As you know, dear reader, in the Autumn of 2011, objective economic conditions mobilized many people living in the United States. From the perspective of someone isolated in Ohio who, despite Endnotes, still cares about communization and anarchism, the developments in New York City couldn’t have gotten off to a falser start. What happened last year in NYC was not a start at all: the current historical series of international occupations began in 2008 and 2009 at the New School and on UC campuses. The campout at Zucotti Park largely co-opted these events for the sake of a “mass movement.”
Occupy Wall Street began on September 17, but people didn’t actually occupy Wall Street. They gathered in New York City’s privately held Zuccotti Park. The campers had been called-forth by a Vancouver-based liberal consumer activist group known as Adbusters™. Although some have mistaken Abusters™ for an anti-capitalist organization, prior to OWS, they were safely ensconced in the capitalist marketplace of ideas and goods, having done nothing but create an “environmentalist” “alternative” business. Posing as neo-Situationists, they ran various campaigns of “subvertisments” which subverted nothing, as if what used to be called detournment has the same effect today as it did 5 decades ago when capitalism was still expanding.
Adbusters™ instigated gentle flash mobs and “Google™ bombing,” confining their activities to the level of ideas and avoiding militancy at all costs. Their material interventions consisted of selling. Adbusters’™ goods included a glossy magazine available at bourgeois gourmet co-ops, and Blackspot™ shoes made of recycled vegan materials by slightly-less-exploited workers in Portugal. They might as well have had an ownership position in the Anti-Mall in Irvine California. None of these practices conflicted with Abusters’™ moronic ideology, which centers on the claim that we all have “authentic selves” that need to be rescued through heroic acts such as avoiding video games and spending some time away from the Internet.
In 2009, an editor at at Adbuster’s magazine, Micah White, attended one of the first occupations in the current historical series, at UC Berkeley ‘s Wheeler Hall. Despite the fact that those occupiers were motivated by a desire for communization brought on by deteriorating material conditions at the university, White decided that the action was about building “a mental environment movement [sic] capable of smashing corporations, downsizing consumer spending and building egalitarian communities” along with other such idealist nonsense. White and the rest of the Adbusters™ crew went on to co-opt the form of occupation for their own program to capture emerging revolutionary energies for a citizen’s movement made up of people already represented in the cesspool of citizenship. Needless to say, they left behind the historical content of the first occupations.
Although Adbusters™ and their associates have pretended to be revolutionaries,
they organized a reform movement aimed at getting corporate money out of politics. That sole initial demand was enough to unmask Adbusters’™ anti-capitalist front as well as any pretense they had of understanding how capitalism works. To make matters worse, anthropologist and lifestyle-anarchist David Graeber helped them plan the September event. He added to the mix a simplistic understanding of horizontality, a love for counter-revolutionary general assemblies, the myth that the people of Tahrir Square were non-violent, and a total failure to realize that the Spanish acampadas had been utterly useless.
99% + 1% = 100%
On September 8, 2011 posts started to appear on a tumblr™ called We Are the 99 Percent set up by a new york activist seemingly known only as “Chris” and Priscilla Grim, development and marketing director for the New Media Collective. Objective conditions allowed the symbol-managers’ eponymous slogan to go viral. The posts on We Are The 99 Percent mainly feature photographs of people holding up signs bearing the rather long, touching stories of their financial misfortunes. In general, the narratives go a little something like this: “I played by all the rules, tried to be a good citizen, ended up with massive debts anyways and had to suffer consequences.” Grim and “Chris” clearly intended the phrase and the blog to offer a point of political identification in order to grow a mass movement.
Unfortunately, mass movements function as apparatuses of capture. Despite the many entries on the blog, few, if any, posts articulated a systemic critique of capitalism. The founders of the tumblr™ did nothing to encourage such a critique. #Anyone can understand that they did not do so because such critiques would be against their interests. Grim’s job depends on the continuation of capitalism. Such critiques, too radical for quick consumption by a truly mass public, would limit the viral contagion of We Are The 99 Percent.
The United States, protector of market democracy, was the 99%’s homeland. Grim and “Chris” seem to have derived the figure from data distributed in popular venues by players such as former World Bank Senior Vice President Joseph E. Stiglitz. Though such articles make international references, they define the top 1%, and the other 99% in terms of the US economy. The rhetoric of articles such as Stiglitz’s address the zombie citizen-worker. The labor of that zombie establishes her national civic belonging complete with rights and responsibilities. It excludes those unwilling to submit to labor or law. Sets defined by percentages of Amerikans, such as the ones drawn by Stiglitz, limit social conflict to one between people in, and largely from, the United States. They exclude those within the US who can’t, or won’t, enter representation’s hall of mirrors. Despite their claim that they want to make themselves visible, the 99% already get represented. They want to represent themselves in a new way, aspiring to become managers of capital for 100% of citizens. Steiglitz’s article typifies the economic thinking from which the 99% emerges, a reformist Keynesian scenario within which the supposed revolutionaries desire a better distribution of capital, not its end. #Anyone who has thought about revolution for more than a day can see that Keynesian regulation constitutes part of the boom and bust cycle of contemporary capitalism.
Many of those who gathered at Zuccotti Park in September identified with the 99%. The tumblr™ title became the campers’ more or less official slogan. The national data that provided the basis for the 99% figure spoke to their barely repressed love of country. The campers patriotically renamed Zuccotti Liberty Park. Instead of challenging the dominance of capital, much of the discussion there turned to rescuing the Amkerikan dream, a rhetoric that latched onto various pre-existent slogans among electoral politicians. From the beginning, the campers dragged the tradition of politics as we know it along with them. The 99% was on a brief vacation from voting, but were destined to become a voting bloq once again.
One ought not to feel surprise that the 99% call only for a reform of capitalism and not for an end to capital. They exist in a not-so-secret complicity with the 1% that they pretend to revile. Together, the 1% and the 99% constitute 100% of those assimilated within social representation. The material interests of the 99% force the group to support the democratic process. Electoral democracy is a phenomenon indistinguishable from capitalism, while direct democracy and economic democracy are nonsensical terms. The 1% and the 99% make up “society” as a whole and they need each other.
As Herbert Marcuse pointed out a long time ago, only forces from outside a given whole can negate it.
“The outside about which I have spoken is not to be understood mechanistically in the spatial sense but, on the contrary, as the qualitative difference which overcomes the existing antitheses inside the antagonistic partial whole [...] and which is not reducible to these antitheses. [...] [T]he force of negation is concentrated in no one class. Politically and morally, rationally and instinctively, it is a chaotic, anarchistic opposition: the refusal to join and play a part, the disgust at all prosperity, the compulsion to resist. It is a feeble, unorganized opposition which nonetheless rests on motives and purposes which stand in irreconcilable contradiction to the existing whole.” [Herbert Marcuse, "The Concept of Negation in the Dialectic:' Telos (Summer, 1 971): 130-132. Cited in Tiqqun. This Is Not A Program. Joshua David Jordan, Trans. Semiotext. LA 2011.]
In the contemporary United States, the 1% and the 99% make up Marcuse’s “antagonistic partial whole.” Nonetheless, the 99% has revolutionary pretenses despite being lodged firmly within the empire of capital like Leopold Bloom in Dublin. Even once and future Obama voters enjoy saying the word “revolution.” When they do, it loses all meaning.
The 99%, acts as the loyal opposition within the capitalist society. It cannot even formulate a critique of the system let alone start a revolution. Incapable of understanding itself as a diverse collection of relations, it mistakes itself for a group of individuals bound together by a desire for reform. The least radical common denominator unites the 99%. Such a low level of consciousness is an immutable feature of mass movements within the contemporary biopolitical fabric, one perhaps more pronounced in mass movements inspired by marketing professionals with day jobs that rely on the demographic logic at the heart of biopoltical governance.
Obviously, the 99% has a purely demographic form. When those who call themselves the 99% occupy a space, they do so in order to establish a provisional territory within which they can be counted. To a certain extent, elements outside the 99% have been able to instantiate other forms of life inside the provisional territories, but the 99% has so far prevented the new forms from shifting the biopolitical terrain surrounding them. The 99% can’t make war on capital’s form of life because they are part of the numerical regulation of life indissociable from democratic capitalism. They forget that they have been counted from the time of their birth and have occupied a territory since the genocide that took place in the Americas. No co-optation necessary: the 99% can’t prevent themselves from becoming a voting bloq. Starting with its name, the 99% assumes that something different will come from within the 100% and the economic relations that determine it.
The 99% simply figures a new spirit of solidarity — one that so palpably gerrymandered that even its Galbraithio-Keynesian priests quickly started to revise the percentage downwards while claiming that 80% should count as 99%. The professionals of identity among the 99% have realized that they are an overwhelmingly white group and make condescending overtures to bourgeois people of color to join them. They look away from #anybody outside of society, or even those on it’s margins until it becomes politically expedient to acknowledge them. As a result, they can narrate their identities as the exploited, but can’t tell a story about the origin or end of exploitation. Nowhere has this been better articulated than by this reading group from Baltimore, perhaps because, in addition to knowing the literature of political economy and insurrection, they get excluded from the 100% by the 100% because of their bodies.
#Anyone who bothers to look can find a fierce pride in being Amerikans – a pride that structures the 99%’s reformist citizen-consciousness. That pride finds its clearest expression in the 99%’s naturalized rules of membership. If the set included all of the people on earth, the 99% would become part of something close to 1% of the wealthiest individuals globally. In order to survive, they must pretend their poorly drawn Venn diagram refers to an actual state of affairs. The 99%’s new spirit of solidarity is, in fact, an old and vindictive one. It arises from the fact that their wealth comes from the exploitation of others. They conceal this from themselves by abstracting, homogenizing, and objectifying the concept of exploitation, as if it were milk in a supermarket. The 99%’s citizenship-drug produces the delirium of rights, among them the right to representation, while paralyzing the movements of 99% so severely that they can’t act in any way proscribed by the rules set up for them by capital. Incapable of seriously considering armed struggle or the seizure of indoor, unambiguously private property, they want to rebuild the Amerikan dream and voice their belief that it will “live again” and that “the Ameri[k]an way is to help one another succeed.” Sadly, Mayor Bloomberg was correct to assert that both the 99% and the 1% dream of a return to boom times — boom times based on the extraction of surplus value from someone, somewhere.
Only the magic of reification allows the 99% to understand their spirit of solidarity as a static thing that paradoxically grows while obeying strict but disavowed principles of inclusion and exclusion. The repression of the contradictions that define their membership allows this process of reification to succeed.
Neither every visitor nor every camper at Zuccotti Park was fully captured by the ideological apparatus called “the 99%.” A former student of Marcuse’s, Angela Davis, was one of the few celebrity speakers to openly discuss the striations structuring the campout and the 99% in general. She stressed the importance of a dialectic of differences, of struggle within the struggle. Davis spoke of developing the occupations’ revolutionary potential, but did not make the mistake of calling the current occupations revolutionary and thereby hollowing out that word even further.
Clearly, and perhaps less than fortunately, Davis wants to “meet people where they’re at,” so she uses the rhetoric of “the 99%,” but at least she seems to use the figure to name an element in a dialectical process that has an inside and an outside. She has been affiliated with a rather pathetic electoral politics, running for national office as a Revolutionary Communist Party member and continues to engage with Obama and his cronies. Nonetheless, she has consistently invoked those excluded from a society that pretends to be universal. In fact, she is one of the excluded. At the end of the Q & A that followed her talk in Zuccotti, she recommended that the campers identify with Troy Davis and “learn to become a dangerous class” from the prisoners who rose up at Attica in 1971.
The incarcerated and those on death row exemplify the outside described by Marcuse. In the simplest sense, society confines felons and denies them representation through voting along with other aspects of citizenship. Locked up felons don’t teach us to how to expand the 100% so that it includes them, nor do they teach us how the 99% can overcome and absorb the 1%. They teach us to destroy — to negate all extant social relations.
Naturally, Davis’s suggestions were immediately shot down by low-octane racist wannabe managers of semi-socialized capital. These Galbraithio-Keynesian’s wearing Leninist clothing felt the 99% should associate themselves with those who have power. Her attempts to change what “growing a movement” means and the reactions to them shine a light on the self-contradictory nature of the 99%.
The new spirit of solidarity reveals itself as nothing but the current face of the diffuse spectacle, social relations mediated by images which substitute death for life. The 99% clarified this when, in Washing DC, they arranged their bodies into a mass ornament, writing out 99% in a collective pose meant for aerial photography. They behave as if the spectacle were determined by the production alternative images and narratives, rather than by sets of economic relations. Predictably, their tactics and goals reflect the assumption that groups of individuals rather than sets of relations determine economies. In short they live as if trapped in a reflection on the surface of death’s mirror.
Given the renewed veneration of the first full picture of the earth taken from the moon in certain European philosophy seminars, one might think that the empire of capital has universalized death’s mirror and no one escapes potential representation as a citizen and capitalist subject. We are all reflected through a glass eccentrically, but we make a mistake when we think we have no choice but to aspire to become symbol-managers who must organize “messaging” capable of invoking a multitude desiring the socialization of capital. When we willingly accept the specular sensorium of capital’s biopolitical metaphors, we collaborate with the forces that turn us into our own bosses. Due to a parallax effect determined by class composition and the division of labor, the spectacle only reflects a part of the social whole properly, showing them to themselves as silent individuals. Some of us see on death’s mirror only distorted images of our relations. We remember that we have ears and mouths as well as eyes. Not every acoustic phenomenon communicates. As Empire’s LRAD teaches us, vibrations involve physical force.
We can make noise loud enough to break mirrors too.
Those who have no right to representation and those who refuse the stasis of rights and representation, the non-citizens without any desire to become citizens, don’t form a set. Their noise is the very possibility of the outside Marcuse wrote about. When we move as 0%, we refuse to join and play a part, we sing disgust at all prosperity and articulate our compulsion to resist with the tinkling of shattered glass. We seek to take the cities, not because we have a right to them, but because they must become communes. Position, not solidified specular identity, defines and delimits our “we.” #Anyone who moves away from capital’s empire toward the outside, #anyone who resists becomes us.
0% movements produce chaos in capital and empire. Their force increases along lines of affiance and separation based on concrete relations with others. Affiance and separation are anything but the growth associated with the 99%’s demographic counting. The constitutive disorganization and anarchistic fragmentation of 0% resistance has taught those involved that being too small to fail sometimes releases more power than being too big to fail. The lone warrior, the cell, the gang, the alliance that can shut down all the ports along a coast, the commune capable of occupying a whole city, collective sabotage, mass default: all of these 0% movements gain effectiveness from internal and external friendships and conflicts.
Although 0% movements vibrate across the globe, the region around San Francisco Bay resonates turbulently at the moment — Oakland in particular. The forces of the outside have emerged so strongly in Oakland and vicinity because of its concrete history of struggle with capital’s watchdogs. Police departments in the Bay Area have a long history of murdering unarmed men of color.
The killing of Oscar Grant on the night of December 31st 2008 to January 1, 2009 is the best known of series of deaths at the hands of police.
Those killings led to 0% actions among diverse groups whose internal conflicts and separations worked on each other to intensify the local rage. Because of these actions and the radical character of the UC occupations of 2009,
by the time OWS spread to Oakland, the anarchic forces of the outside could operate it much more effective than they could in New York City. The Oakland Communetook a plaza in front of City Hall and renamed it after Oscar Grant. Clearly, the communards do not intend to set up a co-operative alternative space, or a temporary autonomous zone. They intend to keep fighting until they turn the city itself into a commune that can serve as a base for the intensification of struggle around the world.
In Santa Cruz, communards took an abandoned Wells Fargo Bank building on Front and River Streets.
Though the city was eventually able to evict them, their action showed the importance of collectively taking private, indoor property as a base of operations. By exposing the willingness of the State Repressive Apparatus to act violently in defense of private property, the communards demonstrated the real stakes in our struggle. The fight against capital is a fight against the system of private property, understood as a set of social relations. The bank isn’t a quasi-public space such as Zuccotti Park. Taking it involved attempted expropriation. Unlike foreclosure occupations, the plans for a community center at the bank did not include outside activists going to a more oppressed community and doing radical charity work. The bank was taken from capital by a collective of diverse forces for the benefit of all. If we are to occupy places within which to care for one another, within which to develop our positive capacities, within which to plan, we have no choice but to defend ourselves against the intensified conflict that the state and capital will bring to us. Lessons learned in the Wells Fargo occupation have already been applied to a coming building occupation in Oakland.
Conflict also intensified on UC campuses.
The willingness of students and faculty to stand down campus police showed an ability to struggle at an increased intensity, as if, upon returning to the locations of the beginnings of this historical series, occupations had become sublated during their global travels and expressed themselves at a higher level upon their return. Communards among the activists were able to use this incident to start working on eliminating the UC administration and ending campus police forces.
The power of the communards to resonate was never clearer than during the shutdown of every port on the West Coast.
100% – 0%
Those who will not be counted do not struggle against the individuals in the 1% or against their actions; 0% struggles resist the system that produces the 100%.
The fractures created by 0% vibrations begin with positive capacities and will end in in the negation of the totality of capitalism’s economic relations.
0% movement merges lines of affiance and separation in a dialectic open to all, synthesizing the violence of capital with that of necessary resistance.
#Anybody can move through 0% positions, whether through direct action, support, care or the intensification of positive capacities.
0% noise does not sing a spirit of solidarity, it sings a circulation of bodies.
As objective economic conditions continue to deteriorate and the resistance’s diversity of tactics comes increasingly to include armed struggle imposed on it by the 100%, a dialectic of separation will redeem our vulnerability and aging.
To move through o% positions, get in where you fit in.
All power to the communes!