Occupying a non-place

In an exclusive new essay for Bella Caledonia, author Ewan Morrison has some critical words to say about the direction taken by the global Occupy Movement.

OCCUPYING A NON-PLACE

by Ewan Morrison

The Occupy Movement, as I write this in March 2012, exists in (according to Wikipedia) “over 95 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States”. Six months on from the initial flash of activism in New York, hundreds of thousands of people, it is claimed, globally, are continuing to occupy areas within their cities, despite attempts by governments to remove and displace them. Against the picture that the mainstream media attempt to paint of a movement in decline there are plans for widespread co-ordinated “actions” around the world in May, and plans to “re-occupy” Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street movement first started. The postings on Adbusters demonstrate the ethos and ongoing energy of the movement. In the last week people have posted: “The Internet is a critical mass tool to reach the masses” – “THE FEELING OF GOING OUT TO A PROTEST IS AWESOME” – “This is only the beginning”. The credo is that the new internet social media coupled with street demonstrations and “occupation” are a powerful new political force – “It’s brought out a lot of issues that people are talking about. … And that’s the start of change.”

Occupy protest 6 months anniversary ends with police sweep (Daily Telegraph)

Who would want to question such idealism, such a growth of collective hope? Who can contest the root causes behind the movement – the inhumanity of the global banking system and the growing gap between rich and poor. We are the 99% and we, in our many countries are changing the face and the future of politics. We want to believe this; it makes us feel good, to sweep away decades of cynicism, to be part of a growing global movement.

But the Occupy Movement is failing and is ultimately going to collapse. And this is not because of some external oppressive force: the CIA or MI5, or the Police, but because, at it’s foundation, the entire project is flawed.

I say this as someone who sympathises with the issues that protestors are attempting to raise; as someone with a long history in left wing engagement and as an ‘angry victim’ with a toxic mortgage.  I absolutely agree with the need for change, but at the same time I sense that the Occupy movement is marching into some vaguely imagined future, blind to the immense history and failure of such attempts in the past. The Occupy Movement is attempting to live in a politic and a space that no longer exists.

I do not arrive at this conclusion glibly but on the back of serious evidence. I cite the example of the catastrophic failure of the OM in my own city. The Glasgow ‘incident’, or ‘catastrophe’ is the Black Swan in the supposed unity and social relevance of the OM project. Glasgow is the ‘local’ exception that cannot be swept under the carpet in the name of some greater hypothetical  ‘universal’ unity.

Occupy Glasgow

Glasgow Occupy Protest Camp in Kelvingrove Park, January 2012.

I walked through the Kelvingrove park in Glasgow this week – a large public park run by the city council department of land and environmental services – and I looked out at the grassy space where the Glasgow Occupy movement ended its protest eight weeks before. The area has now been returned to it’s former use as a dog walking spot, and no single trace remains of the fenced encampment that the Occupy protest inhabited in their twenty or so tents for over a month through the hard months of winter.

This park was their second ‘site’ as they had been moved on from their first, by the council. Formerly, from October to December 2011, the Occupy protestors had been camped in George Square: a plaza, an area of publicly owned land, within a hundred yards of the City Chambers – the site of local government. There is no stock exchange in this city, but the fact that the protestors were not aiming at a finance industry target, but at local government, was not the reason for their failure.

Glasgow Occupy protest Camp, George Square Glasgow, November 2011.

There had been a controversy that reached the tabloids, which involved the rape of young woman who had been taken in by the campers. Stories report that she was homeless and a drug user, others state the naiveté of the Occupy protestors, who gave the woman a place to sleep. Others say that having a camp of tents in the middle of a city with one of the highest rates of violent crime and drug addiction in Europe was just asking for trouble.

Back in January, as I walked round the encampment in the park (three miles away from the first location) I saw a sign that had been put up: hand painted on tarpaulin. It said: “we respect women”. And I thought how terribly easy it was for ‘accidents’ to make the headlines and re-set the agenda of the OM. The encampment in the park suddenly were asking the populace and the press to understand that they had not facilitated a rape. Their other hand- painted signs which decried the current state of capitalism – ‘Greed is not good’, ‘We are the 99%’, were obliterated by the fact that they had put others in harms way; that they had failed to understand that a circle of tents in the middle of the city would invite crime and abuse from the passing populace, who did not share their views, who did not believe that another world was possible, who sought, as perhaps the bankers have done, to exploit all vulnerability for their own gain. In their second location in the park, the protestors were asking a handful of joggers, some toddlers on swings and the trees for forgiveness.

And we can overlook this fact, this rape, and say that it was an unfortunate and accidental event; one that the tabloids, furthering their right wing agenda, used to their own ends, to defame and discredit what it perceived as left wing activists. But the violation took place, and the OM in Glasgow were naive enough to think that their ideals would protect them from the contingencies of social reality. They were, more than in part, to blame.

Defenders might say that it was merely a case of the wrong place at the wrong time; they might add that this isolated event did not discredit the entire OM. But they are wrong; the act showed precisely what is wrong with the movement and why it is doomed to fail: The OM, globally, is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We have seen images of people like Occupy before – in Paris ‘68 and Woodstock and the Civil Rights Movement. Occupy, in its mindset, is replaying the last breath of a revolutionary alternative to Capitalism from forty years ago. It is worth noting that many of the Occupy movement are the children of the once radical baby boomers; that there is some nostalgia involved here in a movement that quotes Martin Luther King and Gandhi; that expounds passive, non-aggressive resistance in the same breath as ‘Revolution’. It is as if the children of the hippies and Maoists had taken to the streets to re-enact the dreams of their parents. Only this time they have done it globally and virtually, through Facebook, Youtube and Twitter; their heads full of images of dreams that were not even their own, images of revolution in hi-resolution, a replay, a sequel, a mash-up with a retro soundtrack. And it is not surprising that they mistake images for reality.  Since 1968, the world has been colonised by images, as the critics of the time such as Guy Debord warned it would be. The revolt of 2011/12 is the Society of the Spectacle with the children of the revolutionaries re-enacting their parents failed revolution, Karaoke style – a circulation of repeating images, played out on the global non-places of the portable internet image screens of capital.

The wrong time at the wrong place. A virtual revolution is not a real one. And how many of these rebels really believe in the radical alternative to capitalism that their parents did anyway? How many would fight for a socialist Command Economy – really the end point and only radical alternative to laissez faire capitalism and the one that is expounded by the Zeitgeist movement – an Internet movement very popular with Gen Y and Occupy Protestors. How many of these protestors went through the decades of questioning that their parents did – those socialists who had to admit that their dream of a planned economy led ultimately, in the 20th century, to Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the gulags of The Soviet Union. How many would be able to argue for how their plan for the restructuring of an entire economy would differ from these tyrannies? How many would be able to articulate whether they were fighting for revolution or reform, and would understand that the one, by definition, contradicted and was the enemy of the other? How many have actually studied politics; how many were even involved with unions?

In this world of first time protestors, this world of non-places, ahistorical events and global corporations – the images of ‘change’ and ‘revolution’ are removed from their referents. Amnesia is part of this image-saturation culture, and so young protestors do not know, have forgotten, or were never told what revolution is FOR. They think that protest, in itself, will magically result in some abstract notion of undefined ‘change’ because they see on their smart phones images of themselves which match with images of revolt from the past. They feel like they are the stars in a remake, without any understanding of what the original was about. They get bored after the explosions and riots die down, when it comes to the question of what a better society might actually be and how and if it could and should be structured.

The Occupy Movement famously shies away from any structural plan for change. It opposes the idea of any one singular agenda. It is, as a result, nothing more than a catchment area, an enclosure for people who have such differing agendas and issues as taxation, gay rights, feminism, union laws, pensions, Trotskyism and ecology. It sees its lack of an agenda and lack of concrete political demands as its strength, as a symbol of liberalism – it believes in the possibility of a new, slightly different, multifarious, everything.

The Occupy movement occupy a fantasy from the past, removed from history or consequences, a very generalised idea of the idea of progress through self-expression; a really very naive notion of liberalism – if we just all get together and talk about what we need, we are sure that there will be some kind of solution. Of course it all fragments into a cacophony, but the unifying ideal is self-expression, and this is a very American idea. And this is the American problem. Only now, as Occupy moves round the world, America is yet again colonising global minds.

What do you want? What do you desire? Write it on the board and we’ll fight for your right to fight for it.

In all of this talk of talk of freedom, the one thing that is not grasped is place. With 300 differing ideas of freedom, a focus needs to occur, so a place must be found. Call it Wall Street, call it a city square in Glasgow. Occupy have created this idea of place as way to anchor their own confusion.

But the places these protestors attempt to occupy are the wrong places. They do not have any effect on the workings of Capital, and Capital has made sure that that is the case. Such protests have only momentary reality in that they can have a presence in the press, as images. The problem for the Occupy movement, is a philosophical and temporal one – based on an outdated concept of “sense of place”, one that Capital does not recognise. Capital has no place to occupy, it is ever shifting, between spaces; moving round the globe. Billionaires like Soros and investment banks like Goldman Sachs, have moved capital through currencies and destroyed national economies in mere milliseconds.

So pitch a tent in a park in protest. Scream, I am here, I am not moving!

What is a place now anyway? When streets in every country are lined by the same multinational corporations and their brand logos and identities appear in schools and hospitals; when the same malls, with the same designs and products occupy the same cities in Pitsburg, Geneva, Mumbia, Rome, Islamabad, Moscow.

In none of the “95 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States” do and did the protestors actually occupy a stock exchange. Even if they did, what would it mean to occupy such a place? A stock exchange is now little more than a meeting place for traders, it could uproot and relocate anywhere within minutes. But still the Occupy movement cling to the false idea that they can interfere with global trading by getting closer and closer to the ‘corridors of power’. A hundred yards away, a mile.

In New York, the protestors have been moved further and further away from any space in which they could momentarily interfere with global markets, and now they have bought the delusion that the second position they were moved to – the publicly owned Zuccotti park, is now their new radical goal for ‘re-occupation’. After many months of protest there is not one single thing that protestors can claim has been their positive effect on the flows, the ups and downs of global capital. If anything the US economy has rallied during the time of protest. In the UK, we are this week witnessing the government agree on a drop in the level of taxation by 10% for the 1%.

The Occupy movement makes the same mistake that Umberto Eco pointed out in the 1970s: that the ultra left ‘terrorist group’ the Brigade Rosso made in kidnapping individuals and bombing banks and corporate buildings. They assumed that Capitalism was like Feudalism, that there was a ‘head’ – ‘a Capo’ to decapitate; that they could ‘strike at the heart of the state’ and that that state, had a location and a face. Eco, was right then, at the very start of globalisation, and his truth is harder to bear now. Where is your target? There is no head, there is no heart, and the state is not the problem or the target. Power has now moved way from a centre, a head, a building, a location. Power exists precisely in the ability to move, without warning, the threat of abandonment that it imposes on us. $45 billion leaves your country in a nanosecond. People that are tied to a place are powerless.

Global capitalism does not exist in a place but in the cloud – the digital cloud. Capitalism now is algorithms and computerised bets, money printed on the back of debts, on derivates based on speculation. Where is the place that you can tie any of this down to? The Brigade Rosso would have bombed the stock exchange, but now trading would have continued just down the road in Starbucks.

The Occupy Movement is in the wrong place at the wrong time. People can be wrong, millions can be. The intentions of the Occupy Movement are worthy, but they, in protesting in the way that they do, entrap themselves not just in police cordons but in the past. The occupy movement is occupying dead history. A past in which places counted for something.

The hippies have returned, with their alienated desire to belong, pitching their tents not against the capitalists but against the forces of nature. Protestors who faced a long hard winter, then a bitter frosty spring somehow believed themselves to be fighting against derivative traders. But in the end they were fighting against muscular endurance, against snowflakes, hunger and leaking tent walls.

And the Occupy protestors get it wrong in another way. A way that has been wrong since the sixties. They believe that information in itself will change things. If they can just protest long enough and get enough media attention then their message will get through in the end, others will be converted to the cause.  And so they chant and make slogans and try to express what they feel and to win the media to their cause.

And all the time they do this capital moves, silently, unspoken. Billions of dollars, effecting millions of lives.

Images floating in the cloud

The wrong place at the wrong time and the wrong understating of what language is and who expresses it and who sees it, and what effect it will have.

Ironically, the Occupy movement clings to this outdated idea that they can spread their word and that others will join. And they do this with the belief that if they keep their idea wide and open enough; if they don’t tie it down to specific demands, which might be too radical and so would dis-encourage others in joining them, they will achieve a critical mass. But this is a mass that is so wide as to be completely uncritical. And so the OM encompasses ecologists and gay rights activists, there are people in their fifties who have lost their homes through toxic mortgages and people in their twenties who can’t get a first job. Everyone is angry but for different reasons. Their common belief is that if they stick together and stick it out they will become an image of resistance, that will then inspire others to join.

Images dreaming of being images in the non place of media

Whether we like it or not, whether we resent it or not we, in the rest of the world look to America for guidance, for trends. Over decades we have learned that what happens in America comes to us eventually. We even clamour to be the first ones to accept it. Disco, Hip Hop, Job deregulation, Union Bashing, Free markets.

Our places, our countries are already ‘Occupied’ by the American way, they have built the infrastructure of our cities and towns. They won’t let protestors occupy their banks, their malls, the retail districts, so all that is left is common land and churches (as it was in London). In Glasgow the protestors ended up in a tree-lined glade owned by the local council, three miles from the retail centre and the banks.

Occupy Wall Street carries the failure of its declaration on its shoulders and passes it on round the globe, in that Occupy Wall Street never occupied Wall Street. Occupy London ended up in the grounds of a Cathedral.

The misunderstanding of where is to be occupied, and what the purpose of this act of human endurance actually is, is now a central problem for the movement. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek said to thousands on his visit to Occupy Wall Street – ‘don’t think about this as a stance and a story that you will tell your grandchildren.’ And he was right, he meant, don’t become nostalgic for an event that is happening as you enact it – prepare for it to escalate into revolution, don’t stand around taking photographs of yourself making peace signs. Rebellion as gesture which leads to nothing, which you accept as doomed, but which you take part in so you can say ‘I was there’, is a pathetic waste of energy and generational hope, and potential. ‘Don’t fall in love with yourselves.’ was Zizek’s warning.

The Occupy movement must become more than a virtual ‘stand up and be counted’ this must become more than a virtual petition. All to easily Occupy has become two things: a thing that you LIKE on Facebook, and a personal self-improvement/endurance test in a tent. Neither of which have any effect on the flow of capital.

What place then should be occupied?

It is a non-place. Not Glasgow or Moscow or Pittsburg or Tel-Aviv.  We must remember, from the 70s, the phenomenon of ‘Capital Flight’ – whenever a country or area becomes radicalised: whenever it stands up for the rights of its populace, its unions, the multinational corporations and banks take flight. This was the very phenomenon that led to the collapse of the labour party in the UK and to the birth of Neo Liberalism and New Labour – the fear of flight of billions overnight; this, the force which drives governments into conservative reforms and austerity. “Capital flight”. If you introduce social reforms and if you tax the rich, we, the corporations and traders, will abandon your country, we will no longer occupy it.

So how do you fight this?

The Occupy protestors think they can win this battle by information, by telling the world what they want, but in so doing they sell themselves on the same market as commodities, on information and speculation, they enter and maintain the non-place of global information.

To information we must then posit silence. By silently taking money away from the banking system, by not telling them what we are doing, by simply acting; by not asking the media to represent us, or diluting a message to fit, but by sinking below the radar.

Capital does not occupy, it abandons, that is its threat and its power. To overthrow it we too must abandon, not occupy. We must abandon the non-places that Capital has colonised our countries with and invest in rebuilding real places once again. We must move our money to local credit unions, to local commodities and jobs; to circulation with local people. We must take what little we have and invest it in the places we inhabit and we must abandon their places, their malls and streets, their stores and banks. This is how we occupy. Not by pitching a tent on a piece of land and saying Here I am, count my number. But by silence, secrecy and abandonment. Rebellion must ape the capital it follows and subverts. It is no longer a question of stand up and be counted, but of remaining uncounted and letting others count the cost of your actions. The time of tents is over, and now something as ever-shifting as secretive and as potentially destructive as Capital itself must emerge.



Categories: Anti-Capitalism, Banking Crisis, Death of Capitalism, Direct Action, Glasgow, Globalisation, Left, Occupy, Social Movement, Uncategorized

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20 replies

  1. While your final point is obviously an important one, though not without it’s own naivety. While the fag end of the UK occupy movement did look a lot like all too familiar protest, you are mistaken if you believe that these ideas weren’t present in the occupy movement itself.

    Occupy was and still is an attempt to get past protest as mere simulation, a simulation that much more to do with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions than ‘May 68’ or Woodstock (you can’t really think Woodstock is a reference for many occupations).

    Occupy is an opt out – though you’re right to say it’s one without enough of an economic focus. To a large extent it opts out of media representation, much more so than previous protest movements, and opts out of ‘call to power’ protest that failed so badly for the anti-war movement. It is acutely aware of the difference between revolution and reform. Your attempts to being theories of non-place into the argument seem a little under-thought, but I would argue that at it’s best occupation creates place where previously there was none

    Your world-view, rather arbitrarily divided into laissez faire capitalism and murderous statism, might not be able to believe it’s possible to reject both, but you should remember that Capital also doesn’t give a shit if you stop going to tesco and order an organic veg box instead.

    • I raised the question of murderous statism versus laissex faire capitalism to highlight a question that has excluded many of my generation from the OM. So may of the OM are uncritcal or unaware of the alternatives to capitalism, and the fact that there is a century long history of attempts to create other kinds of states. The OM and the Zeitgeist Movement have a lot of cross over. The ZM are one of the few contemporary movements to actually advocate something beyond some vaguelly defined ill informed notion of protest, but they when you study their material and their ideas, they are old school statists. Top down, social planners, with an elite at the top who make all the decisions. As with 68 there is a lot of lurking Maoism within the OM and ZM. Most of the rest of this ‘protest’ is just people expressing their rage in the wrong place, then going home to feel better about themselves. The question you raise is an important one – what are the alternatives to laissez faire on the one hand and statism on the other. This is nmot a debate that we are hearing from the OM. And it should be.

  2. Such a long piece, so many points repeated… and clumsy writing. “Since 1968, the world has been colonised by images, as the critics of the time such as Guy Debord warned it would be.” Ouch.

    This could have been really great, but it wallows.

  3. fundamentally wrong to cite the rape incident as a factor. so wrong. rape as an action does not happen because anyone is naive and we “let it” happen. noone determines the context the environment or the political backdrop of a rape apart from the rapist. it might be in a war zone, it might be in a living room. if it happens in an occupy site it is not about political naivety. its about rape. rape is about rape. this angered me the first time I heard about the backlash and it does now. if someone is raped at a disco do we burn it down? do we say the disco movement has failed?

    • A disco isn’t an organised, enclosed, monitored encampment, and you make a false comparison in using the reference. A camp is nothing like a disco, which is a space, open to all and sundry. A camp is more like a house, and those who organise it have a responsibility to keep their house in order.
      There’s nothing fundamentally wrong in citing the rape at Glasgow as a factor in the division at the Glasgow Occupy camp. After speaking with many involved in the encampment in Glasgow, the rape was a major factor in the division that followed. You can accept that or not, but mentioning it isn’t “wrong”.

      • Thank you Duncan. I’m appalled that people who support the greater goals of the The OM can’t sweep this rape away as some kind of accident that was thrust upon them. There is a whole debate here about public and private space and the responsibilities we must take on when we cross from one to the other. As you point out, a city square is not a disco. it is a piece of publicly owned land, and when you occupy public land you have responsibilities to the populace, who may not share your agenda or way of life. The OM should not have been occupying council owned land in the first place, it confuses the issues that they were trying to raise. And their failure to take responsibilty for the rape that took place on the land they were occupying shows how blind they are to social context. I am as horrified by the reaction of the OM to the rape as by the act itself. They fly banners which declare autonomy and which claim to fight for global solidarity but they fail to take responsibility for the 200 square feet on which they camp. It is the same problem that the hippies presented – big ideals without any idea of consequences.

  4. This is a far better and more useful critique of Occupy – http://bit.ly/Gztg36

  5. A very powerful article, and such is the strength of your argument that I now also see the pointlessness of the Occupy movement. Yes, it is a way to create spectacle, but it will not fix or improve things for the 99%. Quietly working on alternative structures between the 99% would though…

  6. “We must take what little we have and invest it in the places we inhabit and we must abandon their places, their malls and streets, their stores and banks. This is how we occupy. Not by pitching a tent on a piece of land and saying Here I am, count my number. But by silence, secrecy and abandonment.”

    Yes.

  7. Thanks for an excellent article Ewan. I watched Zizek’s speech from Occupy Wall St too and at first I thought the lack of a clear agenda and manifesto of Occupy could have worked in its favour in terms of refusing to engage with the media and politicians on their own terms(at least until they developed a more potent strategy). However, I can see from your essay that despite its best intentions, Occupy fell far too comfortably within the stifling limitations of Debord’s spectacle.
    Taking the type of guerilla action you describe in your last paragraph is a true refusal to engage in conventional terms, is powerful enough to tear a hole in Debord’s spectacle and is also a way of working against the structural violence which Zizek describes as underpinning our society. A silent, unseen, enigmatic enemy which can strike with power and precision at any time is far more damaging and terrifying to the powers that be than a conventional protest which they can watch comfortably on TV in their penthouses- and they should know as they have always skillfully manipulated societal fear of exactly these types of phantasmogorical enemies in order to carve up the world for their own ends whilst clamping down on freedoms within their own societies. Actions such as you describe in your final paragraph truly would hit Capital where it hurts and inspiring a healthy dose of fear in the 1% would not go amiss as thanks to the media, governments and armies they control we have been living in a state of fear and inaction for too long. Like the best psychological terrorists and torturers, they rely on fear to manipulate us into a state of limbo. However, we need to find more and more creative ways of subverting their power until we can finally sneak up behind them and expose them, stripped of their power , as frail wizards pulling levers to keep us all under their spell.

    • Here’s my beef with the whole ‘1%’ rhetoric: there is no ‘they’, and there is no ‘frail wizard’ or caste of super-villains we can easily separate from the ‘us’ who have credit-cards and mortgages.

      As for sinking below the radar, ‘opting-out’ is the ultimate 60s fantasy, and even more of a distraction than the Wizard of Oz schtick.

    • Thanks for your reply Robbie. I agree that Zizek was right in his critique and provocation of the OM. His statement ‘don’t fall in love with yourselves’ was maybe too abstract and easily misunderstood’ but we have certainly seen this happen with the OM in the last few months. They have come to see protest as an end in itself and so are fighting for the right to protest. All of this is impotent. Taking back zuccotti park means nothing in terms of global markets. I like your writing in particular this concluding statement of yours – Like the best psychological terrorists and torturers, they rely on fear to manipulate us into a state of limbo. However, we need to find more and more creative ways of subverting their power until we can finally sneak up behind them and expose them, stripped of their power , as frail wizards pulling levers to keep us all under their spell.

  8. Excellent analysis. If it all crashes around our ears, we’ll be glad of “local credit unions, … local commodities and jobs”. One of the worst things Thatcher did was to oblige local authorities to accept the cheapest tenders for work/goods that they would previously have sourced locally. I wonder whether that’s still a legal obligation – if so, it should be a target for change. Supermarkets are also vulnerable to consumer pressure on this one, i.e. sourcing local (or Scottish/British) produce. You might have mentioned LETS schemes alongside credit unions as well.

  9. Big article, and I went back and forth between agreeing with you and disagreeing, particularly as at some points you seem to cross from warranted pessimism into accepting that all hope is lost. However, the Guy Debord reference wins me over.

    I agree with your summation. Supporting our local economies is indeed the only way of combating unfettered capitalism. JPDF in the first reply seems to be a bit unrealistic with the “Capital also doesn’t give a shit if you stop going to tesco and order an organic veg box instead” comment, and sounds suspiciously like an OM protester or sympathiser who doesn’t like being told he’s backed a lame horse. It is not the movement of capital per se that we need to eradicate, it is the sucking up of capital into a tiny uber-capitalist class that is damaging the world. People have always exchanged resources and skills with each other for mutual benefit, so yes, it does matter if you stop feeding Tesco’s gigantic profits and instead support your local food producers. “Capital” won’t give a shit, but the people who rake in millions from Tesco’s aggressive anti-competitive policies will give many shits.

    Tesco is in fact a perfect example of how the market, far from providing choice, actually ends up providing less choice than before, unless it is controlled. Tesco’s head office decides to stop using a certain producer, and all of a sudden millions of people are prevented from choosing their produce. Economies of scale dictate it’s more profitable to narrow your range.

    I’m waffling. Point is Ewan, I disagree with some of your points, but the main thrust of your argument is absolutely correct. As soon as Occupy London became about whether or not they should be moved, they lost. The media had succeeded in doing what it always does – finding the right-wing angle. The “movement” ended up looking like nothing more than a bunch of students going “down with this sort of thing” and various other people who stood only for standing for something, because effectively that’s what it was, and Occupy Glasgow seemed like a glorified gathering of homeless people. Whether that was a true reflection or not, the fact is they allowed themselves to be portrayed that way. If you want to beat the media at their own game, surprise them. Hippies in tents is not a surprise. Where is the subversion?

    • Oh, and as someone touched on, the thing about banks and “wealth creators” (i.e. wealth extractors) moving if a country starts embarking on better social policies is that they are utilising fear. Easy way to beat fear – stop being afraid. Use their tactics against them.

      “You’re taking your toys away? Away you go then, someone else will take your place in order to fill the gap. Oh, you’ve decided to stay after all? Okay, but we’ve got a few conditions first…”

    • Indeed Doug – local land activism is the more powerful route. In Partick in Glasgow for example local groups effectively fought over a massive TESCO mixed use development that would have effectively shut down most of the local stores. Learning about planning law and fighting a corporation through legal channels and holding councils accountable might not seem as glamorous as demonstrating, but it is effective targetted action with a 100% specific goal around which people can unite – it also creates a specific end to move towards which can be assessed as a success or a failure. The more people we can get to move away from the OM and to take up local battles the better, and now would be the time to do it, before the failure of the OM leads to yet another generation of of disillusioned former activists who give up on politics.

  10. For all their good intentions – and they have brought much-needed focus on the antisocial activities of global finance – a familiar problem created by movements like Occupy, and Zeitgeist too, is one that Ewan has touched lightly upon. This is the separation of Them and Us. “We” are Occupy. A collective identity is born and the badge of identity must be collectively defended, even more than the ideas. On the one hand “we” becomes a self-supporting network, a political enclosure, whilst on the other “We'” becomes Other.

    This is a familiar scenario/trap that almost every political party, by construct and orientation, walks right into. I’m reminded of a political rally I was at that took place in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms just days before the Scottish Socialist Party made its 2003 breakthrough. It was a good positive optimistic event, the mood was bouyant, and many people wnet along and came into contact with the SSP for the first time. So far so good. At the end of the rally the SSP members raised their fists and sang ‘The Internationale’. This is the former anthem of the Soviet Union with the atrociously patronising lyrics (in English anyway) about “starvelings” arising from their so-called “slumber”. At the back of the hall I watched a few new faces wince or giggle and there was no mistaking the stunned volte face from ‘This Wonderful Idea’ to ‘This Is Other’. As if they had accidentally wandered into a meeting of a political cult.

    The problem is that when you are inside such an organisation or party you only feel the positives vibes and bon homie of a self-support network and a new sense of collective identity (often mistaken as solidarity and struggle) but dont get a true sense of the wider perception of being alien Other. Even though it has a fuzzier agenda and more fluid ideas and structures within it, Occupy still – like most political parties including the SNP and Labour – gets caught up in this political Catch 22 of Us versus Them. Where Us is a very small minority of the population.

    The SNP, for instance, recognise that their voters last May are still less than a quarter of the Scottish electorate, but to win an Independence referendum in 2014 may need the support of up to double that number. It may be that in order to break down the barriers between The Majority Them and The Minority Us will need a very different approach to that offered by traditional political parties, or even movements like Occupy or Zeitgeist.

    Some of the old leftist organisations dont even want to contemplate any strategies that involves winning a democratic majority consensus, or building a new type of society within the structures of the old. Its considered too difficult or too democratic. Or as the PMM (Permament Minorties of Marxism) prefer to call it: “Utopian”. Marx himself even wrote polemics against what he called “Utopian Socialists”. The irony was that people like Robert Owen – unlike Marx – actually got off their arses and created the seed of the new behind the shadow of the old. Perhaps Owen’s practical ideas are more relevant today than anything practical Marx ever suggested. But Owen’s co-operative projects, and they stand the test of time, were rejected by the 19th/20thC left elites as “utopian”. Far better to blame the masses for being too apathetic or selfish or ignorant and concentrate instead on winning a minority into a small determined unified force for forceful revolutionary change. This is the ideological root of ideas such as “Capital also doesn’t give a shit if you stop going to tesco and order an organic veg box instead”

    Ewan suggests that Occupy are inadvertently replicating such failed or elitist ideology but are dressing it up in new clothing. He’s got a point.

    Kevin W.

    • Kevin, I like the idea of revisiting Robert Owen, because Owen created tangible real social spaces, work spaces, ways to generate capital within and for a community. The notion of SPACE is crucial here – who owns a space what can be done with it to better the lives of those who live within it. The fact is that the OM do not occupy a real space. I recall something similair from the anti-war protests I was on in New York after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. About 1/4 of a million people were on the streets of New York but the police created a structural situation in which congregation in one place was impossible, the entire thing was orchestrated spatially towards fragmentation, disorientation and constant movement. The demonstration was spread over and area of about twenty blocks by ten, but it had no locus, no focus and eventually as everyone gave up looking for a centre, they gave up and went home.

      The word Occupy is a good one but the idea of taking over a space has been ruined by the fact that the spaces Occupy occupy are temporary, and that they see them as sites for protest – and what is protest other than asking others, out there, on the other side of their TV screens to sympathise.

      Until the OM can actually interfere with the workings of Capital, or occupy a space in which they can generate an alternative local economy then they are simply like those protestors I saw back in new York, being endlessly moved on from one less significant place to the next.

  11. Dear Ewen,

    well, you’ve certainly caused a stooshie and that is what we need. I think attacking theOccupy movemnet is a misuse of energy. Like a man falling out of a window the only direction you have is down. Although your ideas about space are interesting. The problem with Tesco and world banking is that they can occupy inner space just as easily as Inverness. Our space is Scotland. I want to get that right and maybe then a good idea will spread. Keep at it, Ewen, and the dialogue will hum. There is no freedom without a discussion.

Trackbacks

  1. AnimalFarm.org » RT @MrEwanMorrison: My essay on why the #OccupyWallStreet. movement is failing and will fail. Lessons from Zizek and failure in the UK. http://t.co/nRxfSOjh

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