Alexander Cockburn Declares Occupy Dead

by lizard

People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.

—Alexander Cockburn

What appears to have set Mr. Cranky Pants on the path toward declaring a movement less than a year old “dead” is evident by the title of his Friday piece: Biggest Financial Scandal in Britain’s History, Yet Not a Single Occupy Sign; What Happened?

Cockburn may be falling prey to the media frenzy that demands consistent headlines from its subjects in order to keep its audience interested. I also think there is some serious generational friction being exhibited in his little diatribe from the marginalized sphere of the American Left.

For example, this:

Before the fall came there were heroic actions, people battered senseless by the police. These were brave people trying to hold their ground.

There were other features that I think quite a large number of people found annoying: the cult of the internet, the tweeting and so forth, and I definitely didn’t like the enormous arrogance which prompted the Occupiers to claim that they were indeed the most important radical surge in living memory.

So, are we to think there are no longer instances of police state repression? And who among the notoriously decentralized Occupy movement claimed they were “the most important radical surge in living memory?

From there, it gets worse, and more unsubstantiated condemnation of the occupy movement ensues:

Where was the knowledge of, let along the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
 
Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

There also seemed to be a serious level of political naivety about the shape of the society they were seeking to change. They definitely thought that it could be reshaped – the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much of a hearing.
 
After a while it seemed as though, in Tom Naylor’s question in this site: “Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 per cent or the one per cent, but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralised, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American empire…(my emphasis added)

While I think what Cockburn lays out here should be taken into consideration, I’m surprised he can’t understand why the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much hearing. That kind of cynical assessment will never attract anyone to “the cause”. Maybe Mr. Cranky Pants should ask himself why past movements have yet to produce a more equitable and just country instead of bemoaning the use of the internet by occupiers.

The other part of that quote the stood out was the hinting of a “real reason” Occupy got started. For someone who has been extremely condescending to anyone skeptical of the 9-11 narrative, this conspiratorial musing is quite curious (it should be noted there are those who wonder if George Soros and AdBusters were cynically behind the seeding of Occupy).

The fractured impotency of the political left in this country is in full display with Cockburn’s bleak assessment. Movements of all colors continue, the work goes on, and not everything is going to gain national traction. What seems to matter more is that whoever Alexander Cockburn talked to, they didn’t know much about history, and they are naive in thinking they can reshape the world.

Stay tuned, Alex. We’re just getting started.


  1. Big Johansson

    Timeless lyrics, “When you talk about destruction you can count me out”.

  2. Colin Ward “…the conflict between authority and liberty is a permanent aspect of the human condition and not something that can be resolved by a vaguely specified social revolution. It recognizes that the choice between libertarian and authoritarian solutions occurs every day and in every way, and the extent to which we choose, or accept, or are fobbed off with, or lack the imagination and inventiveness to discover alternatives to, the authoritarian solutions to small problems is the extent to which we are their powerless victims in big affairs.”

    Ward argues that a society “which organizes itself without authority is always in existence like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.”

    Occupy is an age old idea of co-operation. It doesn’t want something new. It doesn’t want to replace one system with another one. It wants alternatives that already exist such as mutual aid societies and workers cooperatives. In the early days, trade unions weren’t about dues and contracts, they were about mutual aid and comfort. The British health care system is modeled after the Tredegar Medical Society in Wales. It was founded in 1870 and provided medical care for the employed miners and steelworkers and their families. It was sustained by “voluntary contributions of three old pennies in a pound” from the wages of the miners and steelworkers.

  3. JC

    Thanks for taking this on, Liz. When I read Cockburn, I was like, oh shit, talk about being out of touch…

    As to repression and media frenzy, the media pretty much got tired of reporting on cops beating people up once the elections started heating up. But where was the media when the national assembly met in Philadelphia last week, and the city denied water to protestors out on the street, during the massive heat wave that hit? They used water as a way to try and break the ranks there. If not for the Quakers, who offered up their spigots, there would have been some serious problems.

    As to Cockburn’s ridiculous assumption that Occupiers didn’t debate the notion that the shape of society couldn’t be fixed because it was too broke just shows how out of touch he is. That notion was central to most of the strategic debates that happened within Occupy, taking up all of the oxygen in the rooms at times, as the reformist vs. revolutionary battles were as much to blame for the disintegration of much energy. But those debates did build a lot of lateral solidarity among once disparate elements of the community. Maybe Cockburn has never really been involved in a “diversity of tactics” discussion before. But we had a great one lasting three days in Missoula. Anarchist meet progressive dem. Whatcha got in common, and can you work together? I think that the answer is maybe… a little bit on some key issues. But not when it comes to politics and electoral battles.

    The reformationists (consisting mostly of dem party machine co-opters) still are trying to rally Occupy energy to the dem cause, and use it to tip the tide this fall. But the revolutionary side of Occupy believes that the electoral system is too corrupt to provide any meaningful reform, and instead wants to work on visioning a better future, and then working on it outside of the 24 hour news cycle. Build a new world inside the one that is crumbling, so that when the shit hits the fan, people have a fallback plan that doesn’t involve guns and battlements (talking ’bout you swede). The Transition Town movement, i.e. has taken immense strides since Occupy ignited people to get involved. When’s the last time you’ve read about that in the news? Missoula Water Now is actively pursuing local ownership of our water, taking it back from the transnational Carlyle Corporation. Rocky Mountain Rising Tide defeated Exxon. On and on…

    • lizard19

      thanks for adding your direct, participatory context, JC.

      I recently caught an alternative radio segment featuring Max Rameau. it’s definitely worth checking out.

      there is lots of momentum from different movements continuing to coalesce around the spark Occupy provided. just because corporate media has turned their attention to the joke that is our political process doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

      keep on keeping on, peeps. the corporate squeeze is tightening with every passing day.

  4. Buzz Feedback

    Occupy Engen

  5. Bruce

    Despite misgivings, US Eternal Flamers (no longer “boomer” babies) have been in faithful attendance of the OWSt. effort; but the truth remains of no substantial motivation of (even) the 30 MILLIONS of un/deremployed and 2 MILLION wage-frozen federal public servants to overwhelm the lipsticking Obamanable Bush-Hogs of Our OPPRE$$ION. Surely, OWSt.ers can see that they Must Be MOBED!

  6. lizard19

    Alexander Cockburn passed away. he was 71.

    • JC

      Yeah, I guess him fighting cancer for the last 2 years explains him being “out of touch” as I accused him of being, in an earlier comment.

      I almost wanted to feel remorse for having done so, but I don’t think that Cockburn would have approved of any kind of remorse in those who choose to critique. Over the years, I have benefitted greatly from his writings and style of critique.

  7. JC

    Here’s a good take on the state of Occupy After the National Gathering (over the 4th of July):

    ” For many anarchists who participated in and organized Occupy actions, the idea of protesting money in politics or free education was always comparatively unimportant. However, the Occupy struggles provided a space to insert insurrectionary “methods” – genuine ruptures with the status quo through confrontational acts and projects – which at first avoided crystallizing into a formal political project and inspired a rethinking of what constitutes “politics.” It wasn’t, of course, just about taking the streets and squares and fighting police, but the fact that such acts of defiance can (but don’t necessarily) produce a rethinking of authority, power and our very subject positions and ways of relating.”




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