Occupy Wall Street: after the anarchist moment

Jodi Dean

Abstract


The problem of political organization to which Occupy supplies a provisional answer is that of mobilizing and structuring opposition to capitalism. Anarchism’s emphases on consensus, autonomy and horizontality drew in people convinced by thirty years of neoliberalism of the primacy of the individual. Instead of insisting on a party line or requiring rigorous study of party history, it inspired and galvanized people where they are. At the same time, this very inspiration claimed the division between the 99 per cent and the 1 per cent and named it as the wrong or crime of inequality, exploitation and theft, thereby placing the core of socialist and communist politics at the movement’s heart. The political culture of the US – whether with respect to the issue and identity politics characteristic of the left since 1968 or the mainstream’s emphasis on volunteering, civic-mindedness and service – has celebrated grass-roots, local and community-based actions for decades. Occupy made dispersed struggles register as a common struggle. To this extent, as it became a common name, it started to operate as a nascent party, one in the process of being formed and directed by people in the course of political movement.

In making Occupy explicit as a political form for the incompatibility between capitalism and the people, moreover, a common party could introduce new opportunities for accountability and coordination, new potentials for enabling multiple actions to reinforce rather than work against each other. Exactly what processes are best for insuring accountability, for making the fact of leadership transparent, and for guiding participants to the roles and activities for which they are best suited, is an open question. There are multiple models; not every model is best suited for every group, decision or action. Thinking of Occupy as pointing toward the possibility of a new party doesn’t solve this problem; it acknowledges it as a problem we can solve.

Occupy Wall Street brought into being a new political subject. It gave the left the courage to say ‘we’ again. Maintaining the political opening Occupy created won’t be easy, but it will be possible if and as the movement shapes itself as a new communist party.

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