Building the Red Army: The Death and Forbidden Rebirth of the Oakland Commune

“Don’t fuck with the Oak­land Com­mune.” Words which will live forever in his­to­ry, to be remem­bered and repeat­ed at every glo­ri­ous defeat inflict­ed upon the heroes of the future by may­ors, police offi­cers, unions, church­es, and chil­dren. A let­ter, signed by the Occu­py Oak­land Move-In Assem­bly, promised to respond to the inevitable evic­tion of an ille­gal build­ing occu­pa­tion by “blockad­ing the air­port indef­i­nite­ly.” Tac­tics only dreamed of by al-Qaeda, with­in the reach of Occu­py Oak­land after just four months.

Yes­ter­day the­se words were at the cen­ter of a mate­ri­al prac­tice which brought our move­ment up again­st its lim­its. It’s not a bad thing to meet your lim­its. It means con­fronting the pos­si­bil­i­ty and neces­si­ty of rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. And this con­fronta­tion should be approached with all the courage and resolve on dis­play when a young mil­i­tant throws a tear gas can­is­ter back at a line of police.

Occu­py Oak­land Move-In Day was to be a his­toric event, an occu­pa­tion of a pri­vate­ly owned build­ing by a mass of peo­ple, announced well in advance. The lit­er­a­ture indi­cat­ed that “mul­ti­ple tar­gets” had been iden­ti­fied, and that the site would be “a vacant build­ing owned either by a bank, a large cor­po­ra­tion of the 1% or already pub­lic.” The goal was famil­iar: to estab­lish a social cen­ter in the build­ing for com­mu­ni­ty use. And in fact a remark­able sched­ule of events had been planned, a “fes­ti­val” which could sure­ly have drawn in atten­tion and sup­port.

Every action in Oak­land begins with a decep­tive inno­cence, a ral­ly at Oscar Grant Plaza. The num­bers were impres­sive – the main­stream media reports 1000-2000 through­out the day – and a sign that a remark­able cross-sec­tion of the city had been wait­ing for this. But at the same time police were walk­ing through the crowd with a pho­to album of promi­nent orga­niz­ers, along with war­rants for their arrest.

Appar­ent­ly some of those arrest­ed were returned to the ral­ly, and the march set off in good spir­its. From time to time you could look across the street and see lines of police on the next block. You could also look up and see their heli­copters.

At a cer­tain cru­cial inter­sec­tion it became clear that police, who had a bird’s-eye view of our tra­jec­to­ry, were block­ing the planned route. In front of us was a quag­mire known as Laney Col­lege. This was the first moment in which a des­per­ate­ly-need­ed con­tin­gen­cy plan was unavail­able. Though the truck with the sound sys­tem and fur­ni­ture was at an impasse, the crowd spon­ta­neous­ly surged onto the unfa­mil­iar cam­pus and had no idea where to go. It wasn’t hard for the police to block the most appar­ent exits.

Inevitably, there was a mic check and an attempt at a gen­er­al assem­bly; the sug­ges­tion that we occu­py a build­ing on cam­pus was met with appro­pri­ate deri­sion by the already irri­tat­ed crowd. We walked over an extreme­ly nar­row bridge and climbed up a hill to the street, where once again we met our friends in blue and had no idea where we were sup­posed to go. Even­tu­al­ly we walked on a large street to approach the Hen­ry J. Kaiser Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, which was sur­round­ed by fences and cops.

The Kaiser Con­ven­tion Cen­ter is a very large build­ing. It is an obvi­ous and exces­sive­ly ambi­tious tar­get. Whether it was a good idea to con­sid­er this build­ing at all will be the sub­ject of great debate in the future. What’s obvi­ous is that dogged­ly pur­su­ing this ques­tion­able plan after sig­nif­i­cant police inter­fer­ence was inad­vis­able. The front lines, the peo­ple with trash­can shields, took the ini­tia­tive. They grabbed the fence and pulled it down to face the police, who shot off a smoke bomb. Because smoke bombs look a lot like tear gas, they’re a great way to cause a crowd to become even more chaotic. But peo­ple were already drift­ing away by then, try­ing to find some rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the lead­er­ship to explain plan B.

Every step we made towards plan B brought us towards anoth­er line of police. The hand­held garage-door bar­ri­cades and trash­can shields gath­ered again at the front lines, with a mass in gog­gles and ban­danas behind them. Omi­nous drum­ming on parked cars and buck­ets. An advance on the police, met with flash­bangs and tear gas. The crowd advanced three times.

There was noth­ing much to do after that. A mega­phone told us we were going to take back Oscar Grant Plaza, so we walked back there. After a brief moment of recu­per­a­tion the orga­niz­ers announced that we would be tak­ing anoth­er build­ing in 45 min­utes.

I regret to say the atmos­phere was tri­umphal­ist. It’s under­stand­able that a clash with police has a marked effect on the adren­al glands. But there was noth­ing resem­bling a vic­to­ry in this. The stat­ed goal had not been achieved, and the police are famil­iar with the aggres­sive­ness of activists in Oak­land. They expect it. In fact, the Oak­land Police Depart­ment is on the verge of fed­er­al receiver­ship, an unprece­dent­ed move, because the OPD real­ly likes vio­lence, and seeks it out as part of a pol­i­cy of state-spon­sored gang war­fare. And the insis­tence on “Fuck the Police” march­es in Oak­land lead­ing up to yes­ter­day could only shift the empha­sis from the occu­pa­tion itself to the clash.

Now we have to ask our­selves if we should con­tin­ue to give the police what they want, which we do in rit­u­al­ized form at every action. After all, it is the­se rit­u­als that repro­duce belief in the cops. The cops tell a lie. The lie is that their vio­lence is autonomous and impos­es its pow­er to pre­serve an abstract order. What they nev­er want us to under­stand is that cops are an ele­ment of the machin­ery of the cap­i­tal­ist state, and they exist with­in a wide net­work of insti­tu­tions which allow the cap­i­tal­ist class to exer­cise social pow­er. In Oak­land their repres­sion was used to evict an encamp­ment which threat­ened to bring pub­lic space under pro­le­tar­i­an con­trol, and to dri­ve out an attempt­ed build­ing occu­pa­tion on a day declared to be a “gen­er­al strike.” And if yes­ter­day the OPD was forced to call upon the Alameda Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office and city police includ­ing Fre­mont, Hay­ward, Berke­ley, Pleasan­ton, Union City, and Newark, their actions were struc­tured around the defense of pri­vate prop­er­ty and its social sys­tem.

But the rein­force­ment of pri­vate prop­er­ty is not lim­it­ed to police vio­lence. It hap­pens in schools, the legal sys­tem, social wel­fare insti­tu­tions, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions, trade unions, and count­less oth­er spaces. Since the­se insti­tu­tions don’t use vio­lence to defend pri­vate prop­er­ty, a strug­gle whose assault on cap­i­tal­ist pow­er is as broad as that pow­er itself will sit­u­ate street con­fronta­tions with­in a wide spec­trum of activ­i­ty. In Oak­land the class war did not begin with the occu­pa­tion. It hap­pens every day when the police are used again­st its cit­i­zens, many of whom are sent not just for a night in jail but to pris­on, if they aren’t shot in the back. And it hap­pens every day when peo­ple are evict­ed from their homes, when they are sub­ject­ed to dis­ci­pline and humil­i­a­tion in the work­place, when their schools are con­vert­ed into train­ing camps for Bill Gates. For many of the­se peo­ple, whose entry into polit­i­cal prac­tice is required for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Occu­py move­ment, esca­lat­ing the con­fronta­tion with police may not be high­ly desir­able. Eva­sion is bet­ter.

And it is the sub­ject of eva­sion which brings us to the next part of our sto­ry. I can’t claim, for a speci­fic set of rea­sons, to have direct knowl­edge of what hap­pened then. I can cer­tain­ly assure you that I took no part in any ille­gal activ­i­ties. But some­one who isn’t me was there, and expe­ri­enced it.

A much small­er crowd – may­be between 200 and 500 – fol­lowed a route past the Traveler’s Aid build­ing, the site of the Novem­ber 2nd occu­pa­tion attempt, again fol­lowed by police. At a cer­tain cru­cial inter­sec­tion some­one cre­ative­ly knocked open a fire hydrant to pro­duce a water bar­ri­cade. The crowd swarmed into a park con­tain­ing the Remem­ber Them stat­ue, with depic­tions of Mar­t­in Luther King and Mal­colm X, among oth­ers.

The next time Occu­py Wall Street sends mon­ey to Occu­py Oak­land, the gen­er­al assem­bly may want to con­sid­er invest­ing it in a heli­copter. With their heli­copters the police knew exact­ly where to line up to ket­tle the entire group, who were blocked into this park, with lit­tle left to do but admire the sculp­tures, erect­ed by the Oak­land Met­ro­pol­i­tan Cham­ber of Com­merce, of men and wom­en who com­mit­ted civil dis­obe­di­ence and faced police in the past.

The police recit­ed their order to dis­perse. Some peo­ple prob­a­bly want­ed to fight again, but the vast major­i­ty did not. They approached the lines of police and informed them that they wished to dis­perse. This had to be repeat­ed sev­er­al times; most times it was ignored, some­times it was met with a respon­se that they were wait­ing for instruc­tions. When the instruc­tions arrived the police informed peo­ple who want­ed to dis­perse that they should move to anoth­er cor­ner of the park and exit onto the street there. The crowd moved over to that cor­ner, where a cop told them, “stay away from us,” and refused to allow any­one to leave.

Sud­den­ly, at the oth­er end of the park, a smoke bomb. Peo­ple start­ed run­ning towards a fence, which blocked the only area with­out police. An advanced ele­ment knocked down the fence and the whole crowd ran, com­ing up again­st anoth­er fence and knock­ing that one down too.

A few peo­ple ran off and suc­cess­ful­ly dis­persed. The oth­ers gath­ered and were ket­tled again. Part of this group made a remark­able escape through the YMCA, jump­ing over exer­cise equip­ment and exit­ing else­where. Anoth­er part of the group was arrest­ed.

The action didn’t stop there. Anoth­er group, who­ev­er wasn’t sit­ting in front of the YMCA with zip­ties cut­ting into their wrists, returned to Oscar Grant Plaza and sim­ply decid­ed to occu­py City Hall, where they burned an Amer­i­can flag and fought with police again.

Ear­lier that day, as we sat in Oscar Grant Plaza wait­ing for the next round, I heard a num­ber of peo­ple talk about the class war. War demands mil­i­tary think­ing. Among the basic prin­ci­ples of mil­i­tary strat­e­gy is the one which dic­tates that you retreat when the ene­my advances. This is as fun­da­men­tal a prin­ci­ple as the one which dic­tates that you pur­sue when the ene­my retreats. And any eval­u­a­tion of the day will have to begin with the acknowl­edg­ment that up to 500 of our troops were cap­tured.

In the 1895 Intro­duc­tion to Class Strug­gles in France, Karl Marx’s account of the 1848 rev­o­lu­tion and its repres­sion, Friedrich Engels reviewed the effect of his­tor­i­cal changes in war­fare on the class strug­gle. “Let us have no illu­sions about it,” he wrote. “A real vic­to­ry of insur­rec­tion over the mil­i­tary in street fight­ing, a vic­to­ry as between two armies, is one of the rarest excep­tions. And the insur­gents count­ed on it just as rarely… The most that an insur­rec­tion can achieve in the way of actu­al tac­ti­cal oper­a­tions is the pro­fi­cient con­struc­tion and defence of a sin­gle bar­ri­cade.”

Know­ing that the bar­ri­cade tac­tic was one of “pas­sive defense,” and that the mil­i­tary always pos­sessed equip­ment and train­ing unavail­able to the insur­gents, the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies of the 19th cen­tu­ry pur­sued oth­er goals. “Even in the clas­sic time of street fight­ing,” Engels wrote, “the bar­ri­cade pro­duced more of a moral than a mate­ri­al effect. It was a means of shak­ing the stead­fast­ness of the mil­i­tary.”

But at a cer­tain point street-fight­ing lost its “mag­ic,” even for this “moral” effect. After 1848 the police devel­oped their own tac­tics of street fight­ing, and a whole range of changes tipped the bal­ance in favor of the mil­i­tary. Their armies became big­ger, and their weapons far more effec­tive. Engels lists the smooth-bore muz­zle-load­ing per­cus­sion gun, the small-cal­i­bre breech-load­ing mag­a­zine rifle, and the dyna­mite car­tridge. He adds that the urban ter­rain had been trans­formed, with “long, straight, broad streets, tai­lor-made to give full effect to the new can­nons and rifles.”

To this list we can now add bean­bag bul­lets, CS gas, and heli­copters. We are lucky that, unlike in Egypt, more tra­di­tion­al vari­eties of bul­lets are not cur­rent­ly on the table. But we can’t ignore the lim­its of the bar­ri­cades; since the Paris Com­mune in 1871, which the Oak­land Com­mune now recalls, the tac­tic of the bar­ri­cades has been linked to defeat and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of vicious and bloody repres­sion. We have not suf­fered such a grue­some defeat. But com­ing up with a long-term strat­e­gy, beyond the short-term tac­tics, means that we acknowl­edge and learn from the defeats that we expe­ri­ence.

The alter­na­tive to street fight­ing that was embraced by the 19th cen­tu­ry social­ist move­ment, par­lia­men­tary con­tes­ta­tion, is absolute­ly use­less to us now. But even in the 19th cen­tu­ry, when uni­ver­sal suf­frage was a new demo­c­ra­t­ic right, its use for rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments was not to enter into the admin­is­tra­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist state. Engels wrote that it “pro­vid­ed us with a means, sec­ond to none, of get­ting in touch with the mass of the peo­ple where they still stand aloof from us.” The dra­mat­ic increas­es in num­bers – Ger­man social­ists drew 1.5 mil­lion votes while it was ille­gal to even have a par­ty meet­ing, and near­ly 2 mil­lion votes after that – could com­pen­sate for the new mil­i­tary dis­ad­van­tages. Street fight­ing, Engels argued, could play a role in the future if “under­tak­en with greater forces,” which could drop “pas­sive bar­ri­cade tac­tics” in favor of “open attack.”

A cen­tu­ry lat­er, insur­rec­tionary anar­chists and reformists like MoveOn vie for hege­mony over the move­ment, each advanc­ing street-fight­ing and vot­ing not as tac­tics, but as the ulti­mate goals. And we have to be clear that it is an alliance between social democ­rats and ultra-left­ists that has dri­ven this move­ment, in spite of their pub­lic scorn for each oth­er.

Their alliance, how­ev­er, has opened a space for rev­o­lu­tion­ary respons­es to the cri­sis. The­se respons­es won’t be summed up in spec­tac­u­lar clash. They’ll be a process that will be with us through the ebbs and flows, beyond every defeat and with­in every vic­to­ry.

The move­ment is cur­rent­ly in a lull. Every­one looks for­ward to spring, but there is no need to cling to esca­la­tion in peri­od of qui­et. No need, because it is pre­cise­ly the time to expand, to engage in the less dra­mat­ic work of grow­ing and incor­po­rat­ing the dif­fuse energies of the work­ing class.

Reformists urge coali­tion build­ing, as though the union bureau­cra­cies could some­how lead a rad­i­cal move­ment. While some purists refuse coali­tions, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary respon­se is infil­tra­tion and inva­sion. When we approach the unions we don’t seek their guid­ance; we seek to intro­duce class antag­o­nism into those insti­tu­tions, to con­struct a broad class pow­er, men­ac­ing and inescapable for the boss­es just as it is irre­sistible to work­ers who spend each day on the defen­sive.

Fences were torn down twice yes­ter­day. The first time, a pan­icked and impo­tent attempt to con­vert a thwart­ed plan into a con­fronta­tion. The sec­ond time, as a tac­ti­cal maneu­ver which played a pre­cise and nec­es­sary role in evad­ing the ene­my. The deter­mi­na­tion and resource­ful­ness which enables such an escape could play a role in the army that not only defends the work­ing class from cap­i­tal­ist bru­tal­i­ty, but also defeats cap­i­tal­ist pow­er. And at every action we are remind­ed that our his­tor­i­cal task is to build the mass orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of draft­ing its strat­e­gy and guid­ing it to vic­to­ry.

Asad Haider is a grad­u­ate stu­dent at UC San­ta Cruz, a mem­ber of UAW 2865, and an edi­tor of View­point.

Author of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint.

18 Responses

  1. Worker
    Worker at |

    “Tac­tics only dreamed of by al-Qaeda, with­in the reach of Occu­py Oak­land after just four months.”

    Thanks. I need­ed a good bel­ly laugh after watch­ing you clowns fail so bad­ly that you undid years of work to build effec­tive Move­ments.

    Despite all the words & the­o­ry, what sid you actu­al­ly accom­plish? No occu­pa­tion now, no ser­vices to build sol­i­dar­i­ty with the peo­ple, no increased influ­ence. Just a demon­stra­tion of rage & act­ing out that will only attract the psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dam­aged to your side.

    Grow up some before your next par­ty.

    1. Asad Haider
      Asad Haider at |

      I hope it is appar­ent to every­one who actu­al­ly reads the arti­cle that the first para­graph is sar­cas­tic. It is a crit­i­cism of the irre­spon­si­ble rhetoric in that let­ter.

      Since my name and my com­plex­ion can some­times result in very destruc­tive prej­u­dices, it is very impor­tant for peo­ple to under­stand that I am total­ly opposed to ter­ror­ism, and I find the sug­ges­tion that the Occu­py move­ment should even begin to adopt its tac­tics to be out­ra­geous and con­demnable.

  2. Jericho Black
    Jericho Black at |

    Mr. Haider makes some sound points here, in what is sure­ly an evoca­tive and thought­ful doc­u­ment (writ­ten very quick­ly, it must be added). His tac­ti­cal analy­sis is in many regards sound -- there was no doubt lit­tle hope of hav­ing achieved the Kaiser Cen­ter once the march was cut off the first time (though per­haps some small chance of beat­ing the cops to the back door). Mr Haider might have seen things a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly had he been involved in some of the orga­niz­ing and known the choic­es avail­able at the time, but over­all the basic point stands. Sober self-crit­i­cism is indeed in order. The prob­lem, how­ev­er, is in the mean­ing with which he invests such fail­ures. It’s a basic cat­e­go­ry error to treat this in pure­ly mil­i­tary terms. Though this is a “war,” it isn’t a war. We aren’t in a life-or-death strug­gle with the cops, in which, at eye­sight, we begin shoot­ing at each oth­er. They have over­whelm­ing force and, when it regards the­se mat­ters, most­ly what we do is choose from a menu of fail­ures. Though tac­ti­cal vic­to­ries are impor­tant and we should cer­tain­ly aim for them, in mat­ters of mass polit­i­cal action and con­tes­ta­tion *tac­ti­cal fail­ures can lead to strate­gic vic­to­ries,* because they can be elec­tri­fy­ing, gal­va­niz­ing, because they can dis­perse and dif­fuse antag­o­nism and open up unfore­seen polit­i­cal sequences. (This is, in fact, the sto­ry of the Oak­land Com­mune). It is in such a space that the tri­umphal­ist affects he cri­tiques arise. Whether or not Sat­ur­day was a tac­ti­cal fail­ure yet a strate­gic vic­to­ry remains to be seen and argued -- but the inar­guable fail­ures of the after­noon did open up a polit­i­cal sequence in which City Hall was stormed and trashed for instance, in which hun­dreds of peo­ple broke through ket­tles (twice), and in which thou­sands of peo­ple demon­strat­ed their will­ing­ness to con­tend with the cops. Far from being a rou­tine event here -- even if Oak­land has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for being bel­liger­ent -- this was actu­al­ly a step for­ward in terms of dis­ci­pline, resolve, and uni­ty. No peace police yelling at peo­ple throw­ing bot­tles. No pan­icked flee­ing (or at least very lit­tle of it).

    I guess what I’m say­ing -- still a bit under­slept, sor­ry -- is that one should not eval­u­ate such things in pure­ly mil­i­tary terms. If the goal is to gen­er­al­ize social antag­o­nism and build the capac­i­ty to even­tu­al­ly destroy cap­i­tal­ism, then we must note that such antag­o­nism spreads on many planes, not always leg­i­ble in pure­ly tac­ti­cal terms, much less mil­i­tary ones. The path to such vic­to­ries is often through tac­ti­cal fail­ures, and not just because we learn from them but because they have the *chance* to explode, to lead to cri­sis for the state…Though it’s easy to cri­tique Georges Sorel’s argu­ment about unveil­ing the vio­lence of the state through tac­ti­cal inter­ven­tions, a defeat which becomes a pre­lude to mass insur­rec­tion, he’s not entire­ly wrong.

    1. Asad Haider
      Asad Haider at |

      Thanks to JB for voic­ing his rea­son­able dis­agree­ment in a thought­ful and con­struc­tive way. It’s this kind of ratio­nal dis­cus­sion that will move us for­ward.

  3. Todd
    Todd at |

    Asad, I agree with quite a lot here. Thanks for post­ing it so quick­ly. We’ll have a piece out in SW tomor­row. I think it’s time to orga­nize a round-table dis­cus­sion of this stuff. We can start at San­ta Cruz in a cou­ple weeks time. I think one fruit­ful thing to read in all of this is Lenin’s Left-Wing Com­mu­nism. I’m sure you are famil­iar, but for your read­ers who want a free look at it:

    I’d be inter­est­ed in hear­ing if you have oth­er sug­ges­tions for use­ful historical/theoretical tracts to look at.

    There are still lots of com­rades in jail, so we can return to this after we get them all out.


  4. Steven Colatrella
    Steven Colatrella at |


    This is a very strong and use­ful piece. I wasn’t there of course, so I have to take your word for it and what I glean from oth­er accounts, many of which unfor­tu­nate­ly come from the awful main­stream media (very good crit­i­cism of how CNN cov­ered the­se events on today by the way). But I do remem­ber that a sim­i­lar dynam­ic was at work at times dur­ing the Tomp­kins Square move­ment in the late 80s where a cer­tain corp of peo­ple seemed increas­ing­ly hooked on the spec­ta­cle of clash­es with police, even as it became clear that with each clash the police grew more effec­tive at block­ing what we want­ed to do.

    A note about Engels and your cita­tion of him, as you do a great ser­vice bring­ing up an impor­tant issue and also dis­tin­guish­ing between the in them­selves legit­i­mate alter­na­tives of anar­chism and social democ­ra­cy and the need for some­thing that goes beyond each: Engels’ strat­e­gy is well out­lined in the fifth vol­ume of Hal Draper’s great work “Karl Marx’s The­o­ry of Rev­o­lu­tion - Vol. 5 War and Rev­o­lu­tion”. The strat­e­gy that Engels hit on that solved his great dilem­ma was this: Where­as tra­di­tion­al bar­ri­cades fight­ing was, after the Com­mune, no longer able to over­throw gov­ern­ments, the move­ment had an alter­na­tive to paci­fism. Uni­ver­sal suf­frage, then still seen as rad­i­cal (let’s remem­ber that we did not have it in the US till 1965 and even today there are efforts to restrict it) if com­bined with a demand for uni­ver­sal but short-term mil­i­tary train­ing, essen­tial­ly turn­ing the mil­i­tary into a pop­u­lar mili­tia, and com­bined fur­ther with a dras­tic cut in the mil­i­tary bud­get, coor­di­nat­ed with sim­i­lar poli­cies in every Euro­pean coun­try might, in Engels’ esti­ma­tion, pre­vent the World War he saw com­ing and if not cre­ate opti­mal con­di­tions for rev­o­lu­tion in which the troops came over the work­ing class side.

    The Ger­man Social Democ­rats buried this pro­pos­al, made end­less res­o­lu­tions call­ing for paci­fism and of course prompt­ly entered the war when it hap­pened. Besides, much of Engels’ pro­gram is not real­ly prac­ti­ca­ble today. Still, as an insight, it is help­ful. Already on two occa­sions, when the marine vet shout­ed down the police beat­ing Occu­py WS pro­test­ers, and again when a vet­er­an was injured by police hit­ting him with a tear gas can­is­ter, sol­diers appeared on the side of the move­ment.

    Beyond this, we might add anoth­er point. To the extent that a mil­i­tant wing of the move­ment may arise to help phys­i­cal­ly pro­tect the movement’s per­son­nel, it needs to take a page from the Zap­atis­tas, who do not see them­selves as inde­pen­dent of or supe­ri­or to the Gen­er­al Assem­blies of indige­nous peo­ple whom they serve. Final­ly, all cap­i­tal cares about is cap­i­tal. Cap­i­tal is always hostage to work­ers, has to be because it needs sur­plus val­ue to be cre­at­ed. This was the mes­sage of the sit-down strikes, of every occu­pa­tion, even of the Oak­land Gen­er­al Strike itself. In this sense, “non­vi­o­lence” can be more effec­tive than vio­lence as a pro­tec­tion again­st vio­lence, but this requires reach­ing work­ers at work en masse. A few occu­pied Wal Marts or Google cam­pus­es and we might see them back down.



  5. Eduard
    Eduard at |

    This is a help­ful piece, but describ­ing the sec­ond fence storm­ing as an “eva­sion” seems real­ly off… May­be that’s because eval­u­at­ing this entire week­end accord­ing to a mil­i­tary metaphor is inad­e­quate. the empha­sis of this frame on the ends of tac­ti­cal moves with­in some larg­er bat­tle strat­e­gy los­es sight of the “build­ing” that hap­pened in all those moments yes­ter­day, last night, today, and tonight where we learned and worked to sup­port and sus­tain one anoth­er.

  6. Ben Tucker
    Ben Tucker at |

    I don’t think any­one intends to start a shoot­ing war here, so using a mil­i­tary analy­sis of the actions is pret­ty inap­pro­pri­ate. What you’re doing is protest, not rev­o­lu­tion. Rev­o­lu­tion is a shoot­ing war, the idea is to kill enough of the ene­mies forces and destroy enough of their logis­ti­cal capa­bil­i­ties to com­pel their sur­ren­der. That’s not hap­pen­ing here, and if any­one there is in their right mind they don’t want to see it hap­pen. Even if you could do so, you prob­a­bly don’t want to turn Oak­land into anoth­er Sara­jevo.

    The means that you are using to protest aren’t going to achieve your goal. Engag­ing the police with non-vio­lent civil dis­obe­di­ence tac­tics will get you gassed and beat­en up, and arrest­ed for mis­de­meanors; engag­ing the police at bar­ri­cades using vio­lent tac­tics will get you gassed and beat­en up and arrest­ed for felonies. In both cas­es, you’ll be hang­ing around a jail for a cou­ple of days in a real­ly unpleas­ant sit­u­a­tion, pay hun­dreds of dol­lars into the sys­tem, have the free exer­cise of your rights restrict­ed, and spend hun­dreds of hours deal­ing with the trau­ma. In nei­ther case will any pos­i­tive result be achieved - what pos­i­tive results or changes in pol­i­cy have arisen from any of the actions in Oak­land?

    There are oth­er means avail­able, total­ly legal, and a lot more effec­tive at get­ting real change. If you can get 15,000 peo­ple out in the streets to shut down the port, you can force a recall elec­tion of Jean Quan, the may­or. Cur­rent­ly there are not just one, but two, recall ini­tia­tives again­st her: . She appoints the chief of police and sets the pol­i­cy for the police force. You can change the may­or and change the nature of polic­ing in Oak­land in this entire­ly legal man­ner. Even if you don’t agree with the rea­sons cit­ed by the recall cam­paigns, you can work with them, because once she’s recalled, there has to be a new elec­tion - and even if she runs, she’ll have a big uphill bat­tle to fight to get re-elect­ed.

    This is just one of the entire­ly legal tac­tics you can use to force change, there are many oth­ers. Think cre­ative­ly…

    1. Jericho Black
      Jericho Black at |

      1)What would the recall of Quan accom­plish in terms of the aims of Occu­py Oak­land -- even the most mod­est? Would it change the lev­el of police repres­sion? The answer is no.

      2)A block­ade of the port -- espe­cial­ly one with­out the tac­it con­sent of the dock­work­ers -- might invoke vio­lent police respon­se. Indeed, Jor­dan and Quan have promised to send in riot cops if anoth­er block­ade is attempt­ed. There is his­tor­i­cal prece­dent -- see 2003 when peo­ple were shot at and beat­en at the port.

      There is no way around a con­fronta­tion with the cops, except through qui­es­cence and social democ­ra­cy. We can be smarter, we can be more strate­gic, sneakier, but this is the real­i­ty. And even the failed con­fronta­tions play a part. Gen­er­al­iz­ing a cul­ture of street-fight­ing and antag­o­nism might real­ly help us in the future.

      1. Ben Tucker
        Ben Tucker at |

        The may­or appoints the police chief, so that has a direct effect on the lev­el of police repres­sion, because the police chief can hire and fire offi­cers and set Police Depart­ment pol­i­cy. You can sign peti­tions ask­ing the present may­or to do some­thing, or you can sign a peti­tion to get her kicked out of office and get some­one bet­ter in office. Get peo­ple in office who are on your side and you can achieve far more, and do so a lot quick­er, than you could pos­si­bly dream of by fight­ing riot cops.

  7. The Death & Forbidden Rebirth of the Oakland Commune « Kasama

    […] fol­low­ing piece is from View­point Mag­a­zine, a new com­mu­nist and anar­chist the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal com­ing out of Oak­land. Thanks to Joe for […]

  8. Sks
    Sks at |

    This is the best com­men­tary from the left on this top­ic I have seen.

    This is 1905. We will lose the bat­tles now, no doubt, but if we keep it up, if the com­mune snow­clones and grows, if we orga­nize and solid­i­fy, retain the ini­tia­tive, we can over­come.

    Pes­simism of the mind, opti­mism of the will. Pes­simism of real­i­ty, opti­mism of the ide­al. That is the line of march.

    All the pow­er to the Oak­land Com­mune! All the pow­er to the peo­ple!

  9. louisproyect
    louisproyect at |

    Haider has tend­ed to adapt to the black bloc in the past so this arti­cle is a step for­ward. The only thing I have a prob­lem with is his dis­missal of elec­toral pol­i­tics. With the grow­ing anger over a two-par­ty sys­tem that serves the 1 per­cent, activists will inevitably look for an alter­na­tive. Hav­ing a nation-wide elec­toral par­ty that is based on the grass roots is not just about hav­ing a voice in the elec­tions; it is also about serv­ing as a *ner­vous sys­tem* that help mobi­lize the mass move­ment dur­ing a cri­sis. We des­per­ate­ly need some­thing like this.

  10. The Death & Forbidden Rebirth of the Oakland Commune | Revolt Lab

    […] View­point Mag­a­zine Share this:FacebookTwitterStumbleUponDiggPrintEmailRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  11. Chris Hedges and the black bloc « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

    […] is why I found Asad Haider’s arti­cle “Build­ing the Red Army: The Death and For­bid­den Rebirth of the Oak­land Com­mune” in View­point so com­pelling in light of the fact that only two months ago he […]

  12. Paul Mueller
    Paul Mueller at |

    The Kaiser Cen­ter Con­ven­tion Cen­ter was a ter­ri­ble choice. For one thing the Fire Depart­ment reg­u­la­tions for a pub­lic audi­to­ri­um are much stricter than those for pri­vate homes or small indus­tri­al or retail prop­er­ties. The Fire Chief would have ordered the build­ing to be imme­di­ate­ly evac­u­at­ed. He would have been right to do so.

    Before I retired a cou­ple years ago I was a build­ing engi­neer for the SF Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and I fre­quent­ly worked the old SF Civic Cen­ter, a build­ing sim­i­lar in size and age to the Kaiser Cen­ter. It takes a crew of skilled union work­er to run this build­ing. An engi­neer to run the heat, ven­ti­la­tion, hot water, and house light­ing, trained secu­ri­ty to work the fire alarm sys­tem and open the chained exit ways, and jan­i­tors with knowl­edge of the com­pactors and and ser­vice doors to keep the place clean. Occu­py would have found Kaiser Cen­ter to be a cold dark cave, not the warm invit­ing com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter they hoped to cre­ate. And it would have been dangerous…dark cor­ri­dors and store­rooms in the base­ment, a bal­cony from one could eas­i­ly fall, etc..

    I am all for occu­py­ing banks or offices as a form of protest. I am for help­ing peo­ple squat in aban­doned or fore­closed homes. But if Occu­py wants a site it can use for indoor meet­ings and as a cen­ter for its activ­i­ties we should do what church­es and unions do: we should RENT a site. And it should be some­thing a lot small­er than Kaiser Cen­ter.

  13. wiseold snail (@wiseoldsnail)
    wiseold snail (@wiseoldsnail) at |

    it’s kin­da hard to take all this seri­ous­ly when there are mis­takes in report­ing. makes one won­der if you were real­ly in the same loca­tions as the rest of us. i don’t mean to say you’re being dis­hon­est, but either trim­ming the truth for the sake of brevi­ty, or some­how con­fused.

    there was plen­ty more police bru­tal­i­ty, ter­ri­ble beat­ings, after ten­th and oak and before the return to the plaza, and the return was not ‘tri­umphal­ist.’ peo­ple were recu­per­at­ing, and think­ing, dis­cussing, and decid­ing whether to move for­ward right away or give up for the day.

    if there was a dis­per­sal order at 19th and telegraph, i sure didn’t hear it, and that was tear gas used there. most of that crowd, after pass­ing through the fences there, con­tin­ued on for many blocks, north on telegraph and return­ing on broad­way past the ymca. police pre­vent­ed the march from con­tin­u­ing on peace­ful­ly, as you not­ed.

    at the ymca, you said peo­ple were ‘jump­ing over exer­cise equip­ment.’ are you writ­ing to enter­tain? video shows a fair­ly order­ly walk through the y straight toward and out the back exit.

    also, there was no fight with police back at the plaza after a very few peo­ple entered city hall. police did not evict peo­ple from city hall. peo­ple went in, came out, burned a flag, and dis­persed. no fight.

    lat­er out on 14th and broad­way, police from oth­er agen­cies did amass and threat­en peo­ple there, but there was no fight. in fact, police arrest­ed one wom­an for danc­ing in the street, while police them­selves were the ones to block the inter­sec­tion at this time.

    your thought­ful assess­ment is provoca­tive and inter­est­ing, but your premise is weak. ‘We are lucky that, unlike in Egypt, more tra­di­tion­al vari­eties of bul­lets are not cur­rent­ly on the table.’ there is evi­dence of live ammo snipers watch­ing over this. who do you think is in the heli­copter? do you think there are no police on rooftops? there is a state­ment made, on 25 octo­ber evening, via radio trans­mis­sion, caught on police video, basi­cal­ly stat­ing that the throw­ing of any objects by pro­tes­tors (non-lethal and even non-inju­ri­ous objects at ful­ly geared police) is grounds for use of lethal shot. we are up again­st those who would kill us in ser­vice to their mas­ter. greed is their mas­ter.

  14. fengels
    fengels at |

    It is kind of a no-brain­er that mil­i­tary terms are inad­e­quate to ana­lyze the given sit­u­a­tion, and that polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and oth­er fac­tors are prob­a­bly more impor­tant. How­ev­er, there is no rea­son why mil­i­tary terms should be com­plete­ly exclud­ed from an analy­sis. A spon­ta­neous mob cer­tain­ly is no army, but the police does in part act on mil­i­tary terms, and the inter­ac­tion between them and the pro­test­ers can not be com­plete­ly under­stood with­out the­se terms.

    That said, one state­ment from the orig­i­nal text struck me as fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed: (quote) Among the basic prin­ci­ples of mil­i­tary strat­e­gy is the one which dic­tates that you retreat when the ene­my advances. This is as fun­da­men­tal a prin­ci­ple as the one which dic­tates that you pur­sue when the ene­my retreats. (end quote)

    There is no such rule in mil­i­tary tac­tics, it does not make sense. What was prob­a­bly meant here is some­thing that sounds sim­i­lar, but is in fact quite dif­fer­ent. In mil­i­tary tac­tics you must choose your bat­tles _when­ev­er pos­si­ble_. You attack at that time and place where you have an advan­tage over the ene­my, and you _try_ to avoid con­fronting him at all oth­er times and places. How­ev­er, turn­ing your back to a bad sit­u­a­tion may even wors­en your dis­ad­van­tage and thus can­not be a gen­er­al rule. It cer­tain­ly is what the attack­er expects you to do.

    Let’s look at an com­plete­ly abstract exam­ple. If you are in an advan­ta­geous posi­tion, like inside a house or on high­er ground, and you come under attack, you want to use this posi­tion to your advan­tage, and not retreat light­ly, putting you in a posi­tion where you turn your back to the ene­my and give up your advan­tages.

    Or, as a more com­plex exam­ple, if you are ambushed in open ter­rain, you are cer­tain­ly in a bad posi­tion. The ene­my had time to chose the per­fect place for his attack and pre­pare him­self, while you are prob­a­bly star­tled and dis­or­ga­nized. But again, try­ing to retreat might not be the opti­mal deci­sion, because you have to turn your back to the ene­my, and because it is what he expects you to do. A coun­ter­at­tack, if viable, might catch him com­plete­ly by sur­prise and turn the odds in your favor.

    In the same man­ner, it is not imper­a­tive to pur­sue a flee­ing ene­my, which may put you from an advan­ta­geous posi­tion in a dis­or­ga­nized and exposed sit­u­a­tion, and dis­tract you from your orig­i­nal objec­tive, be it get­ting from A to B, defend­ing a posi­tion, or what­ev­er you set out to achieve in the first place.

    This may all be pret­ty much inap­plic­a­ble to the dis­or­ga­nized skir­mish­es we are wit­ness­ing, because, as said before, this is no war, and there is no orga­nized army except for the police. How­ev­er, if you choose to apply mil­i­tary terms to aspects of the sit­u­a­tion, do it right. Which is not real­ly all that dif­fi­cult, because, as we all intu­itive­ly know, mil­i­tary think­ing is pret­ty two-bit, although not so two-bit that one could not get it wrong.

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