I’m going to talk today about Occupy Wall Street in light of our theme of incompatible publics. I claim that the occupation is best understood as a political form of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people. To call it a political form is to say that it is configured within a particular social-historical setting. To call it a political form of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people is to say that it has a fundamental content and that this content consists in the failure of capitalism to provide an economic system adequate to the capacities, needs, demands, and general will of the people. More bluntly put, to think about the Occupy movement in light of the idea of incompatible publics is to locate the truth of the movement in class struggle (and thus reject interpretations of the movement that highlight multiplicity, democracy, and anarchism—autonomism). So that’s what I hope to convince you of today.
Occupation is best understood as a political form of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people.
What mattered, and what opened up a new space of political possibility in the US, was that people were finally waking up to the ultimate incompatibility between capitalism and the people.
The daily activities of occupiers strove to bring into being new practices of sociality, new ways of living together, ways no longer coordinated by the capital but by discussion, mutuality, and consensus.
The movement’s early slogan, “We are the 99 Percent,” quickly went viral. It spread in part because of the Tumblr collection of images and testimonials to the hardships of debt, foreclosure, and unemployment, a “coming out” of the closet imposed by the conceit that everyone is middle class, everyone is successful. Conservative politicians bristled with indignation at what they depicted as the unfairness of the many who were now refusing to accept the one percent’s seizure of an outrageously unfair portion of the common product. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney scolded what he called the “politics of envy.” These privileged carriers of the 99 versus the 1 percent meme couldn’t quite grasp the change in the situation, the shift in the status quo whereby people no longer believed the myths that “greed is good” and “inequality benefits everyone.” They attempted to turn the issue around, making themselves into victims of exclusion and invective, as if the 99% were the criminals, as if our primary condition had been mutually compatible until some malcontents started to cause trouble, as if class war were a new rather than constitutive incompatibility between those who need to work to live and those who have enough capital not to. A fortunate effect of this tactic was the continued accentuation of class division—as a recent poll from the Pew Foundation found, 66% of Americans think that divisions between rich and poor are strong or very strong, an increase of 19% since 2009. Not only is this view held in every demographic category but more people think that class division is the principle social division than they do any other division.
In the setting of an occupied Wall Street, this “we” is a class, one of two opposed and hostile classes, those who have and control wealth, and those who do not.
The assertion of a numerical difference as a political difference, that is to say, the politicization of a statistic, expresses capitalism’s reliance on fundamental inequality—“we” can never all be counted as the top 1%. Thus, the announcement that “We are the 99%” names an appropriation, a wrong. In so doing, it voices as well a collective desire for equality and justice, for a change in the conditions through which one percent seizes the bulk of collective wealth for themselves, leaving 99% with the remainder.
“We are the 99%” also effaces the multiplicity of individuated, partial, and divided interests that fragment and weaken the people as the rest of us. The count dis-individualizes interest and desire, reconfiguring both into a common form. Against capital’s constant attempts to pulverize and decompose the collective people, the claim of the 99% responds with the force of a belonging that not only cannot be erased but that capital’s own methods of accounting produce: as capital demolishes all previous social ties, the counting on which it depends provides a new figure of belonging. Capital has to measure itself, count its profits, its rate of profit, its share of profit, its capacity to leverage its profit, its confidence or anxiety in its capacity for future profit. Capital counts and analyzes who has what, representing to itself the measures of its success. These very numbers can be, and in the slogan “We are the 99%” they are, put to use. They aren’t resignified—they are claimed as the subjectivation of the gap separating the top one percent from the rest of us. With this claim, the gap becomes a vehicle for the expression of communist desire, that is, for a politics that asserts the people as a divisive force in the interest of over-turning present society and making a new one anchored in collectivity and the common.
“Tactics as brand” neglects the way occupation is a form that organizes the incompatibility of capitalism with the people and emphasizes instead a flexibility and adaptability already fully compatible with capitalism.
Reduced to “tactic as brand” or “tactic as generator of affective attachment,” occupation responds in terms of communicative capitalism’s ideology of publicity. Communicative capitalism announces the convergence of democracy and capitalism in networked communication technologies that promise access and equality, enjoin participation, and celebrate creative engagement. Occupation understood as a tactic of political branding accepts that promise and demonstrates its failure. Communicative capitalism promises access? To whom and where? It promises access to everyone everywhere but really means to enhance and enable capital’s access to everything everywhere. The Occupy movement demonstrates this by occupying spaces that are ostensibly public but practically open only to capital; the 99% don’t really belong. Similarly, communicative capitalism promises participation—but that really means personalization; better to do as an individual before a screen and not a mass behind a barricade. And, communicative capitalism promises creative engagement—but that really means user-generated spectacular content that can be monetized and marketed, not collective political appropriation in a project of resistance. So the Occupy movement accepts the promises of communicative capitalism and demonstrates the contradictory truth underlying then. The resulting disturbance—pepper spray, riot gear, eviction—reveals the incompatibility at communicative capitalism’s heart.
At this point, the tactic of occupation is compatible with the system it ostensibly rejects.
Occupation installs practical unity where there was fragmentation, collectivity where there was individualism, and division where there was the amorphous imaginary of the public.
As the occupation movement unfolded in the US during the fall of 2011, it was clear that the occupiers were a self-selected vanguard, establishing and maintaining a continuity that enabled broader numbers of people to join in the work of the movement. Into a field more generally configured around convenience, ease of use, and individual preference—a field noted more for “clictivism” than any more strenuous or exacting kind of politics, occupation installs demanding processes through which protesters select and discipline themselves—not everyone can devote all their time to the revolution. Most activists affiliated with a specific occupation didn’t occupy all the time. Some would sleep at the site and then go to their day jobs or schools. Others would sleep elsewhere and occupy during the day and evening. Still others would come for the frequent, multiple hour-long General Assemblies. Nonetheless, occupation involved people completely, as Lukacs would say “with the whole of their personality.” As the occupations persisted over weeks and months, people joined in different capacities—facilitation, legal, technology, media, medical, food, community relations, education, direct action—participating in time-intensive working groups and support activities that involved them in the movement even as they weren’t occupying a space directly.
Providing a common form that no one could ignore, it drew a line: are you with or against occupation?
Protest requires living bodies in the streets.
Virtually any place can be occupied. Part of the affective pleasure of the movement in its initial weeks was the blooming of ever more occupations. The spread of the form spoke to the salience of its issues. Without any coordination from the top, without a national organization of any kind, people asserted themselves politically by adopting occupation as the form for political protest, occupying parks, sidewalks, corners, and squares (although not a state capitol as had been done during the Wisconsin protests at the beginning of 2011). Yet more than political symbolism, the fact that occupation could be adopted in myriad, disparate settings meant that multiple groups of people quickly trained themselves in a variety of aspects of political work. They learned specific local legal codes and shared tactical knowledge of how to manage media and police. Occupation let them develop and share new capacities.
So, duration and adoptability are key benefits of the occupation form. In contrast with the event-oriented alter-globalization movement, occupation establishes a fixed political site as a base for operations. A more durable politics emerges as the claiming of a space for an indeterminate amount of time breaks with the transience of contemporary media culture. People have the opportunity to be more than spectators. After learning of an occupation, they can join. The event isn’t over; it hasn’t gone away. Implying a kind of permanence, occupation is ongoing. People are in it till “this thing is done”—until the basic practices of society, of the world, have been remade. This benefit, however, is also a drawback. Since occupations are neither economically self-sustaining nor chosen tactically as sites from which to expand on the ground (block by block, say, until a city is taken), built into their form is a problem of scale.
Duration and adoptability are key benefits of the occupation form.
Three primary efforts to eliminate the incompatibility of Occupy with the status quo: democratization, moralization, and individualization.
I use “democratization” to designate attempts to frame the movement in terms of American electoral politics. One of the most common democratizing moves has been to treat Occupy Wall Street as the Tea Party of the left. So construed, the movement isn’t something radically new; it’s derivative. The Tea Party has already been there and done that. Of course, this analogy fails to acknowledge that the Tea Party is astro-turf, organized by Dick Armey and funded by the Koch brothers. A further democratizing move immediately reduces the significance of the movement to elections: what does Occupy Wall Street mean for Obama? Does it strengthen the Democratic Party? Will it pull it back toward the center? This democratizing move omits the obvious question: if it were about Obama and the Democratic Party, it would be about Obama and the Democratic Party—not marches, strikes, occupations, and arrests.
A related democratization advises the movement to pursue any number of legislative paths, suggesting that it seek a Constitutional Amendment denying corporations personhood, change campaign finance laws, abolish the electoral college and the Federal Reserve. The oddness of these suggestions, the way they attempt to make the movement something it is not, to make it functional for the system we have, appears as soon as one recalls the primary tactic of struggle: occupying, that is, sleeping out of doors, in tents, in urban spaces. In New York, protesters were sleeping in the inhospitable financial district, outside in a privately owned park, attempting to reach consensus on a wide range of issues affecting their daily life together: what sort of coffee to serve, how to keep the park clean, how to keep people warm and dry, what to do about the drummers, how to spend the money that comes in to support the movement, what the best ways to organize discussions are, and so on. The language of democratization skips the actual fact of occupation, reformatting the movement in terms of a functional political system and then adapting the movement so that it fits this system. The problem with this way of thinking is that if the system were functional, people wouldn’t be occupying all over the country—not to mention the world for, indeed, an additional effect of the democratic reduction is to reduce a global practice and movement against capitalism into US-specific concerns with some dysfunction in our electoral system.
Occupation is not a democratic strategy; it is a militant, divisive tactic that expresses the fundamental division on which capitalism depends.
The second mode of division’s erasure, the second attempt to eliminate incompatibility between Occupy and the generic politics of a generic public, is moralization. Myriad politicians and commentators seek and have sought to treat the success of Occupy Wall Street in exclusively moral terms. For these commentators, the true contribution of the movement is moral, a transformation of the common sense of what is just and what is unjust. This line of commentary emphasizes greed and corruption, commending the movement for opening our eyes to the need to get things in order, to clean house.
Moralization…proceeds as if the division Occupy Wall Street reveals and claims were a kind of infection to be cured rather than a fundamental antagonism that has been repressed.
An emphasis on individual choice denies the movement’s collectivity.
Democratization, moralization, and individualization attempt to restore a fantastic unity or cohesive public where Occupy Wall Street asserts a fundamental division, the incompatibility between capitalism and the people. Whether as a democratic political system, a moral community, or the multiplicity of individuals, this fantasy is one that denies the antagonism on which capitalism relies: between those who have to sell their labor power to survive and those who do not, between those who not only have no choice but to sell their labor power but nonetheless cannot, because there are no buyers, or who cannot for wages capable of sustaining them, because there’s no such opportunity, and those who command, steer, and gamble upon the resources, fortunes, and futures of the rest of us for their own enjoyment.
The three modes of disavowing division miss the power of occupation as a form that asserts a gap by forcing a presence.
Instead of locating the crime of capitalism, its excesses and exploitation, primarily in the factory, it highlights the pervasive, intensive and extensive range of capitalist expropriation of lives and futures.
How Occupy Wall Street is re-centering the economy is an open, fluid, changing, and intensely debated question. It’s not a traditional movement of the working class organized in trade unions or targeting work places, although it is a movement of class struggle (especially when we recognize with Marx and Engels that the working class is not a fixed, empirical class but a fluid, changing class of those who have to sell their labor power in order to survive). Occupy’s use of strikes and occupations targets the capitalist system more broadly, from interrupting moves to privatize public schools to shutting down ports and stock exchanges (I think of the initial shut downs in Oakland and on Wall Street as proof of concepts, proof that it can be done). People aren’t being mobilized as workers; they are being mobilized as people, as everybody else, as the rest of us, as the majority—99%–who are being thoroughly screwed by the top one percent in education, health, food, the environment, housing, and work. People are mobilized as those who are proletarianized and exploited in every aspect of our lives—at risk of foreclosure and unemployment, diminishing futures, increasing debts, shrunken space of freedom, accelerated dependence on a system that is rapidly failing Capitalism in the US has sold itself as freedom—but increasing numbers of us feel trapped, practically enslaved.
I want to close with the slogan “Occupy Everything.” The slogan seems at first absurd: we already occupy everything, so how can we occupy everything? What matters is the minimal difference, the shift in perspective the injunction to occupy effects. It’s a shift crucial to occupation as a political form that organizes the incompatibility between the people and capitalism. It enjoins us to occupy in a different mode, to assert our presence in and for itself, for the common, not for the few, the one percent. “Occupy Everything’s” shift in perspective highlights and amplifies the gap between what has been and what can be, between what “capitalist realism” told us was the only alternative and what the actuality of movement forced us to wake up to. The gap it names is the gap of communist desire, a collective desire for collectivity: we occupy everything because it is already ours in common.
Discussion (moderated by Krystian Woznicki):
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Thanks Jodi for this very engaging talk. I’d like to start, perhaps, with just a little of contextualization and also try and figure out where we and the people who are right now in this room and we also, perhaps, I don’t know… the people who are right now also thinking about this, what you’ve said, and where we are standing right now, perhaps, also in history, I mean also regarding the occupy movement… is this something that had its momentum and is now already over?
JODI DEAN: I have to say no, right? Because… I mean, I feel like, as someone participating in the movement, it’s important to keep my eye on the big picture. And so, no, I don’t think there’s a kind of objective, empirical outside view that can say, “Oh well, the movement has peaked.” I mean, everything that one says about it is already incorporated within it.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Right.
JODI DEAN: So, because it is an ongoing highly intermediated, highly reflexive movement. So, no, it’s not peaked right now… the kind of popular language is “Phase Two” and that Phase Two is the winter-time as we’re reflecting on what will happen in the spring, what the movement needs to do, what kinds of tactics will work, what kinds of… will there be possibilities of more concentration or is dispersion better? So, the first answer is: the movement is not finished, it’s just building, it’s just beginning. There’s also a little bit of a difference in the U.S. between kinds of…I usually think about it… it’s like the difference between New York and Oakland – because they’ve been more militantly active in the streets in the last month or so and in the East Coast it’s a little… you know, it’s colder, and the focus has been a little different. So, I do have a little bit of a New York swing to how I think about it. But no, it’s not… it’s just building.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Mhm… Are we talking mostly about the United States or other parts of the world as well?
JODI DEAN: I can only talk about the United States, I don’t want to make a guess about other places.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: So, perhaps, just in terms of, like, historical context, etc. So, you’ve mentioned 68, but you’ve been also a little talking about the alter-globalization movement, that perhaps could be said to have started late 90’s, perhaps, Seattle or something. To which degree do you see this movement as a precursor or, perhaps, also as an ideal or, you know, how can I say… something as a reference point, something to learn from and something to build upon?
JODI DEAN: The resonance with Seattle was huge; a number of the same people are also involved. You know, in the U.S., September 11th of 2001 kind of redirected a lot of energy away from the alter-globalization movement in the U. S. It’s not that people weren’t doing it… It’s that the… it wasn’t as galvanizing as it had been with Seattle and this had a number of different kinds of effects. One was people became active in the peace movement for quite a while; another one was just sort of shell-shocked and depressive. So, I think it’s reasonable to think of occupy as a continuation of what started in the globalization movement but had been quite dormant for quite a while and now people are waking up more. I also think that it’s got deeper reach into American culture and society now, right? I mean you didn’t have that with alter-globalization; it wasn’t a big deal in Kansas. It was more coastal. But now you’ve got occupations that have taken hold all over the country. Occupy Lincoln, Nebraska, is hugely active; they’re really engaged, they still have an ongoing encampment, they’re really quite active in their community, they’re all about occupation. So, you have a much more of a spread-out-ness–that’s good–than we did in the alter-globalization movement.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Geographically?
JODI DEAN: Yeah, in the country.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: And demographically also?
JODI DEAN: It’s hard… that… I wanna say yes, but that’s hard to say cause there’s not great empirical data. I mean, one can say easily that it’s a combination of students and recent graduates with no hope, those who have been foreclosed on, the unemployed, and labor–labor’s still part of it. But, that’s just an impressionistic analysis of the social composition of the movement. There’s not yet really strong empirical data.
You know, it feels a little totalitarian.
JODI DEAN: No, there’s a gap. There’s some people who are on the outside. That’s the 1%, right? There’s the deliberate gap, there’s an explicit division so it’s… I mean… if by totalitarian you mean includes everyone… no. If by totalitarian you mean insistent, ok. But I don’t think that’s a problem. The insistence is on a division and then rather than the kind of idiotic assumption, you know, the trickle-down approach to the economy or that somehow inequality is good for everyone, or that equality makes everybody better because we become more, kind of, competitive and driven. Those are the sets of lies, the sets of conceits that the movement is composed against. It’s kind of in some ways… I’ll stop here for right now.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: OK, we hear a lot in the recent, I’d say, two decades about this whole development, you know, of like social structures and how very much divided it becomes between those who gain more and more, you know, and those who, perhaps, gain less.
JODI DEAN: Perhaps? You said perhaps gain less?
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Well, I was…
JODI DEAN: It’s not a perhaps. That’s a myth. It’s true that the majority of the people don’t gain as much, right?
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Yes.
JODI DEAN: Perhaps? You said perhaps gain less?
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Well, I was…
JODI DEAN: It’s not a perhaps. That’s a myth. It’s true that the majority of the people don’t gain as much, right?
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Yes.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: OK, we just hit a number. You just said 75% of people are getting less money.
JODI DEAN: I said 99.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: 99?
JODI DEAN: Yeah.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: OK…
JODI DEAN: 1% has gotten a 275% increase over the last 30 years. That’s just if you look at income… the numbers get worse the closer you look–as in more and more horrific–at other indicators of wealth. I don’t know if you guys followed the barbaric American presidential process… but Mitt Romney, who’s one of the Republican candidates, pays less… he pays like 15% income in taxes and that’s because most of his money comes from investments… his percentage rate is less than a school teacher’s. That’s bad.
WOZNICKI: This is what I feel about this whole thing is, like, that this whole black and white approach, like to… either with us or against us… is perhaps also… yeah, I wonder – is there space for grey in there?
JODI DEAN: No.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: OK. This is only perhaps to get an idea, spread the word to the audience. There are 2 microphones. Just a second… There are 2 microphones, on the left side and on the right side and you’re very welcome to talk to us and to talk to everyone else. And just another question from Jodi, if we could maybe, perhaps, the light technicians, put the light on a little so we can see a bit better what’s going on there.
JODI DEAN: If this one… if that spotlight can come down… cause I can’t see people, I just see like flashes in my…
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, I think we are ready to take the first comment.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Hi. This is sort of like a difficult question. And I think it’s one that’s been asked a lot. I guess, like, in terms of the occupy movement and, like, the whole thing with, like, it’s a sort of movement that doesn’t make compromises, you know. There’s not necessarily specific demands… and I’m not one of those people who could take a movement for not making those specific demands because there’s a way to meet specific demands, obviously. Like, if specific demands also, like, conform to the system, like, you’re just making a compromise, right? And the way in which, you know, maybe this movement is so radical because it’s not compromising, it’s actually wanting to, you know, as you say, perhaps even have a revolution overturn the whole capitalist system. I’m wondering like, in terms of translating that in terms of, like, protest into reality, like, do you see the movement as a sort of like an idealist thing or sort of like… or is there some practical element to making that happen? Because… I guess just in terms of like, you know, the government seeing this movement, they’re probably not gonna give up power and just say…
JODI DEAN: I think that seems correct. It’s clear that the government is not giving up power. It’s clear when they have to use pepper spray on college students… when they have to surround a park with unbelievable amounts of policemen also in riot gear. So, you’re right, they’re not… even those kind of… even small scale set like 30 people in tents in Rochester, NY; these have been … some of them are still surviving and those have been threatened a lot. So, you are exactly right that it does not look, at this point like the United States state and military apparatus is gonna happily go home and say “Ok, your turn”. What does that mean in practice? This is a ongoing discussion. I think we should have a three-prong approach and that the three-prong approach has to be one that combines the… let me say this again. We would need a three-prong approach, but underlying that has to be growth. The movement has to keep getting bigger. It also needs to… it needs to have the practical tactics which come with occupation. You said “is this idealist”, but those are really material practices. Where people are figuring out “Ok, how do we feed 300 people in a park without eating pizza every day.” “How do we do that? Can we use community food groups, can we use collective and community forming groups? Can we connect with already on-going collective projects there?” So, the real practical part of occupation would be one part. Another part has got to be the direct action and the pushing direct action to keep exposing the intolerance of the state or of state governments and city governments. And then, I think, another part does not focus on law or legislation but does think about large management strategies. And, so one of the things to think… one possibility of that is imagining reverse privatization… that would be collectivization. And you can think about that in terms of water commons, land commons… if water’s a common, then… I live in up-state New York. One of our big issues is fracking and it’s where… essentially…. I don’t even know what’s injected – Something is injected into the ground to make natural gas come out. And what it does is it makes natural gas go into the water and so then the water becomes flammable. There are cancer rises, earthquakes happen… I mean it’s unbelievably strange awful kind of energy practice. If water was declared a common, then you would say… all the water, the water belongs to all of us… some people don’t get to decide to infiltrate the water with natural gas in order to profit from this fuel source. You could say education is a common. You would think that would be a natural thing, but right now what we’re facing are tons and tons of cuts to teachers, cuts to school districts, efforts to privatize more and more public school systems. If education is properly a common, then that has to be managed in the common interest. So, I think there’s gotta be a strategy that uses practices on the ground, direct action and a kind of building the scaffolding of a collective system.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: So, there’s a way in which protesting is really just a starting point, it’s not necessarily, like, in the, you know…
JODI DEAN: No, it’s a means for doing something. I don’t think of protest as an end in itself. I think it’s a really crucial means.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, thank you. I see we have a question ready in the right.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Well, I think there were multiple 68’s, and in Paris, after the strikes ended and Marxism kind of retreated into the universities, where it provided a really interesting excuse for a capitalism to claim that is democracy, was very tolerant and allowed the dissent and so forth. There was another 68 in Prague, where communism or this neo-feudal structure with its own 1% and own 99% was successful and continued for another 21 years, the neo-feudal structure. I just don’t see how a nineteen century philosophy that failed immensely, catastrophically in the XX-th century can deal with XXI-st century problems and I… well, I think the occupy movement and all the protests starting about a year ago in Tunisia and in Cairo and living up to now are about the failure of systems and about the failure of capitalism… I don’t necessarily see that that means that there’s a success of Marxism… it very well could be that Marxism has failed and capitalism is failing and maybe we should be looking for something else.
JODI DEAN: You know, people like to use that against any references to communism, though no one ever says “oh, democracy… That was such a fifth-century Greek idea, I’m just gonna let that go now.” So, you know, I think that if an idea is worth struggling for then it’s gonna come about in different iterations and it will change over time and it will be responsive to the present. A common academic title is “reimagining X.” So there’s reimagining gender and there’s reimagining markets and reimagining the family and reimagining democracy and I think a project of reimagining communism has a lot of possibly and a lot of vitality and we don’t have to get locked into the frame of a system that is past. I also think that we need to learn more from that system. It’s just… it’s remarkable how quickly the struggles and achievements of 70 years have been swept under the rug as if nothing is to be learned. And I think that’s a huge mistake, I think we can learn from all of the communist experiments.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, we can’t hear you so you have to stand up in line again, please.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Aren’t you just hijacking the occupy movement to justify your own ideological position?
JODI DEAN: Maybe. But I don’t think it makes me like a situationist. The truth of the movement, no matter how you look at it, has been the way it is responding to capitalist crisis. And that’s true no matter what perspective you take on it. I see the strength in the new collective forms that are emerging. So I don’t consider that I’m hijacking, I consider it an opportunity, for thinking better and again about communism and collectivity.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, I see many hands up in the air. I have to remind you, please go to the microphone stands and line up. Ok. It was you who’s next, please.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Ok, I got kind of a sense of proposition.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Well, go ahead.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Coming from Israel, I’ve had my share of occupation and it wasn’t mentioned here, but also in Israel there was kind of a big protest, ended up bringing out about half a million people on the streets that week. That was the biggest one. And it kind of concluded in this… nothing. You’d have pretty much the government wrapping themselves, like, Mohamed-Ali, around the ropes, letting the opponent strike them and then kind of like giving the final blow. And I was really intoxicated and it was an exuberant… the entire time of the protest. We were thinking “Ok, there’s a way we can maybe… but we’re also really, really skeptic… because we thought maybe this is kind of a way of aestheticizing politics that it making us to tackle, showing our unity, we’re together, we’re on the streets, we have power, and at the end of the day, everyone goes back to his day job and nothing happens. And one of the questions was… ok, what about violence? What about just… you know, raising your fists and just, you know, bringing rocks and in the old sense and that’s kind of, on one hand, a troubling notion, but then you think about revolutions that succeeded like, the French one, and … I don’t know. I’m really confused myself, I was looking back and … were we just invited to take part in a spectacle and now go back home… what are your thoughts about the possibility of use of violence or just a physical occupy Wall Street movement.
JODI DEAN: So, I wanna say two things. One has to do with spectacle. One of the things that’s been really great about phase two of the Occupy movement is the proliferation of actions that may not have a spectacular effect but have important political effects. In New York particularly, the movement against foreclosures has been very strong and so some of the different actions that were in the movement around foreclosure have been to take properties and then to put people in, who are homeless into those properties and then try to defend them. Others have been to occupy auctions where previously foreclosed homes are now being sold to bidders and the disrupt… like, one of the most recent actions around that had 60 people singing all the way through the action to stop the auction, so that it wouldn’t happen anymore. Instead, most of them got arrested and they had to close down the auction. What’s interesting about that is legally the auction is required to be public. And, so, they created a nice performative problem for the people in the court carrying that out. That’s not spectacular in the sense of there are 5,000 people in the streets, but it’s also a way of pushing the movement, and the movement growing, and the movement doing more than a spectacular politics. Ok, that’s the first thing. On violence… In the United States, there’s so many different legal levels. City governments, state governments, the national guards, county officials, like the county might maintain the jail, the city might have the police force and then you have privatized security forces, security guards… that differentiated structure can mean that you can’t say across the board yes or no to violence. I mean, the violence that’s happened in the movement has been coming from the police. The police have been the ones attacking the people. So, that’s not the movement’s fault, that’s the police’s fault. So, I think that understanding that part of it makes the question more complicated than just “what’s the role?” I mean, look, if a bunch of civilians who are not armed, you know, tried to engage in a violent struggle, we are likely to be massacred. So, it’s tactically just kind of stupid. But there are good reasons to push other kind of actions that might involve property damage or that might involve exposing the violence of the police. But something like a violent overthrow doesn’t really make a lot of sense on the ground, especially right now.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, thank you. Let’s see… I think it’s you that’s next.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Ok… maybe I agree with the idea of maybe thinking about Marxism again, but the idea of imposing strictly class struggle, to me, doesn’t sound right for some reasons. One is we’ve not been to 68, meaning that some of us have been born afterward, and there were people like ** introducing the concept of **, which in some ways legitimated the police and them, after that, in the 70’s, in the European countries of Eastern Europe there was a real socialism and that changed in a way readings possibles of Marxism, and I feel even also with production of personality in a way moves the question away from class struggle and on a pure question of infrastructure when Marx wrote the capital, we had tower plans based on water, now we have electricity, we can own a printer and have a publishing house in our home, and that creates new possibilities for collectivities which is less centralized and class struggle is an idea based on centralized struggle of the class, but we can now have independent publishing house in our living room and is no more even a strange anarchist idea. It’s something that someone can do where digital era is possible in a way. Someone can do with a Mac and a printer. And it’s like 1,500 euros to have a publishing house and to lead a publishing house and you don’t need a centralized structure. And occupy not being centralized to me it’s kind of putting a focus on that and bringing class struggle as this massive force into the question and annihilates other possibilities related to this.
JODI DEAN: I don’t think that class struggle requires centralized struggle.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Class is one.
JODI DEAN: No, I don’t think that’s true. If we recognize, with Marx and Lenin, that classes are fluid, particularly the proletariat… it refers to anyone who has to work for a wage, for anyone who has to work, who has to sell their labor. That’s a fluid category, so we can think in terms of not a fixed category of proletariat. There are those who are proletarian-ized , those who are at risk under capital and those who are solidly the 1%. So, I reject the premise that a class analysis has that centralizing tendency that you’re assuming. I also don’t think that the fact that everybody can, you know, write a blog or self-publish means anything about revolution at all.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: Ok, thank you very much. From this intervention we go to the next one.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Thank you very much. I think that I agree with you on this idea that the 99% is kind of galvanizing collectivizing slogan in a sense that creates a sense of collective identity, but I wonder if there is necessary a dichotomy between individualization and collectivization. And I think one thing I really like about occupy and about the way it used consensus is that perhaps it problematizes an easy distinction between the individual and the collective… without providing simple answers and I think it problematized that dichotomy.
JODI DEAN: I think you’re right, it does problematize that and that’s a good thing… I think that what’s been really interesting particularly during phase two has been the critique of consensus and the, sort of, breakdown of general assemblies. Both in terms of just a tendency… people showing up have a legitimating a role in different occupations. So, it’s interesting, it’s like you say.. dichotomy is breaking down. What I try to do is to keep pushing the collective part so that the cult of the individual as the locus of everything goes away. My hope would be that within the next 6 months to a year that the emphasis on “ Oh, every individual this, individual that…” that that will go away so that the kind of dichotomist thing that I use here wouldn’t be necessary anymore. I just think it’s necessary because of the rhetoric, or not the rhetoric, because of the strength of individualism in both the liberal and the autonomous forms in the movement.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: We’re coming to, I think, the last three questions. We are running out of time. So, I see one here and another here. Is there someone else? Ok, so you’re the third. Please go ahead.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: So, there were several questions arising in my mind when I was listening to you talking. The first one was… it’s a question for your presentation. When I think of myself, I have many identities, many… and one of my identity is I’m a medium/upper-class girl, I represent here 1% of society. I have my good job, I have my good education, I’m taking part of a diverse university, these courses, I really social mobility and when I look around here, in this room, “we” does not represent society as its whole, yeah, a lot of elements are missing here. When I think about the 99% out there, there’s, I think, no one here, I recognized one guy of this 99%. He’s homeless and he’s trying to warmth in here. I met him the first day I was arriving here and I pursued talking with him and I got to know him a little bit and he will be part of this festival in his own way.
KRYSTIAN WOZNICKI: That’s the question?
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: No, it will come. Ok. When you’re talking about or listening about collectivism you think it leads to communism. And, my question is, what about anarchism? What about anarchistic ideas about collectivism? What about anarchistic ideas to reorganize society and in the academic discourse are always rejected or ignored and I don’t like that. And I would really be interested about your thinking about anarchism. Thanks.
JODI DEAN: Well, I guess in the, kind of academic theory circles where I travel anarchism is not ignored, it’s very strong. And I think it is strong because Marxism became really unfashionable in the late 80’s and 90’s… and it’s not just a coincidence that this corresponded with the fall of communism in ‘89 through ‘91. But in the academic world, Marxism sort of suffered a major decline… instead people did a bunch of cultural work. At the same time, what’s happening is the overall sweeping nature of neo-liberal capital. In that setting, anarchism actually started to flourish academically. It was also very strong in the alter-globalization movement because it seemed to offer people a lot of choice, a lot of alternatives, an absence of repression, a focus on specific issues, specific actions right now. So, I don’t see the absence of it, particularly in occupy Wall Street. In the U.S, David Graver was very visible and he never claimed to be a leader, he was very upfront about that, but his views were visible as important and guiding for some of the people initially. So, the first part I don’t think it’s been missing. I disagree with it because I think we need big state structures.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Hi, so you mentioned that occupy Wall Street is in, kind of, phase two at the moment. And it slowed down a bit over winter and we all hope it’s gonna come back. As far as I see, politics or working in politics is something that you have to do for quite a long time, like, you wanna have… you wanna work in politics over decades and you want to have a structure to sustain yourself. Occupy Wall Street is only a year now… but… isn’t it?
JODI DEAN: Not even. Occupy Wall Street just started in September.
AUDIENCE SPEAKER: Ok, sorry. But the occupy movement… anyways, sorry. So, my question is why don’t you or what’s your plans into using maybe existing democratic structures, which is something that for example, the german green party did the private parties did, like the anti-nuclear power movement in Germany did to sustain their politic work over decades?
JODI DEAN: I think that’s a good question. I can only answer for right now. Cause right now there’s a lot of hostility towards going into any kind of of mainstream party direction. Part of that, though, is really specific to the U.S. context of only two parties. And we only have a maximum of 7 states that allow fusion voting. Fusion voting is where you can vote for someone that’s in the green party, the socialist party, but it’s like… with fusion voting someone can run like a candidate in, like, 4 parties. So, let’s say like Ralph Nader would have been green party, but he might have been counted as a member of 2-3 other parties. For state that allows fusion voting, he can accumulate the votes from any one of those parties. Other states don’t allow that. So, if you ever vote for a third party candidate it’s just a race that doesn’t exist at all. So, we’ve got a voting structure, an electoral structure that makes third parties really, really difficult. When they’ve been successful, that’s tended to be because of someone with an immense amount of money. So, I think a party idea is not great for us. The other structure that has been influential but highly criticized is “Move On”. “Move On” has done some stuff in solidarity with occupy Wall Street, but for the most part, most people in the movement don’t want to be co-opted by “Move On” because we see it as essentially a funnel into support for the democratic party. And it does, it tries to push the Democratic Party away from the right, where it is right now. As a long term thing… what I’d want to see is a long time thing… This focus on finding ways for collective management of the commons and then trying to insert those kinds of plans in a whole variety of locations… And I think that that’s a different way of approaching a long-term process than a party-directed one.
- http://www.transmediale.de/node/20271 [↩]
- Woznicki wrote a remarkable art review for Eurozine in Fall 2008, in which he claimed the “Zombie” as the most accurate representation of society’s excluded: “Referring to photographs by Bruno Serralongue, Woznicki suggests that the excluded are best represented as zombies: they appear as a community that wants to force its way into society. Their goals are unclear.” [↩]