The global movement of the squares (Taksim in Turkey, Syntagma in Greece, Tahrir in Egypt, OGP in Oakland, etc) against capitalist austerity, displacement, and overall inequality has pushed activists around the world to consider important questions of revolutionary strategy. One of the central contradictions that tended to be posed between “radicals” and “liberals” was that of whether or not to make demands on the state, capitalists, or other institutions. There have been many anti-state communists/socialists, anarchists, and others who have advocated the perspective that demands should not be made on ruling class institutions. There is good reason for skepticism and antagonism toward programs of demands, as they have at times been used by more liberal, social-democratic forces to limit the politics of struggle into reformist channels.
This recent cycle of struggle that we’ve participated in has brought to light some of the limits of “demand-lessness.” While Occupy Oakland was at its peak, for instance, there was a move by the Oakland Unified School District to close 5 elementary schools, as well as the passing of a “West Oakland Specific Plan” which lays out a program for continued gentrification of a historically (at least since the 1930s*) black neighborhood. What if there had been a more concerted effort to defeat some of these attacks on black and brown proletarian communities? Would this have been a reformist deviation from an otherwise militant struggle? Or could it have been a way of bringing in larger layers of proletarians into struggle against some of the effects of white supremacist capitalism? It is in this context that Wayne Price, noted anarchist writer and activist, has written a useful essay arguing in favor of anarchists raising a program of demands. We re-post it here for your consideration and commentary.
Should Anarchists Raise a Program of Demands?
by Wayne Price
This essay is slightly expanded from one which was rejected by a US anarchist magazine for political reasons. It deals with a disagreement among activists: Should we propose that the movement raise a program of demands? I think that anarchists should, but with a more libertarian-democratic version than the liberals and state socialists. The essay is followed by a response to the political points raised by the editors of the anarchist journal.
During the height of the Occupy Wall Street encampments, a dispute broke out among activists. Various liberals and state socialists advocated that the movement raise a program, a set of demands on the capitalist class and the state. This approach was opposed by a number of anarchists. Given the economic situation, the program-raisers typically called for full employment policies, such as public works projects providing useful services, to be paid for by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget.
While many anarchists vehemently opposed to the Occupy movement raising demands, others were for a more libertarian-socialist approach to raising programs (as I am). To some degree this disagreement among anarchists reflects a long time split, or more precisely, a polarization, since the alternatives are not sharply either/or. Since Proudhon, one anarchist pole has primarily advocated building alternate institutions within capitalist society. These might be worker or consumer coops, bike clubs, community gardens, or block associations. These anarchists hoped that community Occupations would be such “dual power” institutions. These would gradually expand to take over—and replace–the economy and state. Such activities do not lead to making demands on the state or the ruling class—except maybe to be let alone.
From the other viewpoint, all these things are good in themselves and worth supporting, but as a strategy for changing society, they are limited. Most likely they do not threaten the system (can they really replace the auto industry with an alternate national transportation system, or replace the armed forces with a popular militia?). If they do threaten vital institutions, the state will crack down on them. As the state disbanded Occupy encampments all over the country.