Friday, November 11, 2011

“Divide and conquer” strategies are the enemy – a message to #OWS

I may not blog much these days, but I do keep up with the current comings and goings. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the most exciting developments of my increasingly long life. The movement has clearly resonated with substantial portions of the population, and for good reason. It is precisely because the movement has resonated that we have seen, as Pink Scare noted a few weeks ago, efforts by those representing the 1% to try to drive wedges between the rest of us. At this point, the efforts to exploit potential points of division have been myriad: physical appearance, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, gender, sexual orientation, and so on have provided grist for the mill. Thus far, efforts at dividing and conquering this new left have been failures. I can only hope that remains to be the case.

If I had a word of advice for this new left it is this: a healthy dose of pragmatism will do you good. Look – the left you are inheriting has, for the last several decades, been fragmented. I’ve seen more battles fought over purity than I would ever want to recount. Don’t fall into that trap. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if your comrades are sufficiently (by your particular standards) sensitive to whatever issue or issues drive you to action. It really does not matter if your comrades subscribe to exactly the same ideological position as you. When it comes to the harm done by the current neoliberal capitalist regime, we are generally on the same page – sufficiently enough to work together. As I think back to my youth, I can think of many times where had I walked out on an organization because I thought the leadership was too Trotskyite, or Anarchistic, or whatever, I would have missed out on some great opportunities to contribute to efforts that eventually led to some positive changes in my particular community. Don’t worry about ideological purity. It’s bullshit. Also, don’t worry about perfection. I expect that any movement will do things I disagree with and will make mistakes. We are human, and we are fallible. The acid test for any movement is whether its members can learn from their mistakes as they go along. Expectations of perfection are bullshit. Stay pragmatic. Adapt. I think we could all learn a few things from the relative successes of a number of relatively recent leftist movements in the Americas – the Bolivarians and the Zapatistas come to mind. They’ve had their successes largely by adapting their ideologies to the needs of their particular populations. In essence, they’ve taken a relatively populist approach to their particular political circumstances. Finally, don’t be afraid of power. There’s a difference between having a healthy respect for power, and a love of power. Without some tangible power, your ability as a collective to effect the changes you want will not happen. It might not hurt to study how other leftist movements managed to gain and use power. Not all of what has been used successfully in the past will apply to the present, but enough of what movements from the Bolsheviks to the Bolivarians have done will at the bare minimum offer guidance for how this new left might proceed. Finally, remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Great political and social changes have rarely occurred in short order. Don’t expect a lot of immediate gratification. Enjoy the successes you do experience, and learn from your setbacks. So far, you’re off to a great start. Know that in addition to all those who are on the streets and in the camps with you, there are many more who are supportive of your aims. You’re not alone.