Category Archives: Strategy

Episode 7: David Bailey on Protest Movements and Parties of the Left

David Bailey

Our guest for this episode is David Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Political Science and International Studies, at University of Birmingham. David is joining us to talk about his forthcoming book with Rowman & Littlefield, Protest Movements and Parties of the Left.

As we’ve been arguing on this show for the last few weeks, there is no doubt at this stage that the left is ‘back’. Arriving admittedly a decade or two later than Latin America’s “Pink Tide”, the left has made electoral gains recently, both in Europe, and in the US. Yet it is also clear that the left is not used to having this kind of potential. To the contrary, suffering through its long period of post-Cold War defeat, it has been content to engage in a lot of internal squabbling, and become comfortable avoiding the tough question of how it might engage ordinary people with its ideas. David Bailey’s book is a very interesting intervention, in this sense. Without necessarily taking a side in the debates he examines (to what extent should the left embrace the state? Should we pursue reform, or revolution?), he surveys the history of some of the more prominent moments and modes of leftist protest and struggle. What is interesting, however, is he choses to do this in an optimistic way. Refusing the left’s traditional mournful stance on its history, and deliberately trying to focus on the things the movements got right, Bailey is out to capture the spark of revolutionary disruption in each of his case studies, where the impossible was somehow, suddenly, made possible.

I got to see an advance copy of the book recently, and more than anything I was kind of pleasantly surprised by his open-minded stance on left strategy, finding those sparks of disruption everywhere, from the early days of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, to the anarchist movements of the Spanish Civil War, and even in post-war parliamentary reformism. The civil rights movements get a look in here, and there are chapters on the New Left, the history of feminism, and the rise of environmentalism. And those interested in more recent history will find the last chapters quite interesting I think, looking at the Occupy movement and, more interestingly, the influence of ‘Left Populist’ struggles Latin America on the rise of what Bailey calls ’left pragmatism’ in Europe and North America, embodied of course in parties like Syriza and Podemos, but even more recently in figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Episode 6: TYT’s Michael Tracey on Free Speech after Charlottesville, Left Iconoclasm, and the Fetonte Scandal in the DSA

Michael Tracey

Our guest for this week’s episode is Michael Tracey, of The Young Turks — Tracey by his own account is a man of the left, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that, to read some of the commentaries that have been written about him online. He’s known primarily known for his iconoclastic views on what he calls “the Russia derangement,” something we addressed on this show all the way back in Episode One, with Tara McCormack.

I encountered Tracey in Chicago last weekend, at the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Convention. We set this interview up with a view primarily to talking about the Convention, and the state of the American left. In this episode, we do address those topics, including the controversy surrounding the election of Danny Fetonte to the DSA’s National Political Committee, or NPC. But with the tragic news of rightwing violence in Charlottesville, VA this morning (the interview was recorded early afternoon, on Sunday, August 13), it seemed proper to address the rise of fascism in the United States, too. In true form, Tracey has some views on that subject which might not be popular among left comrades — including a defence of the ACLU’s decision stand up for freedom of speech for Alt. Right activists. As you’ll hear in the show, however, he gives a good account of himself, and leaves us with much to think about.

Please enjoy the show. As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. You can follow Michael Tracey on Twitter @mtracey.

Episode 5: Douglas Lain of Zero Squared, on the Alt-Left, Angela Nagle, and #DSACon17

We have a very special guest for this episode. Douglas Lain, of Zero Books. In the interview, we discuss a range of topics, but I think the focus of the interview is on how capitalist narcissism is playing out in leftist online culture.

Specifically we address:

  1. How podcasting has enabled a new debate among the left, concerning the priority of identity;
  2. The rise of the Alt-Left, and whether or how the term functions to smear those seeking to re-assert the priority of revolutionary values in leftist discourse;
  3. We also address the critical reception of Angela Nagle’s sensational new book, Kill All Normies, published by Zero Books … a book that is ostensibly about the emergence of the Alt-Right, but in this conversation, Doug and I focus mostly on the other main aspect of the book, which is Nagle’s explanation of the rise of “call out culture” on the left.
  4. Finally, with the #DSACon17 (the 2017 Democratic Socialists of America convention) starting this week, I ask Doug if he has any advice for delegates to the convention.

Episode 3: Book Club – Peter Frase’s ‘Four Futures’

Four Futures

This episode is the first in an occasional ‘book club’ series of podcasts we will be doing, in an around the topic of fully automated luxury communism. This episode’s book is Four Futures, by Peter Frase (which is part of the Jacobin series, from Verso Books).

My guests on the show are Laura Horn and Phil Davis. Laura is a political economist working at the University of Roskilde, just outside of Copenhagen in Denmark. While her own research has mainly focused on dimensions of capitalist restructuring in the European Union, she has a strong political and personal interest in the nexus between political economy and science fiction. Four Futures is one of the texts she uses in her course ‘Repoliticising Capitalism: Contradictions, critique and alternatives’.

Phil Davis is a molecular biologist working in the Biodefense sector in the Washington DC area. He’s currently working towards a master’s degree in Bioinformatics from University of Maryland University College. Four Futures sits at the intersection of his enthusiasm for both left-wing politics and futurology. His hobbies also include music.

If you have any questions or comments, please send us a tweet @occupyirtheory

Struggling with Precarity: From More and Better Jobs to Less and Lesser Work | The Disorder Of Things

From Wanda Vrasti, does the language of precarity empower us? Or can we do better?

But what if precarity was the wrong rallying point to focus on? What if instead of describing a shared experience all that the concept did was point to the absence of a common ground? Is there any way we could turn precarity around from a testament to our shared vulnerability into a positive affirmation of collective desire?

via Struggling with Precarity: From More and Better Jobs to Less and Lesser Work | The Disorder Of Things.

…Another Occupy Is Possible – and Necessary

Useful reading… tho perhaps important to not get too carried away with notions of “silliness” in Zuccotti Park.

At the height of Occupy Wall Street’s efflorescence, when the enragés who took up residence in Zuccotti Park succeeded in raising the battle standard of the 99% for the entire world to see, I sat down for aninterview with Frances Fox Piven to help make sense of what was unfolding before us. Although I thought I knew more than my fair share about the theory and practice of social movements in the U.S., as a child of the End of History, I had never really been part of one. I was born in the early 1980s, during the dreadful dawn of “Morning in America,” so aside from my days as an undergraduate global trade summit-hopper I learned almost everything I know about this stuff from books. The occupation of Zuccotti Park went on for days, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. It looked as if an honest-to-goodness social movement was breaking out in this country for the first time in my life. To be sure, I was elated. But to my surprise, that elation was often overcome by a sense of foreboding. I looked at all of the silliness that accompanied the encampments and feared that the movement (I still hesitate to use that phrase) would self-destruct before it made even a small dent in the power of the 1%.

via Another Occupy Is Possible – and Necessary.

On Formulation in Hardt and Negri’s ‘Declaration’

Among the various bits and pieces circulating about Hardt and Negri’s new Declaration, Jason Read’s blog suggests a tension between the newer, constitutionalist tones of their project and the sentiments of Negri in an older text, Insurgencies. For Read, Declaration is somewhat overly fascinated with “the US constitution”, whereas the younger Negri was much less interested in dictating formulations:

“A great current of modern political thought, from Machiavelli to Spinoza to Marx, has developed around this open alternative, which is the ground of democratic thought.  In this tradition, the absence of preconstituted and finalized principles is combined with the subjective strength of the multitude, thus constituting the social in the aleatory materiality of a universal relationship, in the possibility of freedom.”

via Unemployed Negativity: Revolution in Theory/Theorizing Revolution: On Hardt and Negris Declaration.

But interestingly its their openness to the non-formulative approach of the movements that draws ire. For example, Doug Henwood was rather critical on his FB page about H&N’s reference to the Israeli tent protest being pretty hushed on the topic of Palestine (Loc. 41/1506), thus reading H&N as saying this topic was treated was somehow correctly expendable in the interests of unifying the movement. Others chimed in on occupy being shallow on the topic of war in general, and not letting Cyndi Sheehan speak. But this seems to be missing the point. The movements of course likely contain sizable numbers of people who would wish to express solidarity with the Palestinians. That they don’t do so is no sign of lack of interest or solidarity. As the pamphlet argues, the movement does need to be strategic about its longevity. To accomplish this, the movement is experimenting with ways of finding an effective common platform. Of course, if not mentioning an issue necessarily means that you don’t care about it, then this is indeed a concern. But it could also mean that you you just want to avoid getting bogged down in an intractable debate. This is a common technique adopted by the GAs in the OWS movement where minimal common principles can be agreed as a consensus position and then returned to later. OWS movements are themselves careful on this. While they do express solidarity with other ‘occupy’-style movements around the world, they do not offer expressions of solidarity with people involved in armed conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Uganda).

What is interesting about H&N’s new work is the extent to which they balance observation with evaluation. The general tendencies of the movements are examined for their ‘commonality’ but also for their potential to live up to their promise. They’re establishing criteria of what, in their view at least, would likely constitute a Princely strategy of success, all the while saying its too soon to tell what will come of it all. I need to give the book a much more detailed reading so these comments are necessarily somewhat sophomoric at this stage, but the initial intellectual reactions to this question of formulation are interesting. Commenting on the book more from the perspective of the activist, Mirzoeff summarizes the valences of domination that H&N suggest confront the populations of the world, and agrees with the way the book poses the ‘counter powers’ to these valences as necessarily exterior to ideology or centralized political leadership. The task of developing a new, open constitution against such an array of forces is a daunting one, to be sure. But Mirzoeff seems to get the point. As he concludes, “the next steps won’t be found in a pamphlet but in the sometimes arduous, sometimes exhilarating process of communing.”