9/24 – Opening Shot Against the Budget Cuts

What follows is an analysis of the actions which took place at UC ba-ucwalkout25_3_0500638419Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz on September 24th, the different political strategies advocated, and some perespective on how to move forward.  Post comments to discuss & debate, and Enjoy!



September 24th:  The Opening Shot

-Advance the Struggle

I. Introduction to 9/24

II. UC Santa Cruz Occupation

III. UC Berkeley Rally & General Assembly

IV. Twin Pitfalls of Tailism and Adventurism

V. Moving Forward

I. Introduction to 9/24

On September 24 2009, thousands across the state protested and picketed against the California budget cuts. CFA organized pickets at some CSU’s across the state, several UC unions had actions on the UC system, and students protested in mass. UC Santa Cruz launched a successful occupation of the graduate student center and UC Berkeley had a rally of 5,000 students, with 500 students taking over Wheeler hall for a mass assembly.

Many UCs had similar protests, with students and workers numbering in the hundreds. The University of California Student Association (UCSA), representing over 200,000 UC students unanimously passed a “Resolution in Support of the September 24th UC-Wide Walkout”, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) endorsed the walkout, UPTE, representing 12,000 University Professional and Technical Employees, went on strike and picketed on 9/24 in solidarity with faculty, as did CUE (Coalition of University Employees), representing over 13,000 staff statewide.

While we welcome the development of active opposition to the budget cuts, we are beginning to see the challenges that lie ahead.  How can we develop a movement that is at once popular and inclusive, while at the same time moving beyond liberal letter writing and petitioning of politicians, to begin challenging the foundations of society – the capitalist economy itself.

Already at this early stage we are seeing the beginning of what could be a schism between the direct action strategy, as exhibited by students at Santa Cruz, and the approach of massive general assemblies, lacking confrontational strategic perspective, as exhibited at Berkeley.  The question we should be asking ourselves is how do we move beyond this divide?  How can we actually challenge the power of Sacramento without falling into the illusion that pressuring them through letter writing and petitions will solve our problems?

II.  UC Santa Cruz Occupation

With preparatory meetings, a group that wanted to occupy a section of UCSC decided to do so. Their written communication titled “Occupy California” states that with this crisis “everything and everyone is subordinated to the budget.” This occupation had a dance party celebrating its victory. Students from as far as the University of Maryland, and New School of New York had sympathy actions. The Occupy California statement argues for occupation being “a tactic for escalating struggles, a tactic recently used at the Chicago Windows and Doors factory and at the New School in New York City.” Some might critique such efforts due to the insignifance of students, largely graduate students, occupying the graduate student center, asking “wasn’t it their space to begin with?”

Coupled with this, many are critical that the UCSC occupiers didn’t have demands, which implies that they had no strategic goal.  The truth is the occupiers’ goal was to politicize people’s understanding of the crisis, the economy and of capitalism in general as being unreformable, dehumanizing and needing to be abolished by people’s radical and creative drives for a new egalitarian world.

UCSC’s occupation, which lasted six days, might not have challenged the economy in any way but it did represent a model of struggle that we’ve seen brought back to life with the Chicago Windows and Doors factory workers, a form of struggle seen in the CIO workplace shutdowns of the 1930s and the Argentine factory occupations against the 2001 crisis. In both of these instances workers shut down production, occupied workplaces and took over in such a way that police and bosses were not able to control the spaces.  These workers saw themselves as part of a militant working class movement seeking to challenge the fundamental relations of society: workplaces – the points where wealth is produced.

Understanding California in a geographical way is important because occupations, such as UCSCs, can easily become isolated and marginalized.  But they can also be reproduced, like in Argentina during their crisis.  The success of such occupations is the extent to which they are coordinated at multiple locations, shutdown significant parts of the economy and are able to spread and gain support from those outside the occupied spaces.

According to one UCSC student, “though it provided a forum for campus organizing, the occupation itself did not on its own build up the kind of organizational capacity or broad-based consciousness building structures that are required to catalyze broad, militant movement on the Santa Cruz campus.”

III.  UC Berkeley Rally & General Assembly

UC Berkeley had a very notable protest of 5,000 people. After the rally and march, a general assembly (mass meeting) of 500 people took place at Cesar Chavez Student Center. The meeting was composed of “student leaders” from CalServe (the undergrad student government claiming to represent students of color), anarchists, student radicals, Trotskyists, Ultra-Left marxists and hundreds of curious UC Berkeley students trying to figure out how to struggle against budget cuts. The general assembly moderators imposed a formal procedural structure and pushed for breakout groups of 20 people to form outside, and then reconvened at Wheeler Hall to report-back. While networking with other schools for a student strike was brought up, the majority of the reports from the breakouts were for petitions, letter writing campaigns, and conferences.  In the middle of the report-backs, the meeting had a key opportunity for radicalization. Someone read the occupation statement by UCSC students. A writer posting on IndyBay stated:

The crowd was visibly moved, and roared in support of the UCSC students, before chanting “Occupy! Occupy!” for several minutes. As the occupation committee sought an immediate vote, the self-imposed leadership insisted that the reportback procedure continue for a full hour more (yes, there was a vote, but both options led to the same continuation of procedure). The energy and momentum of the room was not respected, this was not democracy: it was proceduralism in an effort to prevent any strategy or tactic that the leadership disagreed with.

With this energy flowing, the crowd caught wind that there was an occupation committee at Berkeley putting chains on the doors of Wheeler Hall, leaving one door open.  In the spirit of the Santa Cruz occupation, a clandestine group of Berkeley students were planning to occupy a building on the 24th.  Due to their lack of organization and clear cut strategy for making the would-be occupation public, they impulsively decided to choose the site of the mass meeting as the occupation area – without making it clear to the people inside.

Although the spirit of the occupation committee was militant, they behaved as private revolutionaries, failing to execute and argue for their political strategy publicly amongst the general assembly.  The political consciousness of the general assembly was sidestepped.  Assuming that their occupation effort would be automatically supported by the general assembly, these students neglected to calculate the necessity of arguing for the occupation within the general assembly. Such a short-cut ended up being disastrous to the general assembly, which was organized for months by Student Worker Action Team (SWAT).

What happened was that the would-be occupiers sat around outside the assembly smoking cigarettes, while militant student activists from SF State student group SUP, were thrust to the front of the assembly by CalServe representatives to announce the occupation, and as a result became seen as representatives for the fumbling Berkeley occupiers.

At this point all hell broke loose, people left Wheeler Hall and the general assembly fell apart.

IV.  Twin Pitfalls of Tailism and Adventurism

Some organizers at UC Berkeley stated that an occupation at that time would have been premature, and would not have advanced the anti-budget cut movement. It is defeatist and conservative to assert that an occupation would be “premature,” “out of place,” or “detrimental” to the movement.  On the other hand, springing it on the general assembly by trying to lock down Wheeler Hall was straight-up reckless strategy.

The fact of the matter is that no other radical proposals were clearly provided at the general assembly, despite the prevalence of radical organizations (most notably those of a Trotskyist persuasion). On the other hand, the Ultra-Lefts who planned the occupation unfortunately isolated themselves behind a self-imposed curtain of conspiratorial plotting.

Although Student Unity and Power (SUP) didn’t make itself known as an organization, members of SUP were thrust to the podium by CalServe moderators to make the pro-occupation argument to the assembly. Although SUP had nothing to do with organizing the ill-fated occupation, they made no secret of their advocacy of an escalation of tactics in the anti-budget cut movement. By failing to articulate the difference between SUP’s general approval of actions, like occupation, and a specific support of that occupation at that specific time and place, they left themselves open for unprincipled attacks from other groups.

Two days later at an anti-budget cut conference at SF State SUP was vilified by an alliance of Trotskyist groups, and other liberals, for being “undemocratic” for its perceived support of the failed occupation.  This misconception was reconciled after a long discussion, but unfortunately obscured the real point of contention: the twin pitfalls of tailism (following behind proposals for petitions and legalistic protests) on the one hand, and adventurism (isolated militant action) on the other. Both of these approaches sidestep the political consciousness of the masses.

Without a doubt the movement needs to be democratic with open debate, but this cannot happen with a proceduralist bureaucratic system of decision-making processes led by student government functionaries. Mass meetings and general assemblies are truly democratic when they become increasingly guided by political perspectives which transcend letter writing and petition politics.  While there were good ideas thrown out about organizing high schools, community colleges and statewide conferences, the political parameters set forward on the 24th did not represent a break from non-hostile letter writing and petitioning.

Trotskyist militants were not clear in putting forward demands and strategies at the assembly that would give the movement a trajectory of winning by actually challenging the state. Such an abdication of revolutionary responsibility becomes the unseen side of the coin, while the Ultra-Lefts’ premature, failed occupation represents the more visible side. In the short term, the revolutionary zeal of the attempted occupation was destructive. In the long term, conservative errors are actually more detrimental to the development of a revolutionary movement since conservatism from radicals serves to deform the consciousness of emerging student militants.

V.  Moving Forward

The state-wide actions that took place across university campuses on September 24th were the manifestation of developments that have been simmering for a few years, and represent a qualitative leap in the evolution of the anti-budget cut movement. Everyone on the left should be encouraged by the scale and quality it achieved. The next step decided on the 24th is a mass conference to take place on October 24, 2009 at UC Berkeley to shape and unify the anti-budget cut movement.

Some have already proposed May 1st as a day to have a mass march in Sacramento; while this is a nice Saturday trip for union members, it doesn’t challenge the power of the state. Others have been proposing March 18th, the anniversary of the War in Iraq, as the day to have a state wide strike, where every educational institution gets shutdown, from universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, and workplaces.  Due to the significance of the date, this type of action would represent a more political approach to protest and action, linking struggle abroad to the struggle “at home”.

The strategic question faced is should there simply be legalistic mass protest in Sacramento, or can there be simultaneous “illegal” statewide shutdowns of numerous educational institutions and workplaces? Unions might engage in legal one-hour pickets, but union members should take this struggle into their own hands beyond the legalism of union politics. If a statewide strike is going to take place, we must think about what type of statewide organizational formation needs to exist for such a massive strike wave to take place.  Politically, such a statewide network should see the bankruptcy of petitions, and of the general approach of petitioning power in a “respectable” and legalistic way. It should also not limit itself to advocating mass assemblies, but think a political step further about what to propose at mass assemblies in order to deepen the consciousness of the participants and advance the struggle.

30 responses to “9/24 – Opening Shot Against the Budget Cuts

  1. some points of clarification

    Much of this analysis strikes me as spot-on and several of the points of criticism are apt, but a few points of clarification need to be made. It may be strictly true that the occupiers failed to make their plans known to the assembly, but you can’t really blame the occupiers for that — they were given no opportunity to do so, and after one of their members begged for 3 minutes to read the statement from Santa Cruz and led the crowd in a chant, he was quickly ushered off-stage before he had an opportunity to explain what was possible. He essentially proposed an occupation, proposed that they occupy Wheeler that night, and the chant, in response to that, counted as an affirmation by many of those in the audience. I’m not saying it’s the same as a vote, or that this justified locking the doors, but it meant many of the people there wanted to occupy — perhaps they didn’t know what this meant, whether it involved chains or a sit-in. But still, it’s not like they made some wild, unfounded assumption. The decision to lock the doors was stupid, and foolhardly, no doubt. [It’s also worth noting that they waited about a half an hour for another chance to address the audience after reading the statement; they didn’t just lock the doors]. They should have had more patience, no doubt. But the political consciousness of the assembly had been sidestepped the moment the facilitators decided to go back to hearing from the breakout groups after the proposal had been made, instead of taking an immediate vote.

    From talking to them, it seems this was the plan of the occupiers all along, to make a proposal to the assembly, and they had been trying to do this from the moment the assembly started, in another building. Wheeler was their target all along, and they originally wanted to bring people over who had already been informed about what happened. They had been brushed off in the other building as well, and the attempt to make a direct proposal to the assembly in Wheeler was a back-up plan. Perhaps it was a bad plan. In any case, they did have one, and they had the people to lock the doors, and at least 30 people already committed to the occupation in advance. They were certainly impatient, but you can’t simply blame the whole thing on them.

    I didn’t see any of the occupiers outside smoking cigarettes. Most of them were at the doors making sure the cops didn’t come in. I didn’t know that SUP was asked to make a proposal to the crowd — it’s unfortunate, but that was very late in the game, after the crowd had already been terrorized by several ridiculously panicked speeches. If the facilitators had asked some people of the occupiers to address the crowd earlier, they would have certainly obliged. They were basically either covering the doors or standing in the back of the audience biting their fingernails.

    No doubt, they’ll do it again. And they’ll get it right.

    • I was there and actually did see the would-be occupiers smoking cigarettes. But this isn’t the point; the point is that they had no visible presence, even though it was important that they weren’t revealed to the pigs, they should have made an effort to at least make their plans known THAT THEY WANTED TO OCCUPY THE BUILDING THAT EVERYONE WAS IN! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a successful occupation is one that involves people that actually know they are part of an occupation. And yes, I know there was a door wide open for those that wanted to leave, but see what the liberal CalServe people did? They created a hysteria that made the same people who were chanting OCCUPY! OCCUPY! into anti-occupationists. This is what happen when there is no clear message and no clear and strong radical proposals.

      • some points of clarification

        Carlitos —

        First, as stated above, they did make their plans known — one of them read the statement, and said let’s occupy this building. It’s pretty damn clear and radical. Secondly, after he did that, they were given no second opportunity to address the crowd. . . Seriously — when was there supposed to be a “clear and strong radical proposal” or a “clear message.” How precisely were they supposed to communicate to the crowd their intent? If he hadn’t been ushered off stage, I’m sure he would have explained more.

        So much for before the doors were locked. After the doors were locked, I don’t think anybody had any doubt that they were in an occupation. Perhaps we can agree on this — after the doors were locked, one of them should have just taken the stage, grabbed the mic and addressed the crowd. [This would have pissed the CalServe people off even more.] This is precisely what he or she would have needed to do, since they certainly weren’t given any invitation.

      • But they didn’t tell anyone that they had locked some doors but that one was wide open, leaving it to the CalServe people to misrepresent the situation and ostracize the occupation. I am not against the occupiers, I wanted them to succeed, I was down to occupy, but we have to acknowledge that that’s not the way to go about an occupation, especially with an open door in a public space with cops. shit like that has to be organized behind closed doors, and yes, I said it, undemocratically. This means that since not everyone will be down to occupy, the planning should be done only by the people who will occupy and it shouldn’t involve people who are easily swayed to support contradicting ideas put forward by anyone who spoke in an emotional or loud way, as I saw there.

      • some points of clarification

        Yeah, that’s right. They should have went in and addressed the crowd after locking the doors. I wasn’t in the auditorium when the crowd found out, so I don’t really know how that happened. I mean, I’m of the opinion that they shouldn’t have locked the doors. They should have waited — this might have meant they found cops waiting in the lobby to stop the occupation, but still, better than what happened.

  2. some points of clarification

    Short and sweet: if they had been *given an opportunity* to argue the occupation to the assembly, then and there, it would have happened, and it would have been a historical event. The goal all along was to coordinate with SC. . .

  3. who in the fuck do you people think you are, with your ivory tower “analysis” of this and that? if the revolution was only conducted by you, well, then, by god, it would be perfect and we’d all be living in nirvana by now. lead by example or shut the fuck up you arrogant assholes

    • Wow. That’s some good insight.

      • You didn’t like? Too short and direct? You prefer lengthy screeds to action? You prefer to sit on your duff and blah, blah, blah all day and pretend you are doing something when you are not? Because you are aware, aren’t you, that this entire thread is just so much hot air and will influence absolutely nothing in the real world, right? You do know that real organizing is not done online by anonymous characters? And this type of so called analysis is never productive because it is not fully honest as it looks exclusively outward rather than inward. For Advance the Struggle, it’s always someone else’s fault while they magically keep their hands clean and risk nothing of substance themselves. They are talkers, not doers, and they literally do not advance the struggle a millimeter for all the blather they blow.

        [Moderator note: John, in fact you are the one who is the anonymous “presence” in this debate and discussion. Your original comment displayed an emotional, rather than analytical/intellectual, reaction to the analysis presented in this piece. If writing and analysis were just “hot air” with no effect in the real world as you say, then it shouldn’t illicit emotional responses from people like you, nor intellectual reflections/responses from others who have posted thoughtful comments (people actively involved in struggle) in this thread. If you think this is a waste of time, it boggles the mind as to why you’d spend precious time out of your day logging on here and reading it . . . Don’t front – if you got something of substance to say, put it out there for people to read and respond to. Any further instances of your snobby arrogance will be deleted for wasting space.]

      • There is still nothing of substance in john george’s comment. Simply moving from action to action with no theoretical understanding of situations is called activism. No real struggle arises spontaneously without knowledge to ground us. And you must know all about Advance the Struggle, right?

        This blog is not intended to replace real organizing; it never claims to be. This is just a space where revolutionaries, radicals, liberals and anyone interested can discuss, debate, and dialogue about past and current events and the “burning questions of our time”. A/S does not claim to be the one to lead “the revolution.”

  4. well, it’s kind of hard to follow a comment like that, but i’ll give it a shot.

    i think the purpose of an “analysis” (god forbid) like this is to assess where we’re at, and where we might be able to go. it’s definitely a worthwhile conversation at this point. right now, it seems like a movement might be fermenting. this comes out in the thought and action of revolutionaries, activists, and everyday people who don’t typically venture into the traditional spheres of “politics.”

    the masses of people who come out to these rallies and protests are asking themselves, “what is possible?” organizers are asking themselves the same question. we’re at a transitional point right now. both organizers, and those who might become organizers are going to be experimenting with strategies and tactics that might not have been possible, and that they might not have even considered 2 years ago. there is a lot of uncertainty, but also a lot of hope and energy.

    organizations that have for years been only small circles of dedicated activists are facing the hurdle of transforming into mass organizations. infrastructure, strategy and tactics all have to be reconsidered. skills need to be shared so that these new layers can become more confident as organizers and expand the movement at a rate unseen in decades. meetings that typically never had more than maybe a dozen attendants now have hundreds. as ATS points out, new methods and a new purpose for these meetings need to be imagined.

    a question i have is, what is possible in these mass meetings if they become a permanent fixture of campus radicalism? at the current phase i don’t think they’re self-governing bodies ready to take control of the university. the fact that a rally of thousands went down to a meeting of 500 means to me that there are still certain leaps in activity and consciousness that need to be made.

    i think the piece is dead on in that a key contradiction of the struggle at this phase lies between the new layers of activity and the older more established forms of leadership and organization. the student gov’t types, it would seem, are becoming a conservative force. they are unable to imagine what is now possible, and are thus stuck with the same bureaucratic methods of organization. if this is allowed to persist the new folks coming around will become disillusioned.

    so revolutionaries and the Left should consider themselves a radical pole within these broad formations. the student gov’t folks might still have some legitimacy. only the activity of these new layers will make them obsolete, but it will be up to the Left to propose new organizations and strategies that will encourage and institutionalize the expansion of this new height in self-activity.

    i’d like to hear more thoughts on what concretely could bee proposed in these situations.

  5. How considerably bad timing. You guys have a correct right to sum up Berkley and what we may want to know, but seriously…

    Why not let the UCSC sum up their experience before you begin making possibly confused analysis? Its been literally less than a day since they ended their occupation and you’re already making verdicts on it.

    Its just a bit ironic too – here there is criticicism for them not having demands, but Hammer and Sickness was certainly arguing against having demands from the state. Besides that, the UCSC’s occupation political line was pretty clear. Refusing to “pressure democrats” etc.

    “We occupy to help break those older logics. We occupy to show that radical options are not just on the map again but are a way of redrawing the map, giving shape and form to the dissent and discontent that seethes around the world. We occupy to create a anti-capitalist and anti-privatized space, no matter how small or for how long, out of the institutional zones of capitalism. We occupy to produce sparks that draw awareness and attention to a situation that can no longer be tolerated. We occupy again and again, as long as it takes.”

    and they also asserted that this all a part of a protracted process of their struggle.

    And only 500 people involved in a occupation? Is this really something to scuff at? That seems like a great success to be built upon. Its very easy to sit back and claim “you didn’t do enough,” but that is not really analysis at all but is rather obvious.

    Just put it this way – Hunter College had an occupation of less than 200 students which shut down the whole campus for a few months, stirred broad mass support, and even had the security guards refusing to bust it. It was successful. In fact, if you have an occupation, its likely that the majority of people will not participate. The question is how do you win people to at least being active supporters.

    • This doesn’t seem to me like a critique of the SC occupiers from A/S for not having demands:
      “The occupiers’ goal was to politicize people’s understanding of the crisis, the economy and of capitalism in general as being unreformable, dehumanizing and needing to be abolished by people’s radical and creative drives for a new egalitarian world.”

      Much of the analysis of the SC occupation could have been writing since the first day of it, all that information has been out, and I see this analysis as more a positive critique than a negative, I think you misrepresent A/S’s argument. In fact there’s not even that much speculation of the SC action, more of a reporting of what happened according to the occupiers’ own blog. And I don’t see a verdict. Show me where it says the UCSC occupation was failed or a victory?

      The fact is the occupation did become isolated besides people sending them statements of solidarity or having rallies in support. Does calling for escalation and occupation make people spontaneously escalate and occupy? No, that would take more building and outreaching on a broader scale; if the occupiers from Santa Cruz would have even tried to reach out to other people at other campuses that were down for occupation, it could have had more power for there to be 2 occupations in California and not just one. This didn’t happen so I would say the occupation didn’t accomplish as much as it could and should have.

      “The success of such occupations is the extent to which they are coordinated at multiple locations, shutdown significant parts of the economy and are able to spread and gain support from those outside the occupied spaces.”

      The occupation at would have had more of an impact if it was linked with another campus and thus harder to dismiss. It didn’t even last, and not because it was smashed on (it wasn’t).

    • Advance The Struggle

      Shine The Path writes: “Its just a bit ironic too – here there is criticicism for them not having demands”

      This is a distortion of the analysis, as Carlitos points out . . . The actual line in the piece reads, “Coupled with this, many are critical that the UCSC occupiers didn’t have demands.” “Many” are critical, and many are critical of this . . . but this critique of UCSC occupiers is not endorsed by AS in the piece.

      [Moderator Note: STP, your presence here as a perpetual opponent of AS politics is welcome, and your althusserian-maoist perspective is unique and also welcome. However, I urge you to reflect on your intention for posting here. Your posting here on this article shows no engagement whatsoever, except to distort our analysis of UCSC – presumably unintentionally, of course. It’s disappointing that after all your accusations of us of being “Trotskyist,” “economist,” etc, you don’t engage with our material analysis of trotskyists and “tailism” in actual struggle . . . Looking forward to more substantive posts from your much appreciated perspective.]

      • shinethepath

        I wasn’t trying to distort the summation of your work in UC Berkley and the role of Trotskyists and Anarchists – I am leaving, I in fact appreciate the article for this summation – my point simply was it seems way too early to begin spinning a summation of an occupation without the beginning of this summation and political line struggle to come from the students at UCSC.

        Also I find it rather a bit unsympathetic to the student occupation (at UCSC), rather picking on its failures than looking at its success and what the students were putting forward.

  6. Your analysis is very helpful and i hope w can be in conversation about what kind of organization is required to build the kind of mass actions that dont pander to legalistic, “blow off steam” actions. i am part of a group called democracy insurgent in seattle, at the university of washington, and we are trying to fight the same things. we have a similar emphasis on trying to avoid the tailerism and adventurism extremes while continually pushing a left pole that breaks bureaucratic rules.

    we have been working closely with the custodians on campus who are also waging a struggle against extra work and speed ups that have been intensified since the budget cuts. its been very exciting but also very difficult precisely because of what you guys suggested in the last para: that union bureaucracies are slow to move, and legalistic in their actions — not really wanting to confront the cuts, and trying to salvage a piece of the pie for themselves only. the challenge we face is:

    1) many students still see the union bureaucracy as the legitimate outlet for workers solidarity work — we are branded as crazy dogmatic radicals — ironically we are the ones in conversation w rank and file workers who also help facilitate forums for democratic debate, all of which the union bureaucrats hate, even tho they like to claim credit for the work we do.

    2) the university if clamping down with the campus police department. they are harassing a predominantly immigrant worker population and because union resources are currently monopolized by the bureaucracy, it is creating a lot of fear.

    3) the union is also engaging in fear mongering — telling workers they will get fired for even rallying, or speaking out. they are trying to persuade workers to sit down and keep quiet, leave it to the bureaucrats. it is insane. i think there is an unspoken kind of “code of conduct” among some labor progressives in the city that dont want to call out the dirt on other unions. i dont know if its an “old boys network” or what, but its frustrating when the same people walk around saying they are down for immigrant rights when what they mean is they wanna help immigrants only when they stay as silent victims, not when they are actively challenging power themselves.

    we are trying to navigate around these challenges and trying to build an organization that can bring together workers and students in the university which will serve as a basis to link up struggles across the city. but these are some of the challenges we are facing right now as we try to overcome the legalistic union structure and build rank and file workers and student power. we would like to brainstorm this with you.

    check out this blog for more info on our struggle:

  7. excellent analysis. This is very helpful and clarifies a lot about what’s going on in Cali – we’re gonna use it for sure in our Democracy Insurgent study groups as we think about how to escalate the struggle up here in Seattle.

    Do ya’ll think it’s possible to build an alliance with the left wing of SWAT and other radical groups in the mix to make sure that proposals for occupations and direct action are consistently raised, debated, and voted on in the general assemblies and the upcoming conference? You may end up clashing with some of the Calserve folks and over this but it sounds like there might be at least a significant plurality of folks in the mix at these assemblies who would be open to direct action considering the chants calling for an occupation on the 24th and the general momentum that’s building.

    The Calserve folks might “privilege bait” whoever advocates more radical actions, saying ya’ll will endanger students of color, immigrant workers, international students, trans folks, etc. This is a real concern of course and the undemocratic actions of the folks who forced the “occupation” at Berkley on the 24th gives verbal ammunition to the Calserve progressives because it did put folks at risk without their consent.

    But the whole argument that folks without privilege automatically don’t want to do things like occupations is patronizing in its own right – it assumes that oppressed people can’t be militant and can’t democratically decide to up the ante ourselves. Back in 99 up in here in Seattle, there were plenty of people of color, queer folks, women, and working class folks who wanted to up the ante against the WTO but the direct action was credited to and blamed on white anarchists alone as if everyone else was simply a silent victim of it.

    As Jomo said, the union bureaucracy is doing the same shit to us – even though we’re a majority people of color, women, and queer group, and even though we’re standing shoulder to shoulder in direct actions with immigrant custodians, they make it seem like we are privileged outsiders manipulating helpless childlike workers into dangerous actions they’re not ready for.

    The reality is, every action we’ve taken we’ve discussed and planned democratically with custodians. And, most of us are actually workers ourselves – I’m in the public education system myself and like ya’ll in Cali I’m trying to link the fight against privatization at the K-12 level with the fight at the universities. The rank and file custodians, who have kids in the schools that are facing cuts understand this much better than the union bureaucrats.

    Of course, this kind of privilege baiting isn’t anything new, it’s to be expected. Ya’ll gave a good analysis of why it happens in your Students as Positive Proletarian Actors piece – it prompted a lot of discussion with our comrades over at gatheringforces.org

    In any case, from what I can tell there are quite a few oppressed people in the mix in your group and in the overall movement down there who want to move toward occupations and direct actions…. if ya’ll can build a consistent presence at the General Assemblies that puts front and center the demands of people of color and oppressed folks then it’ll be difficult for the right wing of student government to hold you back.

    Keep up the great work, and keep writing these pieces if you can, cuz they will most definitely have an impact well beyond California. We are incredibly inspired by your work and it gives us inspiration to keep going in the face of the repression we’re facing now.


  8. This is a an important piece that AtS posts. It is vital for many reasons. I am happy that they are reflecting on this set of events in Cali so quickly, because the pace of events will only quicken. The rulers are moving devastatingly fast and unfortunately revolutionaries and eventually social movements will have to as well if there is any hope of defeating their offensive. But back to the piece AtS posts…

    First it contextualizes the developing spirit in the air from University of Maryland to UCSC. It is a strength in capturing a developing national mood, there needs to be further discussion of what social layers the New School of New York or UCSC represent. How can these struggles be understood in terms of their vanguard character? Can they be understood in such terms? If so, how can they develop national links and coordinations? How can they foster student groups around the country?

    Second, the AtS piece correctly raises what form struggles should take under this context. In other words are petition politics and nice Saturday afternoon protests enough to gain major victories for UC students, workers, and community members? While this question can be considered in historical terms, I think it is very helpful thinking it in terms of the current political and economic crisis. What actions and steps are needed to fight the total capitalist offensive against the American working class, students, pocs, women, immigrants, Arabs and Muslims etc etc? That is how I have understood their concerns of the UCSC occupation and problems of 500 students being involved in an occupation with a campus of 15,000 undergrads. The reality is more force and numbers are needed than 500 students considering what is at stake for California and US capitalism.

    While movements are products of patient organization building, and political development, dialectical leaps in both are possible and this is particularly important when keeping in mind how fast and decisive the capitalist offensive has been since they got their game plan together early in 2009. They have broke so many norms of free-market capitalism, it should be clear that business as usual or protests as usual cannot win the victories needed against the rulers. The equation of the game has to be changed, the struggle has to be advanced if oppressed people are going to move from having fits and temper tantrums to strategic offensives against the capitalists.

    This is tied to what is emancipation for oppressed people and what develops movements. Is it petition politics or is it direct action, mass and militant protests, etc etc.? There is also the question of what form of social struggle actually wins in a visceral power struggle between social classes. What do petitions mean when the rulers are worried about their own profit rates? What will it take for them to accept certain defeats? Or in other words what forms of struggle to oppressed people have to take up to win major victories?

    Third AtS gets at the question of mass politics, crowd dynamics, understanding the dialectics of democracy, leadership etc. One interpretation of the AtS piece is that the objective circumstances might have been ripe for an occupation on the 24th. At the same time objective circumstances are determined by subjective actors and in this case it looks like the occupation committee did not win over the crowd in deeper ways where an occupation could have been successful. AtS comments on this by saying, “they behaved as private revolutionaries, failing to execute and argue for their political strategy publicly amongst the general assembly.”

    The fact that SUP general perspective of occupation and direct action became conflated with the immediate occupation of the building was also a tragic moment where political and organizational strategies could have been deepened for the entire crowd, but were possibly missed. Either way, how big of a missed opportunity it was we will only know in the upcoming weeks.
    AtS argues for thinking about democracy and mass politics along different terms than many people have been used to. Most importantly, different from what revolutionaries and radicals have been used to. We have lived in long periods of stability and quiet in terms of social struggles. While the Iraq anti-war movement brought out hundreds of thousands they were relatively tame when putting them in historical perspectives of American class struggle and previous anti-war movements. Revolutionaries cannot escape the general conditions of their time and most importantly they are also shaped by the type of social struggles which occur in quieter times. I believe that the AtS piece points very strongly in a direction where revolutionaries have to break out of their own parliamentarian conceptions of doing politics, no matter how radical they might think their ideas of mass politics are. It appears that the general assembly could have been won to an occupation that night or at least to start planning for an occupation down the road. It was a matter of the right subjective forces intervening and taking a momentarily lead to radically/ dialectically shape that precise moment.

    AtS discusses the role of Trotskyist revolutionaries in the general assembly. This is an important point in thinking about how revolutionaries have thought about what leadership in the movement looks like, where social change happens from etc. While the rhetoric of revolutionaries is about emancipation of oppressed people, the vehicle and strategies often rest on capturing the state, or positions in trade unions, school boards, city councils, etc etc. In every historical case which comes to my mind, this ends up turning the needs of mass movements upside down. Mass movements become a means to capture these positions and the radical transformation of society is lost because the progress of change is seen through capturing these positions instead of destroying them. One could argue that the dialectics of social struggle are thrown out the window.

    I think the Trotskyism discussion is also linked to the tailism versus left adventurism question. While it is easy to see the left adventurism of the occupation committee, how is it that anti-Stalinist Trotskyists end up tailing? There are a lot of ways I could approach this question. I will comment later on the historical and theoretical dimensions of it. But for the immediate aspect of it: it shows the creeping conservatism of revolutionaries when they end up thinking that mass movement politics is a parliamentarian vote on every strategy. They pin their ability to move forward to winning over liberals, winning over white folks instead of looking for oppressed yet sizable minorities (in a numerical sense) which can become the vanguard of the struggle and this layer can lead other social forces on more militant terms. Sometimes the roar of a crowd, the actions of a sizable minority, etc etc are enough to change the many people who were not sure of something more militant and before you know you have a sizable force in the crowd which wants to do something more aggressive. I have participated in such developments plenty of times where the objective conditions from a Trotskyist perspective might not have been right for something more militant, but my comrades and I took the initiative and cohered something more militant in crowd dynamics. It is something that revolutionaries have to be masters at because I think as the movement against budget cuts picks up, this form of democracy will become more prevalent.

    There are also historical and theoretical reasons that I think Trotskyism specifically falls into the pitfalls of trying to capture positions of leadership in the trade union bureaucracy or other structures. I will not go into it here, but the Johnson-Forest Tendency have been extremely influential for me in coming to terms with the theoretical and historical underpinnings of why Trotyskism ends up repeating this same mistake again and again.

    Lastly, AtS asks in the section, “Moving Forward”: “what type of statewide organizational formation needs to exist for such a massive strike wave to take place.” and they also pose some political alternatives to petition politics. The vital dimension that I get out of this connects to one of the main purposes of AtS as a grouping, the organization I am involved in, and what others on the left are thinking about is what are the appropriate forms of organization needed to fight such a systemic and complete attack on the working class. And since organization cannot be separated from political program, what are the politics needed to fight the offensive and hold the organization together.

    I wish AtS would have discussed what the tasks of revolutionary organizations are in helping to develop such statewide organizations and to deepen the political and strategic understandings of organizers. How do revolutionary organizations relate to such state wide organizations?
    Either way, this piece raises many of the right themes and concerns, course of action, and perspectives as far as I have understood in a way which can build the struggle in the upcoming weeks.

  9. “But the whole argument that folks without privilege automatically don’t want to do things like occupations is patronizing in its own right – it assumes that oppressed people can’t be militant and can’t democratically decide to up the ante ourselves. Back in 99 up in here in Seattle, there were plenty of people of color, queer folks, women, and working class folks who wanted to up the ante against the WTO but the direct action was credited to and blamed on white anarchists alone as if everyone else was simply a silent victim of it.”

    This is crucial. The situation in California public higher education is a direct assault on communities of color, under a screen of stunningly hypocritical rhetoric about diversity. Ten years after the 99 twLF Ethnic Studies strike at UCB, which succeeded in winning a series of concessions from the Regents, the program has been gutted and the situation is far worse for students and workers of color throughout the UC system.

    Various university-sanctioned student groups claiming to speak on behalf of students of color is not only infantilizing, it completely ignores the reality of political splits within and across these communities. In the absence of any sustained attempt to relate racism and class, the rhetoric of managed student diversity is incoherent. It’s an issue of racial and class justice, with communities of color inside and outside of the university reclaiming space and power—often from our official bureaucratic “representatives.”

    It makes as little sense to call for more diversity among hyperexploited university workers as it is to increase the representation of people of color among the political patrons at the top of the university food chain.

    I’d be curious to see a discussion of demands versus demandlessness, despite whatever tactical setbacks and successes occur in the near future, in light of the twLF struggles.
    In Solidarity–

  10. overall, i think this piece fetishizes the tactic of occupation. we agree a mass strike is necessary; will occupations by small groups at this point help lead up to this? if so, why? you agree the chaining of the doors was a mistake: but how concretely would have an little-prepared occupation of wheeler hall on 9/24 at UCB have helped advance the struggle?

    linked to this, you give way too much credit to the UCSC occupation (there was nowhere close to 500 students involved; at most times there were less than 50 in the occupation). far from sparking masses of students and workers to take action, these minority actions are often alienating for the people who we should be seeking to organize.

    mass occupations, of course, are sometimes necessary, but they must be built up to. generally these can take place only once the masses of students and workers are more radicalized and more involved in the movement, not at the beginning of a struggle, before we have a real base.

    you ignore the fact that the radicals at UCB, far from “tail-ending the liberals” did politically put forward an independent perspective: the proposal was to hold a state-wide conference on 10/24, to issue a state-wide action plan (most likely a strike).

    this is the concrete step towards building mass militant action and organization (not small minority actions that have little to do with the working class). i think the article is needlessly dismissive of the tremendous amount of correct revolutionary (i.e. independent mass) organizing that led up to 9/24 at UCB and made it possible.

    i hope that AtS actively builds the 10/24 conference at UCB, helps build General Assemblies, and that we can work together towards a strike in the Spring. in solidarity, eric


  11. some points of clarification


    Your post evidences the destructive “socialist” politics rightly called out by AtS in this post. . . Does anybody know how many people would have supported the occupation that night? Did the GA take the time to go back over the events and ascertain who wanted to occupy and who didn’t? No, in fact, self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” like yourself made condescending assumptions about what “the masses” were and were not willing to do. This is the meaning of the “democracy” you promote: the ability to vote up or down on a slate already decided in advance by a self-arrogating leadership. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if the slate was a bit better, but what we see here is, in fact, a second meaning of “tailism,” where the self-proclaimed radicals are, indeed, significantly less radical than the base. They lag behind.

    The facts are these: 9/24 was a day of action, a mass strike by every sector of the university. When the walkout plans were first proposed, many people said precisely what you’re saying right now: conditions aren’t yet ripe; it won’t work; we need to build the base; too few people will get behind this plan; it’s premature, etc. But what happened is that certain people–a minority, yes–were willing to endorse the action, and convince others to do the same. The voices of caution were wrong then, and they are wrong now. The general assembly would be about 50 people if it weren’t for the people who originally proposed and worked to build the 9/24 walkout. It was the fact that people were willing to take action–to commit to a risky and uncertain plan– that built the movement. “Correct revolutionaries” like yourself have, yet again, put the cart before the horse.

    Unless the movement provides people with opportunities for confrontation with power, people will drift away, bored and frustrated. Yes, direct action alienates people– but it alienates the people who will never be much help in the first place, and correspondingly, it wins to your side people who will go to the wall for you. It’s better to lose two liberals and gain one radical. And by radical I mean people who think that politics is something more than an endless series of formalized, pseudo-democratic deliberations. Those who commit to wait until the sentiment of the masses comes their way–especially where “the masses” are the imaginary product of malformed revolutionary theory — will find that they never do anything at all but wait.

    Your “correct revolutionary organizing” is a disaster.

    • some points of clarification

      Workers’ struggles tend to directly oppose their own dictatorship to that
      of capital, to organize on a different basis from that of capital, and thus to
      pose the question of the transformation of society by acts. When the existing
      conditions are unfavourable to a general attack, or when this attack fails,
      the forms of dictatorship disintegrate, capital triumphs again, reorganizes the
      working class according to its logic, diverts the violence from its original aims, and separates the formal aspect of the struggle from its real content. We must get rid of the old opposition between “dictatorship” and “democracy.” To the proletariat, “democracy” does not mean organizing itself as a parliament in the bourgeois way; for it, “democracy” is an act of violence by means of which it destroys all the social forces which prevent it from expressing itself and maintain it as a class within capitalism. “Democracy” cannot be anything but a dictatorship. This is visible in every strike: the form of its destruction is precisely “democracy.” As soon as there is a separation between a decision-making organ and an action organ, the movement is no longer in the offensive phase. It is being diverted to the ground of capital. Opposing workers’ “democracy” to the union’s “bureaucracy” means attacking a superficial aspect and hiding the real content of workers’ struggles, which have a totally different basis. Democracy is now the slogan of capital: it proposes the self-management of one’s own negation. All those who accept this programme spread the illusion that society can be changed by a general discussion followed by a vote (formal or informal) which would decide what is to be done. By maintaining the separation between decision and action, capital tries to maintain the existence of classes. If one
      criticizes such a separation only from a formal point of view, without going to its roots, one merely perpetuates the division. It is hard to imagine a revolution which begins when voters raise their hands. Revolution is an act of violence, a process through which social relations are transformed. (38)

      –Gilles Dauve, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement

  12. While I understand insurrectionist anarchists and other tendencies might make a fetish of occupations and other direct actions, I did not read the AtS piece as making a fetish of direct action. My understanding of the AtS piece is that there is an argument for a missed opportunity which intersects other questions of the nature of radical democracy versus more parliamentary forms of democracy. There are more deeper and theoretical questions the AtS piece gets at as well regarding what the process of radicalization looks like, how victories are won, and where the weak points of capital and the state are which impels working class movements to attack those points with strategies which favor oppressed forces.

    As difficult as this is to separate out in writing, theoretical and historical terms as I see in the comments section of this post, I tend to believe that it is the task of revolutionaries to put their theories to practice and demonstrate that such alternative methods of struggle actually work. While this is probably obvious to everyone who reads this blog, I believe more importantly, this argument poses breaking a certain form of empiricism found in social struggles which only see what the imagined masses can do in a linear and flat way–or in terms of how they vote.

    Militant class struggle (or any other type of struggle) as far as I have studied stems from a militant minority which at times can take a leading role in galvanizing many others. This militant minority has been understood by vanguard parties to be “the vanguard.” I have understood it in terms that leaders come and go, get by passed by other social forces, and the best leaders (individuals or social classes) know when to lead, when to follow, and when to cooperate. (reality has it that all three have to be done at the same time in most cases) We can ask was it always a parliamentarian democratic majority which launched the sit-in occupations during the 1960s, what about the Black Panther Party, the latest round of factory occupations in the US and Britain. My readings of these process is that they were a combination of leadership, cooperation, and following which is what led them to be precisely important struggles which have changed the political and organizational landscape. What is most important about them is that they took qualitative leaps in imagining and practicing what was possible, which was based on a much more complex reading of “mass consciousness” and behavior then taking votes.

    • Patient Persuasion

      I appreciate this post, as well as “some points . . .” previous one, and quote. good engagement here. am gonna reflect a bit more and post thoughts soon.

      bouncing off what DAF stated: “It makes as little sense to call for more diversity among hyperexploited university workers as it is to increase the representation of people of color among the political patrons at the top of the university food chain.”

      I agree with this and it makes me consider that not only is it important to not call for a more “diverse” power structure, it’s also important to highlight how workers/students of color, and undocumented folks can be tokenized/infantilized in the process of being “protected” from strategies that include occupations and other such tactics. A nasty paternalism shines through when the argument is made that such approaches to struggle are “dangerous” to those with less privileges, and that advocating such moves is a reflection of privilege in and of itself.

      As liberal, negative, and frustrating as this is when it comes from the mouths of folks of color, it’s even worse and more paternalistic when it’s coming from white people claiming to speak on behalf of the undocumented, and other oppressed peoples.

      I see a trend in speaking in the name of the people that intersects with this point on infantilizing oppressed folks in struggle that I wanna respond in more depth to . . .

  13. some points of clarification

    Exactly, Will. Thank you.

  14. let come to a conclusion, rather an understanding on this issue. we all have clarify that that mass proletariat action needs to be taken to overthrow capitalists exploitations. this can be done through collectiveness and and on going work and commitment to take control and stinguish the situation that we are currently facing. we need to apply theory to practice to make the changes we want to see (in my case the overthrow of the State, bring it to its knees and and make this world revolve around the masses). the need our ideologies to bond is urgent.

  15. Thanks for this piece. By the way, I check this site pretty often, ya’ll are doin’ a good job.

  16. lotta good thought on here. thanks for putting it out there. the piece is very inspirational and agitational. everyone has already said some very thoughtful and educational things, so i got nothoing to add but thanks. some constructive suggestions for improvement? at the risk of sounding academic (no pun intended) it might be helpful to cite some references for theories and strategies being examined and advocated. “adventurism and tailism” sounds like and interesting way to frame whats going on–is that the author’s phrase or is it a reference to some bearded dude’s theory? the article starts strong and dissolves into what fell apart at UC Berkeley. to not explicitly mention the mutual relationship between AtS writers and SUP organizers may cause some confusion or may lead folks to assume the authors are being somewhat disingenuous and may be problematic in the future. what does the trotskyist label mean in the above context and in relation to what other political identities? can someone clarify on the “sidestepping of the consciousness of the masses?” it seems like our left leaders lately are unconcerned with what the masses think and are assuming the masses are less conscious? it might be helpful to use the general assembly model to engage the consciousness of the people so that 1) we get a sense of where people are at in terms of militancy so that organizers have a consciousness of what ‘the masses’ are interested in doing or hearing 2) people become popularly engaged in the more militant ‘adventurist tactics’ 3) we get some popular demands and 4) we advance the struggle by meeting it where its at and carrying it forward, precisely so that in the wake of adventurism, tailism does not take over, unless sidestepping the consciousness of the masses is exactly the purpose due to doubt that the masses will have the correct consciousness or militant enough consciousness. a follow up review of the general strategies and tactics being used in the future compared to past social movement analyses and case studies would be helpful. keep up the great work!

  17. I don’t think citations are inherently bad, but it is a bit inconsistent with a blog format for one, and since AtS is doing actual organizing, its relationship to writing is not going to be on academic terms. Academia is inherently flawed because it says that there can be no new ideas (and hence no new activity) and that ideas can only be legitimated by citations and references to those who came before.

    Now “adventurism and tailism” is not a new idea I realize, and most of the Left would be quick to point that out, but what is new is the specific ways in which this historical dynamic manifests itself, in this case at the general assembly or mass meeting on 9/24 at UCB (mind you I wasn’t there). But neither are these movement dynamics “a bearded dude’s theory.” In volume two of Tony Cliff’s “Lenin,” Cliff gets to the meat and bones of what this means although it is a trend that happened throughout the Russian revolutionary movement since there was one, but I think AtS has done a good job concretizing what these concepts mean as they play out in mass settings.

    The second thing to clarify about adventurism and tailism is that BOTH are traps that Left and revolutionary organizations can fall into if they aren’t careful and they BOTH sidestep the consciousness of the masses. It isn’t that one is more militant or better than the other, only tailism says at all times “the time is not yet ripe!” and adventurism in a very undemocratic way jumps ahead of the movement and thinks for it with the hopes of inspiring it to action. They are both regurgitated formulas far removed from the real blood and life of actual activity and one has to carefully gauge where folks are at while at all times pushing for militant tactics. Pushing for militant tactics is not the same as a small group of people doing it against the will of the larger group.

    In the case of 9/24 I am inferring that there was a sentiment to occupy the building where the mass meeting was taking place, but had that option materialized in a democratic way, that would not be adventurism. Neither would it be tailism to not engage in militant tactics if there was no clear support for it. SUP was pushing for folks in the meeting to occupy, but this got muddled by the actions of a few insurrectionary anarchists who acted for the group instead of with them (I realize this is a point in dispute). This is just as bad as the SGA or Trot groups who are afraid of the masses when they begin to break with habitual activity and are open to more militant activity. They too often fall on the tailism side.

    It definitely takes skill and experience navigating these tensions and a lot of mistakes will be made before you can successfully nurture a militant sentiment into real militant, mass activity.

  18. Pingback: Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th « Advance the Struggle

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