Saturday, October 29, 2011

Demands

A good piece here defending the activity of making demands, but evading the fact that whether demanding is constructive or destructive, and whose interests it serves, depends on the demand.

"Protect our Christian Legacy", "British Jobs for British Workers" and “Zig Raus!” are all demands, and they've all been expressed with passion recently. Of course the demands which emerge from the Occupy movement include many which stress the illegitimacy of the state: "Stop Killing and Enslaving Us" or fcuk the pigs, burn the banks, "expropriate the expropriators", "Stop Stop and Frisk", "Decolonize Wall Street". The demands the authors of the piece list tend toward this type:


That we liberate New York, or Oakland, or Cleveland from the grips of financiers? That we must have returned what was stolen from us and given to the banks and to the 1%? That we deserve to live a life free of police repression and violence? That we want an end to imperialist projects and wars, and the restoration of social services and education?


These demands may not highlight as well as some others the violence, lawlessness and ruthlessness of the current ruling class and its absolute illegitimacy, but they don't tend to legitimize the state or the status quo of property and power. However, this list and the text in which we find it was probably written with the awareness of the debate into which it must enter, that is, in the knowledge that the concrete presently existing advocates of demands at OWS are rejecting (with contempt) these kinds of oppositional and accusatory demands (nixing for example reference to "the larceny of the 1%" as overly oppositional and likely to alienate someone of importance) and insisting on demands that do legitimize the state and that in fact require other people (not those who make the demands) to build things for the use and enjoyment and aggrandizement of those making the demands (the demand is the state put unemployed to work to secure the property and assert values belonging to those drafting the demands) and in all likelihood for expropriation as private property of the 1%.

Unfortunately around "the question of demands" has arisen a typical co-opting reaction - those whose efforts are principally to silence, mock, belittle, delay or deprioritize the demands of others are annointing themselves 'pro-demands' and denouncing their opponents, whose demands they are trying to gag or discredit, 'anti-demands', much the way those seeking to assert white supremacist patriarchal privileges do so by labelling feminists and anti-racists 'divisive' for objecting to the segregation benefiting the privileged and challenging their efforts to dominate and preserve these hierarchies. Though much is being done to combat it, and a great deal has been achieved in raising people's awareness and recruiting commitment to redress of these persistent injustices, one sees still everywhere the spectacle of all white groups or white individuals presenting themselves as universal and neutral, representatives of the norm and the commonweal, issuing dire warnings against the threat of and displaying eye-rolling impatience with insignificant raced people with selfish, unimportant concerns "muddying" this or that pure scene or analysis with their difference, undermining popular unity by spoiling uniformity, and hampering class struggle by challenging the domination or refusing obedience to the usual privileged petty bourgeois subjects.

It's in the unavoidable context of white supremacy and the US' particularly raced class society that the demands working group has specifically rejected suggestions they include any demands to protect those they recommend be employed providing services and rebuilding territorial US infrastructure (and US only, that is, not Afghanistan, not Iraq, not Haiti) from the repression and terror of the state or ensuring that this workforce who are proposed to be set to work making a better environment for those issuing the demands will be able to benefit from the wealth they create as well.

The demands working group at OWS have rejected the suggestion, most signficantly, of specifying debt amnesty for those to be employed by the public works scheme they demand be established. Without an insistence on debt amnesty, their demand in reality is that 25 million people be employed at their own expense and that of the rest of the public in order to guarantee (once again) the payment to the richest of the interest, fees, and debts to which those 25 million likely to take these jobs are currently obligated. Without debt amnesty, these “good union wages” must still fail to provide any kind of decent living standard, as all of those wages are already earmarked for the 1% via the indebtedness of the workers in question. The reason given for rejecting “debt amnesty” as a feature of this demand – this demand that is supposed to help the movement define the world it wants through the delineation of a policy that is actually practicable and desirable – is that it mars the “simplicity” of the scheme. That's a familiar defense of every kind of trickle down vision, and the proposal fits the pattern of trickle down in highlighting the inevitable consequences of the scheme to those least benefitting (but benefitting nonetheless, a little) and wholly ignoring that the bulk of the benefits of the scheme are monopolised by the ruling class and its courtiers and house servants.

That is, any measures that might ensure the 25 million workers benefit from the scheme are seen as an unnecessary complication - the scheme is a lovely machine one switches on and watches prosperity flow from, as is always appealing to bourgeois economists. This posture which defines all care to protect the interest of the propertyless as needless muddying and disfigurement of the beautiful simplicity of the Keynes/Fabian machine must be understood to confirm that the purpose of the scheme is the same as the purpose of every scheme inspired by this school of thought - to shore up the state’s legitimacy, secure property values, and boost growth to guarantee profits (and superprofits when the concrete products of the labour employed are privatised). The demand thus is objectionable with regard to content (the actual realization of the policy is not desirable, though it contains elements that would be part of many conceivable desirable policies) and as pedagogy (the demand as “impossible demand” tends to obscure rather than clarify present reality) and as political gesture (the demand is divisive and asserts the dominance of those who define themselves in opposition and distinction to “workers, the homeless, unemployed, undocumented” and who treat the expressed concerns of those groups as nuisances, the usual “laundry list” of particularist grievances, and needless “complexities”.)Without debt amnesty, the vision is one of effective enslavement of 25 million people set to work improving the public equity chiefly enjoyed by the richest 10%.

2 comments:

  1. This is no different from the demands made by the TUC with its slogan “jobs, growth and justice” which also seeks to protect bourgeois property rights. But what should we be demanding? I am attracted to the idea of “impossible demands” for these times call for radical solutions and wonder what you mean about them obscuring the present reality. Do you mean that "jobs for all" is not realistic?

    I agree that its futile to call on the state to save us and provide jobs by reverting to Keynesian deficit spending designed to placate social antagonisms. It is hardly a radical solution, leading as it does to the same dead end a few years later down the line. Why demand jobs just for the sake of working? Given the changes to the labour market driven mainly by productivity gains and technological advances it’s not even realistic to maintain full employment as these changes have led to structural unemployment. And people should only take on work that is necessary so why not call for a basic income guarantee and spend money where it is needed? If the left doesn’t put forward radical solutions then the capitalists will as can be seen presently in Greece and Italy where they are willing to suspend democracy and wage total class war. We really have to get our act together.

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  2. Hey vitoria - I think the "Jobs4All" demand is actually narrower and more deliberatelyu accomodating in its stance than the TUC which is in the business of making demands of specific kinds to benefit and protect workers. the Jobs4All isn't made by workers to employers, for one thing, and it doesn't venture to stipulate anything regarding wages, overtime, safety, pension, etc..

    "realistic" - i think the point of Jobs4All is its supposed to be this thing that seems realistic, that is, it is supposed to be a demand that is only saying to the ruling "we just want to be what you say we should be. we just want to work hard for you. what's the problem?" and this is suppsoed to be public theatre, a heuristic exercise, so that onlookers can say hey there's stuctural unemployment.

    of course, its impossible to say when this play has actually finished. Is it done now? Has the lesson been taught? If not, what will it take?

    I think it's fine for people to demand Jobs4All. I just don't see it as significant and don't see why the authors of the demand are so crazed about the denial of the NYC General Assumbly imprimatur for it. Now their ideology emerges, in the insane suggestions from the working group that the refusal of a few dozen anarchists to sign on to this demand - and not capitalism's need for structural unemployment, after all - is what is preventing the state from providing jobs4all.

    but i think now this has blown over basically. there is a group who wants to make this demand the centre of a movement, a campaign - a keynesian/fabian sort of posse who are at present dismayed by the lack of support for their Big Idea. I would evnture to guess if we looked into who they are we would find people of considerable property (seven figure net worth plus high income and pensions) in culture industry and academia. unsurprisingly their solutions are the same solutions this class of people always proposes to capitalist crises and haut bourgeois aggressions.

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