The International Herbert Marcuse Society held its fourth biennial conference at the University of Pennsylvania. A mix of academics and activists, the conference represented yet another attempt to connect the two worlds. What better way than to have Angela Davis herself – renowned intellectual, renowned communist – share her thoughts with us on a chilly Friday night.
Only through following a long-term organizing approach can Occupy Wall Street begin to harness the anger and energy it has made visible and translate it in into a dynamic, class-conscious movement. And only the labor movement has the experience and organizational capacity to take on the challenge.
This is an unfinished work – a snapshot of history as it occurred, experienced by me, reported on social media, or retold by trusted comrades. It will lack the finality of hindsight. Contained within is my account of the Oakland Insurrection, as it has unfolded over the past days and weeks. Both the insurrection and this essay are works of hope. I hope that we push forward on the streets of Oakland, the Bay Area, and everywhere else, to the limit of what is possible – beyond occupation and the proposed general strike to “total freedom” for us all.
Dismantling a public education system in a country with strong background of political struggles requires a mitigated form of neoliberal strategy. Between 2009 and 2010, I observed this operation as a new professor at the University of Puerto Rico. In the spring of 2010, students opted for an indefinite strike. The one-month-long occupation of the Mayagüez campus left a permanent memory in those who participated in it.
On the morning of October 14, one week into Occupy Philadelphia’s encampment beside City Hall, someone emptied the contents of a paint can on the building’s southwestern entrance. This incident suggests the ambiguity and contradiction in the political imagination of Occupy Philadelphia. What constitutes meaningful action – a spectacular act of vandalism, the peaceful occupation of public property, or direct action on the horizon more confrontational and radical? There has been no shortage of activity – daily marches strike out to the usual targets – but as of yet no dramatic confrontations like those of Occupy Wall Street have occurred.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had already stepped down, following a popular movement that established a micro-republic, the Gumhuriyyah el-Tahrir (Republic of Liberty), which contradicted the pervading logic of the international economic system. And now protesters in Wisconsin were occupying the state house to prevent the passing of legislation that would effectively suspend bargaining rights for public workers. Sitting in a Washington newsroom, we needed a headline. I very quickly suggested something along these lines: “Middle East unrest spreads to the Midwest.” I got a side eye. After all, how could a free and open society, the democratic society, be taking its cues from, of all places, Egypt, an antique land with backward ways, Islamic fundamentalists, and Arab dictators? The editors went with a more modest title.
A general strike has been declared by the Oakland General Assembly. The original version of this song was the number one hit during the 1946 Oakland General Strike.
It could very well be that the durability and radicalization of this movement will rely on its potential as a mediating element between the the various segments of the class, their particular interests, and their traditional forms of struggle. Achieving this means going beyond a spontaneous reflection of changes in our working lives. It has to start by understanding the system underlying them.
While you restrict the activity of [workers’ councils] to the organization of labor in factories after the taking of social power by the workers, we consider them as also being the organisms by means of which the workers will conquer this power. In the conquest of power we have no interest in a “revolutionary party” that will take the leadership of the proletarian revolution.
Spanning an entire generation, a linguistic divide, and a geographical shift, the epistolary encounter between Anton Pannekoek and Cornelius Castoriadis in many ways marks the internal transformation of the ultra-left. But the ultra-left, far from a historical relic, is making headlines again.