Sunday, November 13, 2011

Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden...

Occupy Portland is over.An ad-hoc force of police from several places including Portland Bureau today cleared the two downtown parks that Occupy had occupied. The protesters have regathered in several other downtown sites to "discuss" their next move, but in my opinion this is the end for Occupy.

For more than a week the local pols, newspapers, and television outlets have been voicing increasing impatience with Occupy and, truthfully, it seems hard to imagine how the "protests" would have done anything more than they have which beyond generating a sort of unfocused unease amongst the chattering classes has been no more than an irritant under the silken drawers of the rich and powerful.

It's been more than forty years since the mild insurrections of the U.S. Civil Rights era, half a century since the "nonviolent" protests of the Indian National Congress forced Britain's release of her Indian colony, a full century since the end of the violent strikes and near-rebellions that empowered the American labor unions.In the interim we have forgotten that "peaceful" protest is exactly as effective as "peacefully" resisting a savage beating unless you have your "peaceful" beating carefully planned to maximize your PR value - and it helps if your opponents are frigging morons, or politically and financially exhausted.

The civil rights marchers won because the Southern bigots were stupid enough to physically attack well-dressed men and women on national TV and newspapers. The Indian factions won partially because BG Dyer was a fucking bloodyminded idiot and partially because the Empire exhausted itself fighting two world wars. You could argue that the labor unions didn't actually win, but rather reached a sort of armed truce that lasted until the plutocrats shat the bed in 1929 and helped elect a labor-friendly administration.

Occupy had none of these to help it. Instead, it faced a massively corrupted and paid-for military-industrial-congressional-financial complex that is doing quite well under the present system. Any hopes of an FDR moment disappeared early in 2009 when it became obvious at least to me that the current Democratic administration had no interest in even trying cocking a snook at the banksters. The New New Deal this wasn't.

And the Occupiers forgot the other lesson of those earlier protest movements; that the public could give a shit about your politeness. The relative discipline of the Occupiers ended up looking like meekness, and regardless of what the Good Book says the meek won't inherit jack shit without a pair of brass balls, friendly press, and a sackful of bricks and cobblestones hidden away in case all the politeness doesn't work. And Occupy Portland had none of those things.

And ask the Paris Communards how even WITH those things, if the government is willing to ignore you when you're weak - and kill or arrest when you're strong - you you will lose.So the banksters have proved that a camel can leap laughingly through the eye of a needle. They have bought all the government they need, they or their lickspittle brownnosers own the media conglomerates, and the U.S. public is about evenly divided into thirds, and while one third is ignorant and indifferent one of the other two-thirds is actively hostile, either hoping to curry favor with the plutocracy or, tragically, mistaking the random helium in their guts for wings; by the time they fart away their good luck they will be plummeting too rapidly to have the time for regrets.

Occupy might have had more hope if the public was more intelligent and their enemies less powerful. In the first couple of days, or weeks...

But no matter. That hope is gone forever.

In March, 1935 the tiny German Army marched into the Rhineland, the first of Hitler's Thirties gambles. And it was more than a gamble; Hitler and his commanders knew how tiny their little force was. As hapless as the French Army of the Thirties was, and it was a fairly ginormous clusterfuck, a whiff of grapeshot in the old Napoleonic style would have seen the Heer packing across the Rhine and, probably, the end of the Hitler Era two years after it began.

But the French were too meek to make that move, and Hitler's success propelled him all the way to the wreck of the European world ten years later.

And here again, the first couple of days - "Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden" is how Hitler phrased it - were key.Once the larger public failed to rise in the first couple of days the Occupiers proved to have no strategy to force the issue or force their enemies to submit and their attempt to tame the bulls and bears is done.

Update 11/14: Upon further review, I had a couple of thoughts.

The antiwar protests of the Sixties have something a answer for in what they've done to the U.S. left. The protests were far less effective at "ending" the war than they seemed at the time (and have been mythologized since) - Nixon's concerns for the economy and the public's indifference to the Vietnamese were more crucial. But the result is that somehow the notion that merely marching around and sitting-in would be enough to effect political change and the record of those actions since then have proved this to be the nonsense it is.

The civil rights protestors, the INC activists, the labor movement radicals all had a collection of things that the post-'72 U.S. protests haven't:

1. An actual strategy that involved an entire range of acts, from pure theatre to violent protest, and some notion of how and where these would be applied. If OWS had anything other than "be there" I haven't seen it (mind you, the combination of vast public indifference and active media ignorance/hostility made it difficult to see how they could have done anything else effectively). And to orchestrate this these groups also had

2. An actual structured leadership - often fractious, even infighting, but the leaders were there actively planning the attacks on their opponents. The OWS seems to suffer from the goofy fuzzy-logic cloud-leadership that is to my mind the very WORST hangover of the Sixties protests. People like Lewis and Nehru and MLK were in many ways very unlikeable, manipulative, cunning sons-of-bitches. The OWS people seem to have absorbed the wrong lesson, which is that to get to a beneficent end you need to be a beneficent person. Couldn't be wronger. Many, perhaps most, of the people who have done "good" things for the mass of humanity have themselves been real bastards. You have to break a lot of eggs sometimes to make a good omlette...

Sorry that I'm such a little ray of sunshine today. But, as Matt Taibbi points out, the things that OWS is pointing fingers at aren't minor issues - they go to the very heart of the corruption of the crony-capitalist scam that has been driving the U.S. (and much of the Euro nations) back towards the Gilded Age. I'd have liked to see the U.S. and other western publics "get" that. But this doesn't seem to have happened, and at this point I have to conclude that it ISN'T going to happen. And for someone like me, who is and whose kids will be, part of the 99%, that looks like a bad thing for the future.


Ael said...

It is a very interesting world.

Compare the peaceful protests in Berlin 1989, with the peaceful protests in Beijing, 1989.
Both got lots of great PR, only one succeeded. Poland, Hungary, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Libya. Peaceful protests can work, and sometimes that is all that you need.

The internet changes a lot of political dynamics as it allows easy organization of mile wide, inch deep activities. It also permits uncontrolled side channel communications. We are witnessing an evolution of our body politic as great as that enabled by the invention of the printing press.

Here in Alberta, our occupy movement just got a large donation from the OWS movement in New York to winterize their protest.
Imagine spending a winter in a tent on the Canadian Prairies. Only the highly motivated will last and that motivation will drive a lot of the politics for us sheep.

The internet enabled this whole occupy movement and I suspect that come spring something new will pop up. I've got some popcorn and a fast internet connection. Best seat in the house!

FDChief said...


The Wall fell not because of the protests - the protests succeeded because the regime was unwilling to shoot the protesters. Rob Farley has a great post about Beijing where he notes that it's all about loyalty and legitimacy. The Hoenecker government had no legitimacy by '89, their Soviet godfather was done for, and the East German border police refused to shoot. If the circumstances had been different no amount of peacefulness would have succeeded in Berlin any more than they did in Beijing. Poland and Hungary were in the same boat as East Germany

Egypt was anything BUT peaceful and neither is Syria. Yemen is in the middle of what amounts to a civil war and Libya just finished one. Tunisia was fairly peaceful but, again, more because the regime collapsed than because of the nature of the "protests" - and it was NOT peaceful in the early stages.

So as far as I can see;

1. The effectiveness of purely-peaceful "protests" is almost entirely dependent on the opposition's unwillingness to use force, and

2. The internet is NOT a substitute for planning and leadership. "Organization" that consists of getting people to show up is neither. I don't see the 'net as changing that dynamic, as the failure of Occupy Portland shows.

And I can't see Occupy becoming any more effective in the spring or any other time until they absorb the lessons of the other successful protest movements. So far I haven't seen it, and, believe me, I've been looking a long time in hope.

Ael said...


Peaceful protests are a way of calling a bluff. They drive out ambiguity (for both the regime and the people). This is both important and useful. Communist Europe, Egypt and Tunisia folded. Libya and Syria did not.

In more democratic regimes, peaceful protests can place great internal strain on state institutions as they are forced to come to grips with internal hypocrisy. They are often forced to choose between a loss of legitimacy or reform.

Of course, if the protests do not resonate with a significant portion of the citizenry, the protesters risk being swept up and dumped in a trashcan somewhere. That is the downside of driving out ambiguity.

FDChief said...

But - and this is my point - the protesters have to do more than just "drive out ambiguity"; they have to actually force their opponents to do something vile.

OK, let's take Egypt. The Tahrir Square protests weren't sitting around some meaningless patch of park. They were tying up a huge portion of central Cairo. Businesses were shut, traffic stalled. When the cops showed up, the occupiers FOUGHT...and the cops retreated. Mubarak sent in his goons and the occupiers FOUGHT...and the goons lost. The Army wouldn't fight...and Mubarak lost.

Contrast this with the Occupy version on NYC. The occupiers have been careful to generally avoid doing anything that interferes with the business on the Street. When they have marched they have marched places that have little or nothing to do with their stated objectives; nobody has been arrested trying to block off the Stock Exchange, or sit-it at Goldman-Sachs or Bank of America HQ.

There has been no real attempt to use economic tactics to hurt their enemies - Taibbi's very sensible suggestion to attack BofA by disinvestment has gone unechoed by the Occupy PR sources, whatever they are.

So to do all this placing of internal strain and highlighting of hypocrisy protesters have to take actions that FORCE their enemies to act in stressful and hypocritical ways. I can tell you that I lived through the entire Occupy Portland business and never, not once, ever had to do more the zip past the camps in the downtown squares. They NEVER forced me, or people like me, to take a side.

That's spectacularly ineffective protesting in my book.

rangeragainstwar said...

The goal of the protests is the same as Terrorist goals- to force the gov't to over react. The difference is that T's use violence from the gitgo.
For non-violence to work there must always be the unspoken threat of violence. I think MLK understood this. Would MLK have been successful w/o the Black Panther /BLA fears?
Non -violence also requires one to be willing to stop a bullet to become a symbol.

FDChief said...

jim: Bingo. The Occupiers never managed to discipline their troops into forcing the various governments into atrocity, and the present default setting in most Western publics is to defer to fear of "unrest" rather than rage at government excess.

So short of a Jallianwallh Bagh in Chapman Square the Occupiers lost weeks ago. OTOH, the governments played them masterfully; kidding them along until the public mostly lost interest then pouncing on them and bundling them offstage with a minimum of publicity.