are those breakaway marches that––regardless of my complaints about national anthem singing, possible police collaboration, and a forced social democratic ideology––are filled with so much exciting potential because many of the people involved are people who have never joined a demonstration, have never marched for a political reason, and whose confusion provide these marches, as critical as we still must be of the politics expressed there, with their fragile and pre-political character.  In today's labour march, this newness will be lost and even those possible future radicals who participate will be absorbed and dissolved within its boundaries.


  1. I think the most important criteria in assessing whether or not staying is necessary is to see the potential orientation of the folks at the Occupy site or those being attracted to it. I.e., is there a potential to organize these people in a working-class oriented manner?

    If not, then there's not much point in staying, is there?

    This is why I found much of Mike Ely's comments on Facebook to be really weird.


  2. Good points and I obviously agree: the question should definitely be based around organizational potential. I think, though, that the critiques are harnessed to an ideology that imagines that the occupy sites (all of them, in every city) are a priori revolutionary. And once you accept that, you have to accept that leaving is wrong. So though you might find these comments weird, because they automatically assume that there is no point in leaving because staying is absolutely necessary, they do follow a certain (though dubious) logic.

    Oh, and did you mean for this comment to be on my most recent post?


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