SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation

SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation

I. CEO and Socialists Share Bourgeois Notion of Democracy

II. Building March 4th Strikes: Synthesizing Diverse Approaches to Organizing

The wave of occupations at universities across California has raised the stakes of the anti-budget cut struggle while also raising questions about methods of struggle. On December 9th, SFSU students spoke with action that rang louder than any “speak-out” could as they occupied the Business building for 24 hours; in the process they galvanized a whole new layer of disgruntled students around a hopeful and inspiring

No more bourgeois control!!  This is a Class War

No more bourgeois control!! This is a Class War

project: fighting the budget cuts which attack the whole working class, starting where they are right now, at their own campus. Many students remarked that the occupation was the single most important experience of their political lives. In many cases this was the first day of their political lives.

CEO and Socialists Share Bourgeois Notion of Democracy

Teachers, faculty, campus workers, and the whole campus community are affected by these cuts. Yet some have seen it necessary to publicly condemn the occupation. Chief among these are the President of SFSU, Robert Corrigan (not a surprise), and the International Socialist Organization (kind of a surprise).

Corrigan states:

Make no mistake.  I support — and indeed cherish — the right to protest, to peaceably assemble, to air grievances and to speak one’s mind. These freedoms are celebrated at SF State and serve as the foundation of our community. Barricading a building is not befitting our cherished liberties.  It was an intolerable and unlawful affront to them.”

Student participants in the occupation responded:

Corrigan claims that by taking over a building for one day, we denied thousand of student their educational rights. Rights to what? To fight for the remnants of a school left in shambles, mere training for jobs that are disappearing… The fee increases that have been going on at the CSU’s and at community colleges have been denying “educational rights” to thousands of students every years . . . This, while working with the Associated Students, Inc. to sidestep a student referendum on another fee for students to pay for a $93 million dollar Recreation and Wellness Center.

Corrigan’s abstract support for protest thinly veils his disdain for actual resistance to the budget attacks on working class students. Without a radical mobilization from below, these attacks will only increase, and everyone knows this. Corrigan’s criticism of this radical act of resistance in the face of his own inaction as president is equivalent to material support for the cuts.

This hypocrisy can only be expected from the CEO of SFSU, but we are disappointed to see the International Socialist Organization (ISO) utter criticisms that parallel those of the ruling class, holding “democracy” over the head of resistance in an attempt delegitimize it.

ISO criticizes the occupation on two main points:

“One important criticism of the occupation has come from faculty and students involved in the campus movement–the action was organized in secret by a small group of activists, and intentionally excluding other leading campus activists. The result was that the number of occupiers was small, and outside support had to be put together hastily. This only made it easier for the police to break up the occupation.

Secondly, the occupation was organized on the same day as a planned SFSU General Assembly–and actually caused its cancellation. Dozens of students, faculty and staff had been planning for the general assembly as the next step in building a democratic, united movement on campus.”

The correlation between Corrigan’s critique and the ISO’s is the accusation that the occupation was undemocratic. Corrigan frames his criticism as if it is based on concern for students whose business building classes were canceled, while the ISO accuses the organizers of being undemocratic for leaving “leading and trustworthy budget cuts activists” out of the occupation organizing process. Corrigan’s real objection is that students had the audacity to violate his dictatorship over the university. The ISO is bitter that they, who label themselves “the socialists,” had their illusory monopoly on leftist radicalism violated by students bolder and more radical in action than they.

Left out from both criticisms is any definition of what “democratic” actually means.  Formal democracy, whereby every person has to approve something before it happens, is a fiction. Democracy does not exist in the abstract. In the real world where capital dictates all, it is anti-working class to judge an action by its democratic process. The rubric must be, instead, the degree to which an action tips the balance of class forces in favor of the oppressed. If democracy is a means of distributing power, we should celebrate actions like the occupation that increase student’s power to fight back against capitalist attacks. An action that truly tips the balance of forces necessarily draws more participants into the struggle than existed prior. This is a truer type of democracy: democracy in action. This is what we got a small glimpse of on December 9th.

Building March 4th Strikes: Synthesizing Diverse Approaches to Organizing

The ISO goes on to posit their main strategy for building the student movement:

“Building (and respecting) a General Assembly at SFSU is the best way for us to achieve what we all should aim for: a strike [on March 4th] of thousands of students, faculty and staff that shuts the campus down.”

We are in agreement with the ISO that the aim of our actions, outreach efforts, and day to day activity should be building strikes on March 4th and beyond.  However, we disagree that the occupation at SFSU precluded this.  Quite the contrary.

We see in the occupation the potential for certain direct actions to be the highest form of political agitation. As we wrote in our reflections on the UCB Wheeler Hall occupation in November:

“Agitation should center on building class-consciousness generally, and building for a mass strike on March 4th specifically. It is clear that the conditions exist for every school and perhaps every public institution to form political committees composed of workers, students and teachers that attempt to organize their workplaces and schools for militant struggle in general and a strike on March 4th in particular.”

The truth is that the organizers of the occupation had at the center of their analysis the message of building mass strikes on March 4th as part and parcel of an overarching working class movement against the ravages of the crisis (though, it is true that there could have been more outreach to workers on campus to materialize this strategy more fully.)  In fact, the ISO even states that: “At SFSU, mini-General Assemblies were held at each entry point to the occupied building, where ideas for March 4 were discussed.”  This contradicts their assertion that the occupation disrupted the general assembly process, and highlights a rigid vision of how organizing happens.

The SFSU-based anarchist collective La Ventana wrote a good response to the ISO’s critique of the occupation. On the point that the occupation disrupted plans for a general assembly, they write:

“For the ISO to argue that an occupation is undemocratic reflects their fears in not being able to control the situation and context of organizing on campus at SFSU. A general assembly, is for us, a large gathering of people willing to talk about the issues through discussion in order to formulate plans for moving forward . . . If we are serious about March 4th then we have to be willing to step outside of the traditional organizing framework and create spaces for autonomous action and allow people to decide for themselves how they want to support the proposals and organize amongst themselves.”

The General Assembly is an important dimension in the campus-based anti-budget cut movement. But it is not the only or even the most important dimension. Synthesizing direct actions, strikes, and general assemblies are crucial. Baiting the first example of real direct action at SFSU for years as “un-democratic” is not the best way to build the needed synthesis, or to build trust amongst campus organizations.

Trotskyist groups involved in campus organizing fetishize the general assembly as the sole or by far most important site of organizing a community of students, teachers, and workers who can fight the cuts. On the other hand, the ultra- and/or anarchist left fetishize direct actions as the optimal forms of organizing struggle.

We don’t want to romanticize or dichotomize the value of either general assemblies or direct actions; our movement has more than enough room for both. Yes, we do have to, as La Ventana states, “step outside of the traditional organizing framework and create spaces for autonomous action,” but we also have to do traditional things like meet regularly, develop flyers and do outreach, and openly discuss next steps.

We need flexibility in tactics and commit ourselves to action, which anarchists and ultra-left marxists have done well in this wave of student uprisings. On the other hand, we need to include new people in on-the-ground organizing and broad discussion on strategy, which the Trotskyist Marxist groups bring to the table. Building March 4th should draw from both of these approaches.

That it is hard to synthesize these dimensions is understandable. After decades devoid of struggle, we are figuring out the proper approaches to organizing. Our experiences are offering invaluable material to study, reflect on, and debate. These are the rudimentary data that can provide the basis for new theories that will point the way out of a stale and impotent leftist morass.

10 responses to “SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation

  1. interesting. permission to go off the deep end?

    Please dont give the vanguard groups the credit or ownership for the General Assembly model, though if they are doing their job, they are likely taking stealth leadership in the majority of those bodies as they did to the antiwar movement. The General Assembly model was initially rejected by ISO at SF State in place of the “Speak Out” model, and only became sexy after Berkeley’s GA. Functionally the GA has created a space for collective self determination and organizing in the stated interests of the students and workers who attend it–lest whatever vanguard group claiming it knows what is to be done fail to assess the reality of the needs and interests of the community. (No investigation, no right to speak). this is not to avoid real outreach and input, but rather to create a bottom up venue to invite mass participation and inclusion.

    There is a history of ideological disdain for “democracy” on the left following the corruption of the Soviet Union and a long series of betrayals by parties claiming to represent the “masses” which degenerated into dictatorships only to reify capitalist authoritarian relations–the left is still fighting over the details of those historical case studies and has yet to reconcile them, but rest assured there is a long history of rhetoric about “democracy” being a bourgeois process to mask state capitalism and dictatorship. (oppose book worship,). If youre bad as fuck as a radical group, celebrate your autonomy and advocate for the best interests of the working class struggles you support.

    Revolutionary analysis and strategy are critical in these spaces, as is direct action, and a space like the GA is a venue to broaden these opportunities for participation, and to translate those radical analyses we in the radical deep end pride ourselves on into relevant demands and struggles. (Without investigating the actual situation revolutionary idealism will push you toward opportunism or putschism). Should we have faith in the ability of “unradicalized” people to become radicalized through the process of struggle against the reality of our conditions and self-organize toward revolutionary ends? Given the conditions we face and unrelenting full assault from the ruling class on education, social services, healthcare, coupled with the wars and the bailouts, I’d like to think so.

    “Our chief method of investigation must be to dissect the different social classes, the ultimate purpose being to understand their interrelations, to arrive at a correct appraisal of class forces and then to formulate the correct tactics for the struggle, defining which classes constitute the main force in the revolutionary struggle [the ruling class is doing a fine job of that on its own], which classes are to be won over as allies and which classes are to be overthrown.” (Mao, of all cats)

    the goal of direct activists and anarchists is to keep the movement democratic, diverse, and rooted in meaningful forms of liberation rather than dominated by any single particular organization that treats its membership like exploited rank and file workers or is willing to forgo its ideals in practice for the sake of its stated ends, make sure we actually do shit instead of drilling ourselves for obscure outdated eurocentric revolutionary pissing matches and build more than just another sectarian book club or newspaper stand, to spend as much time advancing the struggle as those who spend their time building the party, and in the event that the state fails to wither away upon being overthrown, to give it a big fucking push.

    thanks for the article. so far im digging the synthesis approach. we got Sectarians talking democracy, communists taking direct action, anarchists quoting Mao, cats and dogs living together…. im getting the hell off the internet. its peanut butter jelly time.

  2. There’s an important critique of “formal democracy” that you are making. I think Bob Avakian puts it nicely here:

    “In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about ‘democracy’— without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no ‘democracy for all’: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.”

    Unfortunately this article remains trapped in the same classless formalism it criticizes. The whole framework is occupations vs. general assemblies (direct action vs. on-the-ground organizing) and the “synthesis” that is called for is just a combination of the those. Well what about the CONTENT of those tactics? What strategy are they serving? Is there a final goal, or are we just “advancing the struggle”?

    To me what’s great about the student rebellions that have been happening across California is that, A) Students fighting back is a breath of fresh air, compared to business as usual on the campuses, and B) Students are starting to ask the big questions: What kind of system treats students as commodities and education as a for-profit business? Who are the police really serving and protecting? What would it mean, and how would you, move beyond capitalism?

    These are the questions that we need to be grappling with in the midst of all this… not just which organizing tactic builds the movement.

  3. Rafael you bring up a good point when you say,

    “Students are starting to ask the big questions: What kind of system treats students as commodities and education as a for-profit business? Who are the police really serving and protecting? What would it mean, and how would you, move beyond capitalism?”

    That is what is so interesting about the student movement. Students are finally starting to move beyond their more narrow student interest and connect their struggle to class exploitation more broadly. This was evident at the SFSU occupation where hammer and sickles were tagged all along the business building. Banners reading “class war” and “an injury to one is an injury to all” were everywhere. And the symbolism of occupying the business building was also very political.

    What I think you are incredibly incorrect about is divorcing politcs from methods of struggle. How do we move beyond capitalism without a serious discussion of the tactics to do that. Do we smash the bourgeois state through letter writing campaigns? Marches to Sacramento? What is the dialectic of class struggle and revolution. Building a successful general strike on March 4th is important, but what happens after march 4th. How do we build a sustainable revolutionary struggle that moves towards communism?

    During the Oscar Grant rebellions people’s already lack of trust towards the state was intensified. People were ready to fight back. But what form does that figth take? Police accontability or community control?

    As militants it is incredibly harmful to disconnect politcs from struggle. We must continue to develop ourselves, the working-class, study history and the current objective political conditions in order to understand what the right tools are to fight back. But what form will those tools take? Letters or militant strikes and occupations.

  4. Pingback: SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation « At Home He's A Turista

  5. Pingback: Reflections on ISO Critique: Response to Readers « Advance the Struggle

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    A strong people need no leaders.

    Not in the autonomous student-led anti-education budget cut movement.
    Not in any movement.

    Powermad motherfuckers.

  8. Hey, first, good work to everyone down in SF involved in these occupations.

    Second, I didn’t read any reasons why the occupation HAD to be on the same day as the general assembly. If there was a serious tactical reason for choosing that day, than fair game. But if the organizers just weren’t paying attention, than lofty discussions on the nature of democracy aside, the ISO was totally justified in criticizing the occupation for detracting from the general assembly.

  9. One reason the ISO folks might now be inclined to discourage U.S. antiwar students from liberating buildings on U.S. campuses tomore effectively protest recent educational budget cuts in 2010, is that in 2008 the Wallace Globe Fund foundation gave three grants, totaling $140,000, to the ISO’s International Socialist Review/Haymarket Books/Center for Economic Research and Social Change alternative media gatekeeper group “to help invigorate the U.S.-based movement, the International Socialist Review and the 2009 Socialism Conference,” and a $75,000 grant to help subsidize ISO’s Center for Economic Research and Social Change/Haymarket Books publishing firm. In 2007, ISO’s International Socialist Review/Haymarket Books/Center for Economic Research and Social Change had also received a $125,000 grant from the Wallace Global Fund foundation (which also gave a $375,000 grant to Democracy Now! in 2008).

    So, it could be that the ISO folks are now beginning to mainstream their left politics more in order to continue to obtain foundation grants from the Wallace Global Fund foundation (whose top executives or board members have apparently been big campaign contributors to the Democratic Party in recent years).

  10. Pingback: Early arrests at Berkeley and Laney on March 2 | THOSE WHO USE IT

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