The #Occupy Movement and Gramsci

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As we enter the second or third week of the #Occupy movement, I’m beginning to sense that the momentum is no longer an issue. The movement seems to have gotten past the hump of legitimacy and we’re now into a bona fide new wave of social protest. At this point, the movement has already succeeded, purely in its capacity to incite a new potential into political discourse. It is fair to categorize the #Occupy movement as a form of ‘political disobedience‘, as distinct from ‘civl disobedience’ insofar as it is purely concerned about the deadlock of politics, after politics, with creating the space for a new possibility of politics.

The #Occupy movement is a form of agonistic democracy a la Laclau and Mouffe in On Populist Reason, and Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. What is crucial for the movement to maintain its vibrancy is that it continue to keep the demand closed, or if you like, to keep the crisis exposed. The crisis of the system is the problem, and the idea of any modicum of policymakers creating reform is not sufficient.

The idea of #Occupy when thought as a visual metaphor is perhaps best envisioned as a collection of struggles that are gathered under a single umbrella. The wider and more able to cover the space of struggles, contradictions, and inadequiecies that politics has provided in recent times, the more potent the power of the movement will gain. In other words, if #Occupy does not open space for the Tea Party, Ron Paul’ies, alter-globalization activists, greenies, identity politics, anarchists, etc, then it will fail. No one struggle can define this movement, especially not entrenched institutional interests such as organized labor or

From the standpoint of strategy, the #Occupy movement has expanded on the idea of following power to various summits and protesting physical space (IMF, World Bank, Seattle in 99′ etc) and has sought to directly occupy landmarks that are in symbolic proximity to the nation, and to financial power. I see this strategy as completely adopted by the Arab Spring’s framing of revolution as a choice to the people about the future of the nation. This benign nationalism posed as an alternative to authoritarianism is the form that the #Occupy movement is adopting.

To better understand the role of the naiton and revolution, I have been listening to Eric Hobsbawm’s lecture on Gramsci, and reading Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. Writing during the global depression of the 30’s, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks shook up the Comintern upon their release.

Two ideas are crucial for the #Occupy movement, the danger of a passive revolution, or the idea that a revolution can easily become subsumed into the hegemonic structure of the ruling class, and the idea of the role of the nation.

I think that it is the meaning of the nation that is crucial for the agonistic experiment in democracy to succeed. We must frame the symbol of the movement as an alternative to the direction of the nation. While the nation itself is highly contentious, I am wondering if it is worth continuing to use it? It certainly functions as a master signifying umbrella that is crucial to win over in the collection of struggles.

When Zizek argued in his remarks at #Occupywallstreet that the Tea Party should be involved, I couldn’t agree more! But we must admit that the very idea of America here is at stake, and we must fight for that symbol. The sheer enormity of it is what bothers me, as we jostle with a series of disparate struggles, we must never forget the glue that holds any popular struggle together, especially in America is a healthy dose of good old fashioned patriotism.

Watch lectures 1 – 7 of Hobsbawm’s lectures on Gramsci

One response

  1. 42

    You seem to have skipped the small sentence in the Hegemony book where they say that no institution is required for agonistic pluralism to exist, and as long as it is institutionalized you cannot talk about political disobedience, as you are taking away the emancipatory character of this movement by trying to put it in a context of an institution in this case the nation. And what you are suggesting is to turn the movement in fact into a populist movement, which from the European perspective is not a nice thing to do, look up Bosnia and Herzegovina for example, as patriotism or as it is called in Europe, nationalism in itself is an agency of exclusion, where you are perpetuating an idea of subjectivity through the collective sphere, giving it a determiner, and by saying that the idea of America is a symbol for the movement than you are making it a nationalist movement, thus forgetting that you are going beyond the phantasm the nation state has created throughout history.

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