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
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).
“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.