#OWS 2011 = Paris Commune 1789

A shot across the bow in the New Criterion by James Panero:

For those of us who watch from the sidelines, the Occupy Wall Street movement may appear sympathetic to our own concerns. At the very least, it seems to offer a safety valve for others to vent their frustrations. Yet the history of idealistic occupations suggests this will also end poorly, with a polarized public and the movement collapsing in ruin.

Like the Commune, Occupy Wall Street is about the perfection of itself rather than the reform of others. This is a reason that the Occupationists differ from other protesters who go home at the end of a long march. For the Occupation, the tents do not come down until perfection is attained or destroyed.

The heart of OWS is therefore in its internal mechanics, especially its strictly “non-hierarchical” code of conduct. The manifestations of this code might appear foolish, but they emerge from a formula meant to challenge if not supplant our current system of government with the Occupation’s own forms of egalitarian command and control, a formula that grOWS ever more doctrinaire and insular for those who practice it. Many of these devices are still being developed in the “General Assemblies” of Occupationist cells. OWS already employs several to limit open speech, especially when the purity of the Occupation is confronted by the impurities of our existing laws and precedent.


From my perspective the reason why the “free/open source” movement succeeded is because they stopped protesting and started coding – i.e. they focused on developing solutions.  Richard Stallman created two brilliant hacks – the GPL – an IP license that allowed sharing & GCC – the compiler.  Solutions not protest!

8 Comments on “#OWS 2011 = Paris Commune 1789”

  1. I think that without set asks it will fail. Though, it may have a real effect on the 2012 election

  2. Luis says:

    I like the formulation of solutions-as-protest. But of course it was easier to build parallel solutions for RMS than for OWS- building a parallel operating system is feasible and legally possible; building a parallel government… not so much. I tend to think that this is why Lessig hasn’t come up with a Creative Commons-style approach for “corruption.” CC could operate (and flourish) in parallel with the existing IP ecosystem, and that operation created space for protest and progress against the existing system. That’s not really possible (or at least very, very difficult) when the system you’re seeking to reform or replace is The System. Lessig is slowly figuring out in his methodical way, and the OWS folks will figure it out in perhaps a more spectacular way- we’ll see.

  3. Shauna says:

    “From my perspective the reason why the “free/open source” movement succeeded is because they stopped protesting and started coding – i.e. they focused on developing solutions.”

    But what qualifies as a solution here? Panero says “Like the Commune, Occupy Wall Street is about the perfection of itself rather than the reform of others” but that’s an opaque way of saying that OWS tries to build solutions on a small scale along with advocating for changes on a large scale. It’s trying “to be the change it wishes to see”, if you don’t mind the cliche. Panero lists some of these solutons in his article: mic checks to get around prohibited equipment, stacks to facilitate ordered discussion. And there are others I’ve seen: the creation of bike generators and water heaters, the formation of legal and medical working groups with attendant trainings, and more. Panero may be right that some of what’s being created is problematic, but I for one am enjoying seeing consensus-based organizing play out on such relatively large scales. It’s a good in and of itself, regardless of OWS’ political impact.

    And further, OWS camps *are* having impacts on their communities. They’re housing and feeding people who’ve lost their homes, and participating in group actions to prevent foreclosures, just to name a few things. How is that not a solution? Maybe it’s on a smaller scale than folks would like, but it’s real, tangible good.

    This is my problem with a lot of criticisms of OWS. People blast OWS for being vague and unfocused without ever clearly defining what they would count as a “message”, “goal” or “solution”. If people are going to dismiss the value of having fair, egalitarian process and community impact, I’d like to see them do so explicitly.

  4. srp says:

    The actual output of these protest camps has mostly been annoyances to neighbors, public health hazards, damage to others’ property, sexual assaults (along with efforts to prevent reporting of same), and taxpayer expense to contain, remove, and repair their mess. Oh, and a vague cloud of self-righteous indignation sprinkled with class warfare. Even the Adbusters guy who started the whole idea said that long-term occupation was a poor tactic.

    It’s easy to create parallel social systems in the U.S., and it’s been done many times. Most of these utopian communes collapse from their own internal contradictions, but the Amish have had a long run. No reason the OWSers couldn’t go off somewhere and implement their vision of “non-hierarchical, participatory” living, except that they would probably end up creating a cult or starving to death.

    • Luis says:

      The history of those alternatives is quite interesting, actually; I highly recommend Eugene Bestor’s “Backwoods Utopias” on the subject. Suffice to say that it was more than their internal contradictions that plagued them; even in the 1800s, the difficulty of setting up a self-sustaining economy required diversification, land, capital resources, and social cohension that were difficult to obtain and sustain when starting a society from scratch. The Amish avoid the key problem by using religion as a tool for social cohesion, and having no pretenses of living a modern lifestyle. Finding such land now, and convincing the right mix of people to move there to actually build a functional society, would be quite impossible.

      (And I’d suggest that this graph: http://www.google.com/trends?q=%22income+inequality%22&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=2011&sort=0 suggests that they’ve accomplished more than merely being disruptive. They are raising levels of awareness and discussion of some significant issues. Perhaps that’s only a short term thing (they may even be counter-productive in the long run) but it’s not nothing.)

  5. teppo says:

    Steve: Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

  6. Hmm. Paris Commune in 1789? Seriously?

  7. teppo says:

    Stallman on the death of Steve Jobs:

    “Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

    As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.” Nobody deserves to have to die – not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

    Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.”

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