The Oakland Commune

photographs: Michael W. Wilson

A band of 0%ers within #OccupyOakland’s 99% allowed the encampment to distinguish itself nationally by declaring a commune. The import of this banner must not be underestimated. It signifies the passage from protest to resistance.

Obviously, “The Oakland Commune” refers to the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Shanghai Commune of 1927 and not to the private, hippy communes of Marin County and points north.

The Oakland Commune does not exist as a population or a group. It exists as a series of actions. Cultivating powers and capacities as collective positivities makes the Oakland Commune exist.

The Oakland Commune doesn’t grow by seducing public opinion in order to enlarge its membership. It grows by showing what it can do. The Oakland Commune can make Oscar Grant Plaza habitable for a large number of people; it can run a library; it can resist assault by the police; it can fight other factions in the 99% for the right to actively defend itself against state violence; it can retake the territory from which it had been evicted by the brutal force of the police; it can spark direct action by 0%ers as far away as New York City; it can declare a general strike.

The General Strike and the actions that will issue from it bear the potential to spread communization to other parts of the city, to enact many communes — within a re-imagined Oakland and beyond.

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Capacity means the power to care for a territory — to replace the organs of capital and the state with our own flows.  The creation of positivities means learning how to do things so as to move beyond the need for government or private institutions. The commune does not need to co-operate with the city and state government to feed itself — they have proven their ability to feed themselves and the homeless. The commune does not need city workers to come in and clean Oscar Grant plaza, they have learned to keep it sanitary together.  The commune does not need the Oakland police department for safety — together they have learned how to create a zone of safety in downtown Oakland, even at night. The commune doesn’t need permission to take back the plaza from the chastened mayor or from outsider activists supposedly committed to non-violence — they have learned to reclaim the territory together despite interference from Jean Quan and counter-revolutionary elements within the 99%. The commune doesn’t need external mediators for its various factions to make decisions — they have exercised their decision-making power so successfully that they have created the conditions for a general strike, with participating unions joining in; without the commune, organized labor would not dare to strike. These activities prove the power of the commune.

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We must not neglect our capacity to defend ourselves, our comrades and our territories. The Oakland Commune has started to develop these capacities. An internal dialectic between non-violent white activists and young men of color who face violence daily resulted in the dismantling of the fence around Frank Ogawa Plaza and the return of Oscar Grant Plaza. The passage from protest to resistance means not submitting to arrest or eviction notices. The will to resistance cannot be distinguished from the willingness to fight with police and with those who wield peace signs and arrogate to themselves the right to forbid combat. If some within the 99% tell us that the cops are our friends, and the police announce that they too are part of the 99%, then we must separate ourselves. Resistance does not mean passively submitting to the violence of capital’s attack dogs or acquiescing to arrest. As the communards have shown, resistance means struggle on all fronts.

The current series of occupations can be traced to anti-austerity activism in California two years ago. It should come as no surprise that the occupation would be re-imagined there again — in the form of a commune — and with intensified positivities.