Preoccupied on Dame Street

Sometimes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a sickle.

After three years of asymmetric class warfare and suffocating ideological conformism, it’s wholly understandable that any stirring of organised (but we’ll come back to this) resistance should be welcomed with enthusiasm on the left. The potentially epoch-defining Occupy Wall Street protest represents a slow awakening of class consciousness within the belly of the beast. The copycat movements triggered by OWS throughout the technologically-advanced world, while nowise to be compared to the infectious popular heroism of the Arab Spring, are not without significance.

Its logic may be uniform, but the dictatorship of capital reigns over a wide and varied kingdom, and the occupation tactic is more suited to some quarters than others. Greece, where a volatile coalition of organised labour, political radicalism and popular resistance is forcing the ruling class towards endgame, provides one salutary example. There, the sterile, “apolitical” Syntagma Square occupation inspired by the Democracia Real movement actually sapped momentum from the struggle earlier this summer. In Chile, however, the mobilisation called for the global day of action on the 15th of October fanned the flames of a student revolt which has been raging for months.

In other settings, the Occupy movement (like its stillborn Real Democracy Now twin) has taken on the aspect of an internet meme which made the species jump into the human population and found itself unable to replicate there. Occupy Dame Street doesn’t quite fall into that category, but its contradictions are deep and profound. Whereas Occupy Wall Street wore its union endorsement with pride, its Irish offshoot proved ambivalent to organised labour and outright hostile to the organised left from day one.

There were a variety of reasons for this; the political persuasions of the core group, an understandable (though at times hysterical) aversion to working with the SWP, a reluctance to alienate potential converts gorged on a diet of anti-union editorials.

These proscriptions are gradually being relaxed, potentially estranging those who want nothing to do with the selfish, job-destroying, pension-hogging union bastards, and found such views initially unchallenged by the occupiers. (It could be argued that the influential autonomist tendency have proven their point; it was precisely their maladroit de facto leadership which erected these obstacles to begin with).

This past week, Occupy Dame Street weathered a downpour likely to be the equal of any the Irish winter can muster. It’s still standing, and I’ve no doubt it will go on standing as long as the bodies and minds of the camp residents hold up, and probably well beyond that. The stamina, resourcefulness and tenacity of the residents has been inspirational, and nothing forestalls breaking-point like a comrade at your shoulder. But whereas the boisterous processions from Parnell Square to Dame Street have doubled in size week-on-week, the number of bodies manning the camp itself has yet to see a corresponding increase (not that such an increase could be accommodated in any case).

These natural limitations of the Central Bank site, and its vulnerability to the encroaching winter, are frequently-cited criticisms of the movement. This is unfair; both issues were as unavoidable as they are insurmountable. We shall simply have to add al fresco insurrection to the list of activities for which there is no suitable season in Ireland, alongside cricket and rock festivals.

The physical precariousness of the camp has, however, come to necessitate a sort of liberal sŏn’gun policy, whereby the needs and maintenance of the camp itself take precedence over all else. This has had serious implications for a movement already struggling to resolve its political orientation and terms of engagement with the public and wider working class.

Having sat in on a couple of working group meetings, the overwhelming impression was one of organisational paralysis (actually the strongest impression, to be indelicate, was the class and socio-economic background of those involved, but that may be a churlish observation.) The challenges posed by the consensus-based decision-making model have been freely acknowledged within the movement itself, but the tendency to regard them as minor logistical teething problems is misguided.

In fact, these problems are inextricable from the prevailing political and ideological deadlock. With only the broadest and faintest of parameters to guide them, individuals and working groups are reluctant to be seen to act unilaterally. When referring an item to the General Assembly only serves to further confuse matters, a perfect feedback loop is completed.

All roads lead back (however frustratingly, however predictably) to the question of programme. Aside from the noli-me-tangere warning to the left, there’s nothing objectionable, and plenty that’s commendable, in the Occupy Dame Street mission statement. When organisers address assemblies and rallies, however, the messages become more mixed. The fallacy that opposing the IMF/ECB programme is “not a matter of left or right” enjoys frequent airings.

Three years into a crisis caused by rampant neoliberalism, deregulation, disempowerment of the working class, and the underlying structural paradoxes of the capitalist system, anyone who can proffer this argument is either being incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous. This non-differentiation between right- and left-wing critiques of the bailout programme is not just foolish, but extremely dangerous. A quick detour to Co. Cork may help explain why.

For the past few months, the tiny village of Ballyhea has hosted a weekly march against the bailing out of bondholders, one frail flicker of resistance on a landscape clouded with apathy. Last weekend, after a visit to Dame Street by the chief organiser, the villagers were treated to an audience with Mr. Declan Ganley.

It’s unlikely that Ganley would be welcome at Dame Street, where the superb Occupy University initiative has witnessed talks and workshops by people like Paul Murphy, Eugene McCartan, David Malone, Gavan Titley and Conor McCabe (if money were no object, I’d have 2,000 copies of Sins Of The Father air-dropped over the next march).

Murphy’s address to the rally on the 15th was passionate, lucid and articulate, but his carefully-phrased appeals to attendees as workers fell on stony ground; largely, I sensed, because most listeners simply didn’t understand the linkage, and nothing they’d heard had served to forge it for them. (As an aside, the CWI’s almost Debordian reverence for the General Strike as exemplary spectacle is even more noticeable when starved of context).

Three weeks into the occupation, the spectre of the SWP exerts as powerful a hold over the imagination of the camp as ever. Dark mutterings of “packed” assemblies abound, along with stern assurances that future infiltrators will be identified (presumably a special derogation excludes SWP members from the 99%). Paranoia and insecurity are deeply unattractive qualities, and a movement capable of being co-opted by a Trotskyist micro-party, however bad its faith, is a movement that has stalled beyond revival.

Occupy Dame Street is not necessarily such a movement, but its window of opportunity for correcting those initial mistakes is closing fast. The crucial instincts and insights which can carry the struggle forward are present, and not entirely dormant, within the group. Namely – that our labour is all we have that the 1% want; that the demand for “real democracy” cannot be satisfied under capitalism; that, historically, Dublin is a city taken by storm or not at all; and that occupying a symbolic location is a poor substitute for occupying our communities, hospitals and workplaces.

George Romero’s lengthy, generation-spanning series of zombie movies describe an arc in which the undead gradually begin to rediscover their human instincts and habits over the course of decades. In a country gasping beneath the death-grip of zombie banks, Occupy Dame Street is perhaps best understood as a kind of zombie protest movement, with depoliticised and disenfranchised victims of the epidemic gradually re-learning the basic motor skills of resistance.

It’s a slow and tortuous process, but consciously turning away from what we know and have always known about challenging power isn’t going to expedite it.

61 Responses to “Preoccupied on Dame Street”

  1. itsapoliticalworld Says:

    Great post. I haven’t yet been able to go to Dame Street, and you’ve explained a lot that’s missing from other sources.
    Will discuss it further on PW.

  2. Shapey Fiend ︻╦╤─ (@ShapeyFiend) Says:

    From what I’ve heard the protests got co-opted somewhat by the unions in the US. They saw an opportunity for a platform and set themselves up in the middle with megaphones going on about union issues instead. I’m guessing the suspicion of the unions on Dame Street might be related to that.

  3. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Welcome back!

    Excellent piece. There’s so much good writing out there on the Occupy movement here and elsewhere. Most of it making the same points roughly, on either side of the anarchist (in the loosest sense) vs orthodox Left (also in the loosest sense). Falling into the second category I’m sort of hoping something comes of it, but without many expectations of anything immediately meanigful. The purposeful anti-politicalness of it is a frustration, it somewhat echoes the anarchic “no future” of punk, which didn’t change anything huge but did create a generation of anti-establishment thinkers, if not actors (not in the film/stage sense). The best soundbite I saw on the Occupy movement was in Jacobin magazine where one of their writers labelled it an “occupation of leisure”, which certainly captures its potential to become just part of the scenery of protest, like Greenham Common. I suspect that like the latter, events on the bigger stage will overtake the Occupy phenomena and force it off the fence, or bypass it altogether. Comparing it to what’s happening in Greece is a useful illustration of how “having the conversation” is less effective than taking action based on class politics. But of course, the Occupy movement has to start from where it is, not where others might like it to start from, and if that starting point is based on a generation of apolitical grand narrative, mixed in with anti-political / anarchist theory, well so be it, that’s where its starting from. We can wait and see how or if it evolves, and make supportive and constructively critical noises, and engage, while viewing it as just another stream of evolving sectional politicisation similar to Claiming Our Future and We Are The Citizens, just another push away from the orthodoxy, in whatever direction yet to be decided.

  4. Míriam Says:

    Syntagma Square occupation inspired by the Democracia Real movement is not “apolitical” is apartisan (as it is until now the occupy movement, the main difference is in the approach with regard to the unions), very different concepts!. I think it is a big mistake to confuse both terms.

  5. Mark P Says:

    A good piece and good to have you back.

    I’m not sure that using the word “autonomist” really makes much sense when talking about anyone involved in ODS. In fact, I’m not even sure that it makes sense to use that label to talk about anyone in Ireland. There are a few anarchists about and a larger number of people who are vaguely anarchoid when it comes to the sillier parts of anarchism (consensus, process, anti-political assumptions) but are much less so when it comes to the more useful or interesting parts of anarchism.

    The politics as a whole (and there are politics, despite the anti-politics rhetoric) are confused and incoherent, but the overall impulse is a healthy one.

  6. Mark P Says:

    Miriam, the attempt to remove parties from politics is the height of political and conceptual confusion.

  7. Míriam Says:

    Mark, new times need new solutions. Only because nowadays politics are run by political parties in most of the countries (at least here in Ireland we have independent candidates), does not mean that politics=political parties. But it seems that in this page people are using both as synonyms. People should check both definitions and think about. These movements are not anti-politics (come one! most of their debates are about politics), and it is sad to read this once and once again.

  8. Mark P Says:

    I don’t think that politics = parties, Miriam. I think that an attempt to artificially suppress parties is anti-democratic and indicative of political confusion

    As for it being a “new solution”, I think you’ll find that the desire to somehow remove parties from politics is a very old “solution” that has been peddled sporadically by the bewildered off and on for centuries. It doesn’t work, because people will always organise for their priorities and points of views with people they agree with, even within an “apolitical” movement. Which is to say that they will always form “parties” rather than act as individuals, because it is a much more effective way to get your point of view across and to encourage support for it.

  9. Míriam Says:

    New technologies Mark are the difference. Look for terms as liquid democracy or democracy 4.0 in spain. Political parties have interests not related with the people that give them the ballot. Look at Europe, since the crisis in every elections the political party in the government was changed by a new one doing exactly the same. Right and left do not matter anymore if the agenda of the political party depends on the money and power and not their voters.

    • Mark P Says:

      Miriam, “modern technology” does not have magical powers and does not transform very old confusion into the cutting edge of political thought.

      You are entirely correct that the main governing parties, whether of the social democratic “left” or the conservative “right” are now indistinguishable on most major issues and that no matter which people vote for they are served up the same diet of austerity. But nobody is talking about suppressing the involvement of those political parties at Occupy Dame Street, because our local equivalents of those parties wouldn’t be remotely interested in getting involved in the first place. The political parties which are interested in getting involved and helping out, ie those of the radical left, would broadly agree with you about the interchangeability of the old parties of the mainstream left and right.

      This is where the confusion becomes clear. “Political parties” range from vote gathering machines for neo-liberalism to organisations which are essentially “coordinations” (to use your term) for activists of a particular political stripe. Treating them as identical is a conceptual error.

    • Míriam Says:

      I guess you did not check the two types of new democracies from initiatives from movements like the occupy, for your comment about technology.

      In the rest you are partly right if you consider a political party the occupy dame street movement. I was talking about those ones which their main (although not the only one) objective is to nominate their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office.

      Regarding that some political parties from the left agree with me, I know, but also some non-left parties that were in the opposition said so and once in the power they forgot completely. I think we should focus in what political parties in power do, because in opposition is very easy to say whatever and it is only speculating to think that they would do a different once in the power (I hope some left political party in Europe prove me wrong as soon as possible).

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Míriam, if by “in power” you mean having a parliamentary majority within a capitalist economy in the European Union, then no such party could do anything significantly different, even if it wanted to. You’re absolutely right, that mode of democracy and party politics cannot deliver change. But if you think that’s all a political party can aspire to, then you’re the one who’s confusing differing definitions.

    • Míriam Says:

      Tell me an example of a political party without the aim to have a sit in the parliament or congress. I do not know any example.

      However I do have an example of participatory democracy that worked great and change the direction of a country and this is Iceland

      You can argue that this can only happens in a small country, maybe right, but Ireland is not as big.

    • Mark P Says:

      Miriam, I did indeed look up “liquid democracy” and “democracy 4.0″ and didn’t find either notion particularly convincing, or more importantly, particularly relevant to the topic at hand. Indeed the emphasis on voting procedure strikes me as reflecting a misunderstanding at the issues at hand: We are not simply suffering from improper on inadequate voting procedure, but from the cold hard realities of class division and ruling class power. Arguing for more direct democracy will, unfortunately, not change the essence of the capitalist system.

      But this is a slightly separate issue from the one we are arguing about: The involvement of political parties in protest movements. The only political parties which are actually effected by the anti-democratic restrictions some are trying to impose in this protest movement in Ireland are the small parties of the radical left. The main political parties aren’t effected because they have no interest in supporting radical protest movements in the first place. The most prominent of the radical left parties are the Socialist Party and the SWP. Both will tell you in no uncertain terms that their primary aim is not simply to get candidates elected. Nor do they think that fundamental progressive change comes through parliament. They stand in elections so as to get publicity for their ideas and, if they get someone elected, that candidate is there to use the platform that parliament affords to help mobilisations on the streets and in the workplaces. Their small number of parliamentarians accept only the average wage and give the rest of their salaries to protest movements, strike funds, etc.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      There are left-wing parties who prefer not to stand for election (they’re almost always ineffectual), but revolutionary socialist parties (at least the principled ones) see parliament as a platform for their arguments. If they ever had enough seats to form a majority, the mood of the people would make parliament irrelevant and give its support to different forms of governance (yes, largely based on a type of participatory democracy).

      What happened in Iceland was a terrific victory for popular pressure, but no constitution in the world can change the realities of an economic system which is much stronger than popular pressure. Iceland has bought itself some time. Eventually its creditors will get their pound of flesh and the European Union (if Iceland is stupid enough to join) will dismantle the welfare state and take power completely beyond the reach of the people.

    • Míriam Says:

      I still prefer the Iceland solution than the SP or SWP solution. At least the first one was implemented and it seems it is working. For the others, it is only speculations about if they want the power or they ask for the power because is their only solution… Sorry.

    • Mark P Says:

      It’s fair enough if you prefer the reformist Icelandic “solution” to a socialist transformation of society. I don’t agree with you on that. I think that taking the Icelandic road but leaving capitalism intact would still lead to massive austerity and immiseration for the working class majority. But that disagreement doesn’t mean that we can’t work together, protest together, etc against austerity, the bailouts, the EU/IMF deal, etc. These ideas should interact and contend with one another in an open and democratic movement.

      That has nothing to do with the involvement of political parties. A political party could advocate a radical reformist solution (as you seem to prefer) or a more fundamental change (as I prefer). The issue isn’t whether or not you agree with their particular proposals, but whether you insist on trying to censor them.

    • Míriam Says:

      Eh, do not get me wrong, that I am a leftish. And, as I have said, if the political party do not aim to have a sit in the parliament or congress it is welcome. But not the ones saying that they are trying but it is not their objective, sorry for being always suspicions about them, but the only ones thinking as me are in the opposition and once in the power they change completely.

      In the Iceland system, a fundamental change can happen if the people want, and I believe it is easier to happen than in countries with a representative political system, even if the socialist or communist parties are chosen (as some examples in Europe)

    • Mark P Says:

      Miriam, I wasn’t saying that you aren’t on the left. I was distinguishing between reformist left wing ideas (such as for instance arguing for an Icelandic style solution) and more radical left wing ideas (ie a socialist transformation of society).

      I don’t believe that a “fundamental change” is any more likely to happen with the Icelandic voting system than with the Irish one. I don’t believe that the capitalist class will accept being voted out of power and ownership either by referendum or by representative democracy or by some hybrid of the two. I think that only a movement on the streets and in the workplaces and communities, based on working class power, can achieve that end.

      When it comes to assessing the intentions of the small radical left parties, their claims and ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a record. Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party has been in the Dail or in the European Parliament for all but two years since 1997. Some on the left disagree with his politics, but nobody thinks that he’s dishonest or is insincere when he says that parliament is just a platform to use in building movements on the streets and in the workplaces. That’s what he’s been trying to do for years now, including getting sent to prison for his role in the anti-bin tax campaign and using his seat in the Dail to bring the exploitation of the immigrant construction workers at GAMA to public attention (which then triggered the most important strike by immigrant workers in Irish history, and incidentally, a strike that insisted on rank and file control rather than letting the union leadership take over). Also including giving three quarters of his salary away each year. Joe might be wrong, and the fact that someone is transparently honest about what they’re saying certainly doesn’t mean that they are always right, but he’s not lying.

  10. Míriam Says:

    Follow your argument, referendums are anti-democratic because they suppress the parties, ummhhhhh.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      If you stopped individuals from freely associating to strengthen, co-ordinate and clarify their case during a referendum campaign, then yes, that would be anti-democratic.

    • Míriam Says:

      This is not against associations and co-ordinations, in fact the movements are associations and co-ordinate. Can you think in a referendum without political parties, you can have the association of dame street, the association of experts in the field… But you chose your answer directly and not by means of a representative. Even in the case of the referendums I do not care if there are political parties or not. And it is still democracy (and a better one in my point of view)

  11. Gordon Lucas Says:

    Interesting opinion, especially like how you box people into “either being incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous”, if they disagree with your left-right paradigm. Also I would have thought capitalism would suggest that fools that invested in bank shares should loose their investments, no? Shares can FALL as well as rise…and all that!
    The fact that Murphy’s “workers” appeal fell on stony ground may well have been because it is the same tired leftist language that occupancies the old-school thinking. Personally I do not like when we at #OccupyDameStreet use the words “solidarity, comrade, or brothers & sisters”, in a similar way to the way I don’t like the word “God”. These words have too much historical baggage!!
    While I have found your speeches interesting, I fear that you are verging (or even crossing the verge) into intellectual snobbery. Do not make the mistake that because you are ‘educated’ you know more about what it is to be a person than anyone else. I feel I am as entitled to have an opinion on how my country is run and how we organize our society as you are.
    If you feel you have more right to speak on these political matters than the average person you are perpetuating the same ills that have accompanied politics through the ages. “All right thinking people think as I do” … the story goes. I believe communist Russia is a case in point.(but I don’t know much about that stuff)
    I have joined this movement because it is seeking to part from the historical paralysis of left and right. I do not accept your analysis that there is only that. You probably could educate me on this better, but the left-right thing comes from… when was it? 18th century or something?… can’t remember and it doesn’t really matter. Point is: it does not reflect the current political situation in my opinion.
    #OccupyDameStreet is going through organizational problems at the moment because it was formed before it was organized. It’s to be expected – especially in Ireland. However it does have a magic that, I feel, is unstoppable. For instance, why did you go to speak there yourself?
    Also, the SWP, are world renowned at hi-jacking anti-glottalization protests, so a certain amount of paranoia is warranted.
    As for Ganely coming to Dame Street, I think you are quite mistaken. While I do not like the man, I feel he’d be less of a threat then the likes of Boyd Barrett, who’s been posting photos of our march to his website, without clearly saying that it’s #OccupyDameStreet not himself. They seem to be aligning themselves with us and there is a danger that SWP, People Before Profit, etc become associated with our marches… while members of these other organizations are obviously welcome to partake as individuals they are not welcome as reps of the organizations. For instance a Garda is entitled to take part but that does not mean it is supported by the GRA.
    I feel some of Ganely’s positions would be challenged if he arrived, since many of his opinions are different to the majority there. However, as far as I recall, he also advocates bondholder burning, which demonstrates the irrelevance of holding onto the left-right paradigm.
    I have been thinking that the higher philosophical debate of what we are and where we are going, etc., is badly needed and we are working on coming up with an online forum where we can discuss topics such as this further.
    Despite what I have said here, you bring an interesting perspective and I’ve enjoyed hearing you speak. However, on reading your post, I felt I had to challenge your elitist approach.
    I hope to hear you speak again at one of the ODS things soon.
    …..btw (I was the guy with the laptop – streaming at the second march)

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Hi, Gordon. I don’t know who you think I am, but you’re almost certainly mistaken. I actually had a line about Ganley being more likely to be welcomed than RBB at ODS, but I deleted it because I thought it was too harsh.

      The left-right paradigm (or, if you prefer, the capital-labour paradigm) is more relevant now than ever. Ganley doesn’t think we should cut public services, privatise everything and hammer the poor in order to pay off bondholders. He thinks we should just do it on general principle.

  12. Mark P Says:

    Jesus, Dublin Dilettante “assumes” that people who think this movement can “move past” the “left right paradigm” are naive and confused. And then Gordon comes along and proves his point for him.

  13. mountaindewski Says:

    I can’t help feeling that the Occupy Dame Street movement has failed to capture the popular imagination (emphasis on ‘popular’). As you surmise, Dublin is a city taken all at once, or not at all. Had the movement’s modus opperandi been truly original, I think it may have had a greater impact, but I think repeating the approach of their foreign counterparts gave it a kind of copycat touch that diminishes the protest in the eyes of many people, myself included.

    Also, I believe that all great protest movements have a charismatic leader, and ODS does not have one (by design, no less). Movements have power, but leaders inspire, and without one, I don’t think that this particular movement can garner the kind of public support that is needed to enact change. And change is badly needed.

    • Míriam Says:

      This movement started in Spain the 15th of May and it was (and is) also a leaderless movement. Nowadays almost 80% of the population like the movement (called Real democracy now in there) and they are presenting some demands that are being discussed in the news and for the politicians (not as much as it should be considering the support but anyway). And no leaders were involved.

    • Míriam Says:

      Although, maybe it might be a cultural thing.

  14. Mark P Says:

    I don’t agree with mountaindewski that a movement needs “a charismatic leader” but I also disagree with the claims Miriam makes that any significant movement is in the long run leaderless. Some few people made the decision to occupy a public place initially for instance. They put out a call, distributed leaflets, posted on social networking sites, organised meetings, stuck up a few tents. What exactly were they doing if not giving a lead?

    Leadership doesn’t have to be formal, it doesn’t have to be prominent, it doesn’t have to be charismatic. But it exists in every movement. I’m in favour of democratic control over leadership rather than pretending that there is no leadership.

    • Míriam Says:

      Mark I did not mean that “significant movement is in the long run leaderless” I have tried to point the fact that (sorry for my English) in Spain was successful without any leader (something that I had to see to believe)

  15. itsapoliticalworld Says:

    Miriam – are you in favour of public ownership of the banks ?

  16. Tom Stokes Says:

    A superb analysis of the fundamental weakness of the Occupy Dame Street campaign, the spurious notion that it is ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ politics, or that it can be all things, right, centre and left, to all people. The exclusion of organised groups, particularly the most effective in terms of organisational strength and force of numbers – the trade unions – is naive at best and potentially counter-revolutionary before the revolution ever gains momentum. Without the capacity to engage a significant mass of people to the cause, the ODS campaign may wither on the vine to the complete satisfaction of those whose powers, we are told by ODS, need to be loosened and broken. The position adopted by the campaign of banning elements of the 99%, or at least the public manifestation of their involvement in unions or parties, smacks of a claim to some sort of ‘purity’, a claim that would be offensive to many citizens, and is, again, counter-productive to achieving the objectives claimed by the ODS pioneers. The words of the architect of the first revolution in Europe in the 20th century best sum up the necessity for building a broad front to achieve success – “The true revolutionist should ever call into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent” (James Connolly 1898). There is not much time to get this one right. Achieve critical mass soon, or the opportunity for change is gone.

  17. CMK Says:

    As Tom says, a truly superb post and brilliantly written.

    I’ve followed this thread and it has confirmed to me my conviction that I’ll sit this one out, as it will inevitably fizzle out before the Guards are given permission to implement their forced dispersal plan (which they have inevitably drafted and prepared for).

    The hostility to Paul Murphy and to trade unions should be enough for any serious Left wing group to not place any real emphasis on this so-called ‘movement’. Yeah, engage with them on a ‘watching brief’ basis but nothing serious is going to come out of it, nice and all as the imagery is. I think a crucial difference between the similar movement in Spain and here is that in Spain there has been and still is a strong Left wing political culture and legacy upon which to draw; whereas here we just have a morass of unthinking conservatism of different hues which throws up citizens who while ready to dismiss and denigrate the Left in all its forms, don’t realise that the structures of life that make life in a capitalist society at all bearable all have their roots in radical left wing theories, traditions and practices of social democratic (the real ones, not Labour), socialist and communist political parties. Paid holidays, the eight hour day, a welfare state, free medical care, free education, workers rights: these are all products of Left wing political philosophy honed into a programme by Left wing groups and pursued doggedly and at great cost against reactionaries, liberals, nationalists and fascists over the course of the twentieth century. The Left means dignity, respect, solidarity for workers, the young, pensioners; while the Right, particularly now, means the dismantling of the welfare state and a societal forced march back to the mid-Victorian era coupled, probably, by a Chinese/Singaporean authoritarian state, mass depoliticisation and extreme social atomism. Sometimes politics does crystallise into stark dichotomies which force individuals off of the fence and into one camp or the other. Current circumstances are such a time. If you’re not avowedly on the ‘Left’ then, by default, you’re with the Right. That’s harsh but I think, true.

    Trotsky’s analogy with of the steam and the piston box comes to mind. Occupy Dame Street is all steam and no piston box, and like all steam it will evaporate pretty quickly.

    Having said all that, I’m glad it’s there and that that space has opened up, but I’m not personally putting too much weight on it.

    • ejh Says:

      If you’re not avowedly on the ‘Left’ then, by default, you’re with the Right. That’s harsh but I think, true.

      I don’t. I think the phrase “those who are not against us are not against us” is nearly always applicable.

    • Mark P Says:

      I tend to agree with ejh here.

      I don’t agree with the views of Miriam (pro-censorship, Icelandic “solution” etc) or Gordon (“beyond left and right”) or Baldy (“class is so old-fashioned”) and indeed think that these sort of views being prominent in a protest movement indicates a fair degree of political confusion. But confusion isn’t the same thing as hardened right wing views, and I think that the basic impulse of the movement is healthy.

      When you are dealing with people moved to protest against the brutalities of capitalism but holding confused views the task is to patiently explain, to borrow a phrase from some dead bearded lad.

      I also think that you misunderstood Dublin Dilettante’s point about Paul Murphy. He didn’t say that anyone was hostile to him, just that for many of the people of the attendees his appeal to them as workers fell on stony soil. See for instance the views expressed by some of the participants in this thread to see why that might be. If this movement continues and grows, there will be a lot of explaining to do if liberal ideas are to be replaced with socialist ones.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      Mark P, is this the new you, explaining patiently rather than poring scorn upon? I like the new you better.

    • Mark P Says:

      I didn’t say that I was the man for the job, LATC! In fact, if you look down a few comments, I already couldn’t resist a bit of the old scorn pouring.

      But generally, it depends on who you are arguing with what’s the best tack to take. A fellow protestor with some less than coherent ideas is quite a different kettle of fish to, say for instance, a hardened Labour activist. You’d have more success trying to explain something patiently to people you were cold calling randomly than to your average Labour activist.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:


      Yes, I do appreciate where you’re coming from but at the same time there are few enough people who genuinely enter an argument with the intention of having their horizons broadened, whether they’re Labour activists, anarchists, “middle-class” Irish Times editorial regurgitators, whatever.

      The “fellow protestor with some less than coherent ideas” is perhaps different, perhaps not. I suspect it’s somewhat elitist to categorise people in that manner, but I don’t take away from the necessity of striving for that coherence, and for debate as a useful means of developing people’s thought.

    • ejh Says:

      “Patiently explain” is the best, I think, of Lenin’s many phrases.

    • CMK Says:

      I’ve quite possibly gotten the wrong end of the stick re: Paul Murphy but a combination of the prospect of President Gallagher, as well as the knowledge that a useless flip-flopping shite is going to get into the Dáil ahead of a fighting socialist, have dulled my capacity for seeing the nuances in things. I still think, though, that this whole ‘Occupy’ phenomenon will fizzle out and its current protagonists will have to make political choices, that is choices about which political party best represents where they want to go.

      I disagree with ejh’s construction of ‘those who are not against us, are not against us’. Those ‘who are not against us’ could also include those who won’t lift a finger to help us when the state tries to break us. They’re not against us, necessarily, they just couldn’t care less about us.

    • ejh Says:

      But what are you going to do about them?

    • CMK Says:

      Well, I suppose, nothing, really. I don’t fully get the thrust of your point, but that could be just me? Are you willing to elaborate? No problem if you’re not.

  18. Bald de Vries Says:

    I do believe that when talking about left and right, empowerment, working class, etc. it is unhelpful t continue talking in old, modern (i.e. traditional) categories. We’ve gone beyond class. There is the potential of a new ‘Verelendung’ demanding new categories if we are to take it serious. Singing the Internationale after the protest march last Saturday in Dame Street is unhelpful, alienating and counterproductive unless one strives for some idea of nostalgic destruction.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      “We’ve gone beyond class”

      What’s that Warren Buffet quote, “we’re in a period of class war, and only one side knows it”?

    • Bald de Vries Says:

      Perhaps Mr Buffer thinks in an old paradigm also, and he can afford it. By the way, is he an industrialist controlling labour? This does not mean that distribution of wealth and risks (why always called a war in which the enemy must be destroyed?) is not problematic. It is and redistribution iscalled for, by means other than ‘war’ though.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      Bald, you may consider these paradigms to be old, irrelevant, redundant, counter productive. The point is that the impact of class division is real, it is not imagined, it cannot be simply wished away. The divisions cause real harm and misery to people, physically so in the developing world even more so than in our comfortable corner of the planet, but even here at the top of the global wealth pyramid those on the economic margins suffer from poverty which manifests in shorter life expectancy, fuel starvation, hunger. Not to mention the pyschological harm of unemployment, under-employment, marginalisation. And the all-controlling tyranny of unequal employer-employee power relations for those who are “lucky” enough to have work to “earn” their living. Do you really think that those who control this system, who benefit from it, who indoctrinate society via their cultural hegemony, who continuously educate the next gegeration to propagate the status quo, who use divide and conquer tactics to co-opt sections of society as their willing servants, do you really think this system of power relations can be gently overturned without class conflict? Well clearly you do, but to many people it is an unconvincing “paradigm”, it is a naive worldview, one which ignores history and widespread current realities.

  19. Bald de Vries Says:

    Dear L-X

    I subscribe to the fact that there’s real misery (at the global level, transcending the state) and do not deny that. But a solution to the problem of distribution must come after a reconsideration of the the old paradigm and its foundations, and not (mindlessly) applying old remedies to new problems: let’s get the problem clear first: what is at stake exactly?

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      Bald, that is precisely the point, the point is that the problems aren’t new, they’re the same structural problems that have existed for as long as the capitalist economic system has existed. The problem is not one of distribution, it is one of production, distribution and exchange. Ignoring the centrality of capitalist production is to limit the scope of your analysis and leaves untouched the root cause of the problem.

  20. ejh Says:

    while members of these other organizations are obviously welcome to partake as individuals they are not welcome as reps of the organizations.

    Who gets to decide who is welcome and who is not? Isn’t the attempt to exclude political rivals from being part of the movement precisely the same sort of control-freakery that’s criticised when it comes from political parties? Or doesn’t it count when it’s you that does it?

  21. Bald de Vries Says:

    I do take that into account, when considering the distribution of risks (as the side effects of wealth production). It is about producing wealth ánd risk, distributing wealth ánd risk, etc. And that demands different ways of thinking, also about mindless consumption by us all.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      Bald, consumption and production, two sides of the same coin. Who decides on what is produced, what is consumed? Do you really believe that the power relations between the producers and consumers are equal and are worked out in “the free market” to the benefit of all? If not, then how do you envisage equalising those relations?

  22. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Yet another well considered piece on the Occupy phenomenom:

  23. Bald de Vries Says:

    Mark: of course I am confused; we all are. No one seems to know what is going on. Perhaps that is the central issue of today’s world: no one has a clue and we all employ the method of whatever. But from the confusion something will grow and consolidate, something new…

    By the way: i enjoyed this thread and the insights it provides. Bald, without the ‘y’.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:


      Googling your name finds you have authored a book?

      “Anarchy in the System: Law and Power in a Global World”.

      1. Framing society: structures of society;
      2. The central problem: modern risks;
      3. Globalisation and “multiple modernities”;
      4. Individualisation and self-determination;
      5. Law and politics: normatively challenged;
      6. Ethics: Anarchy in the System;

      Can you give a brief summary of your own worldview, for the sake of balance in this discussion?

      If we are to believe that people are confused and are searching for some “new” solution, and that the “old” solutions of the Left are without merit, then perhaps you can explain how your work seeks to clarify a path towards that new alternative.

  24. Mark P Says:

    ejh asked:
    :Who gets to decide who is welcome and who is not? Isn’t the attempt to exclude political rivals from being part of the movement precisely the same sort of control-freakery that’s criticised when it comes from political parties? Or doesn’t it count when it’s you that does it?”

    This is exactly the point I made on another blog (although I was unfortunately less concise). Here we have people who would in many cases claim to be anti-authoritarian seeking to censor other protesters. And people many of whom claim to believe in a leaderless movement awarding their own initial leadership a permanent veto on their early decisions being overturned regardless of the views of the majority of the protesters. And people many of whom would claim to be in favour of “real democracy” insisting on maintaining this undemocratic veto through the ridiculous “consensus” system.

    That said, it is very much my impression that the hardened pro-censorship elements are a minority and that most of the people involved are much more open to political discussion and debate.

  25. Mark P Says:

    I’ve just seen a report from Helena Sheehan of an assembly at the occupation in which a proposal was made to cooperate with the Enough campaign on a trial basis. It had overwhelming support but was blocked by seven people. A perfect illustration of the anti-democratic and elitist nature of so-called “consensus” decision making.

  26. pat Says:

    “(As an aside, the CWI’s almost Debordian reverence for the General Strike as exemplary spectacle is even more noticeable when starved of context).”

    Just out of curiosity, could you elaborate on what exactly you mean by the above?

    Also, Paul Murphy’s take on ODS, and what it should be arguing for etc, might be of interest to you.

  27. Laim smullen Says:

    good stuff

  28. programavimas Says:


    [...]Preoccupied on Dame Street « Circumlimina[...]…

  29. ODS « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Says:

    [...] analysing aspects of ODS and bringing people up to date with developments [and is of a piece with this excellent analysis]. I’d add that it is a thoughtful, self-deprecating and useful analysis which is both positive [...]

  30. ODS: And with that… they were gone. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Says:

    [...] Granted I’m simplifying this to an extent. But the energy, and indeed the innovation that was referenced previously on this site in relation to useful experimentation with open air talks and so on should not be allowed to dissipate – albeit to judge from Helena Sheehan and others there was a considerable tapering off of activity from mid-Autumn onwards [and here note once more this - to my mind - excellent analysis]. [...]

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