June 21st, 2012 by Darin Robbins

Presentation written for the Upstate Occupy Conference in Syracuse on June 16th and 17th of 2012.

One specific phenomenon that has come from anarchism and is manifested in the Occupy movement is that of resistance and creation. Resistance and creation are two actions that form a two-step process in which the first step, resistance of what exists, requires the second step, creation of what can be, in order to make use of the space of freedom that would result from the initial resistance. To be able to see resistance and creation in particular within each occupation site, it becomes necessary as a starting point to refer to the analysis found in the article “On Immanence and Occupations” written by Ian Alan Paul. The author makes use of the poststructuralist philosophy of the French thinker Gilles Deleuze in order to properly frame what is actually going on in the movement. At each occupation site, one will see resistance and creation through the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of public space and authority. Deterritorialization is a formal term meaning structures that are taken apart, while reterritorialization means structures reforming in a different way. Resistance inherently takes apart existing structures of power, while creation will reassemble new structures that better serve and empower the people. Each site, whether in New York City or Oakland or Syracuse, takes apart the defined meaning of the public space and who controls it and reformulates a new sense of space and new ownership through the use and power of the people. The result is the direct action of physically occupying the site as well as the direct democracy to form a new type of community in the site, all made possible by the strategy of resistance and creation. In this context, resistance and creation is therefore a production of desire or what can be seen as the expression of the will of the people motivated by their individual desires. This expression is through collective action, recognizing that there is a better chance for people to express their desire through cooperation than as isolated and alienated individuals. The process of desire expressed through collective action that one can see in the transition from resistance to creation is a disruption of representation. By representation, one can mean not only the attempts by the media to impose a representative identity on the movement but also the formal structure of representative democracy itself. By escaping the limits of these two types of representation, the collective action within resistance and creation exists between the one and the many, neither a monolithic group identity where all difference is snubbed out nor isolated individuals that are unable to work together to achieve common goals.

A basic form of resistance and creation can be summarized by looking at what happens at the particular occupation sites. A general resistance, one that rebels against the overall status quo, leads to a particular creation or the formation of specific actions and structures that are more responsive to the people. These particular products of creation are therefore community based and decentralized, avoiding the trend toward centralization and generalization where systemic problems become harder to address. The external resistance is an opposition to external forms of power and authority that are imposed on people, and thus requires an internal creation of new structures where authority rests equally among all participants and power is mutually shared. An external authority, and the vertical systems that are designed to have that kind of power hierarchy, are called transcendent. An internal authority, and the more horizontal systems that actively prevent hierarchy, are called immanent. The act of resistance is usually resistance of ubiquitous structures, or situations that are assumed to be natural and forever functioning in the background. The act of creation is then creation of apparent structures, or systems that people are fully aware of and how they function to serve the people. The more libertarian aspect of resistance meets the communitarian aspect of creation. The first step of liberation is followed by the second step of community to make the best use of this liberation. In summation, the basic characteristics of resistance and creation need each step in order to complete the process of freedom and empowerment.

The direct relationship between resistance and creation, and how the former needs the latter to be successful, can best be illustrated in the comparison between autonomy and liberty. Autonomy is the combination of resistance and creation, in that both steps occur in autonomous action. Autonomy is a form of freedom that can also be called self-determination, borrowing from the original translation of the Greek word meaning “self-law”. It can also be described as a positive freedom, or the power to do things. When autonomy is practiced, it is a discontinuity from the status quo by forming immanent structures that separate themselves from the old order and are used as tools for this type of freedom. In contrast, liberty is seen as freedom from government specifically, and is more resistance without creation. It is defined as a negative freedom, or the freedom from coercion. Though this kind of freedom is important, since there are numerous cases where the state imposes its will directly on people, it is also an incomplete form of freedom. There is no second step, so that the structural rupture that usually comes with resistance is not met with the creation of new structures, but rather with a structural recuperation where the powers that be are able to reform and recapture their position of power in a hierarchy. With liberty, one can see a continuity of transcendent structures where the feeling of insecurity after the initial resistance is followed by a falling back into an authoritarian pattern for the sake of stability. The best example is the resistance from the state where no new political forms are created, so that the power structure still exists in the form of capitalism. The limit of liberty is an escape from the state in order to be more fully captured by capitalist exploitation. By looking at both autonomy and liberty, there is a direct parallel between autonomy as practiced by both anarchists and the Occupy Movement, and the conception of liberty as practiced by libertarians and the Tea Party. That is not only the major distinction between anarchists and libertarians, but also the major difference between Occupy and the Tea Party where this one difference leads to a variety of divergent perspectives and actions. The end result is that the Occupy movement has the greater potential to actually change the world, whereas the Tea Party believes it can change the world but will only reproduce what already exists.

Through an understanding of what resistance and creation truly means, and how when it is combined it is autonomy that is very different from mere liberty, one can see its manifestation in a general way in the Occupy movement. As the movement has progressed through many marches, General Assemblies, and the occasional evictions, the phenomenon of resistance and creation acts as the positing of problems and solutions. When individual occupation sites issued declarations through their General Assemblies early on, they described the problems that they saw in the nation and the world. Over time, there is a need to start to propose solutions to those problems, such as can be seen in the effort for the National Gathering and its visioning process this Summer. In the case of Occupy Elmira/Corning, purely out of synchronicity, there is now the first steps toward formulating a mission statement to pinpoint what that local movement would like to accomplish to deal with the problems that were first articulated when they first began meeting. The relationship between problems and solutions is also the relationship between theory and practice. The analysis of the problems requires a theoretical framework, but the solutions need to be actualized as concrete practices. And the movement from theory and practice is seen most clearly in the relationship between external democracy and internal democracy. These two forms of democracy need to be explained in order to clarify how they relate to each other, and whether they should relate. For the larger debate as to whether the Occupy movement should even propose solutions, and possibly threaten the diversity that originally coalesced around the initial declarations, is reflected in the question as to whether the external democracy of the movement should have anything to do with the internal democracy found in the state.

The role of democracy can be examined by not only looking at democracy in itself, but how it is put to work in both direct democracy or a republic. Democracy in itself is an equality of power that prevents the formation of hierarchy. This equality of power leads to an equality of participation, where each person has the ability to be fully engaged in how collective action is decided upon. The equality of participation therefore insures an equality of rights, further avoiding the domination of one subgroup by another. These characteristics change when one is looking at either direct democracy or a republic. Direct democracy can best be described as a democracy of the event, one that takes apart an existing order and opens up the field to the decision making process shaped by an equality of power. Everything is up for grabs and subject to the will of the people, counterbalanced by the absence of hierarchy. A democracy of the event is always external to the state, and since it is external is it also a disruption of hierarchy. A republic is thus a democracy of the structure, a subset whose long-term goal is the maintenance of the structure. Through the alienation that occurs in the abstraction of political representation, there is limits to what a democratic process can do. A representative is not a delegate with the exact instructions from the people, but must always generalize the identity of the people in order to represent them, thus taking the right to participation away from those same people. Not everything can be addressed or changed by this process. The democracy of the structure is internal to the state, giving the appearance of empowerment but only resulting in minor short-term changes that foster the illusion of real choice and real change. The fact that it is internal to the state means that it functions as a reproduction of hierarchy, forever holding back the revolutionary potential of the external democracy of the event. At the end of the day, the democracy of the event creates something new, while the democracy of the structure upholds things that already exist.

Finally, the full impact of resistance and creation in anarchism and Occupy can be expressed in how external democracy can relate to internal democracy. It is based on the interaction of activism and elections. Activism, especially the direct action of Occupy, is a type of prefiguration. Prefiguration can best be defined, in the words of the Industrial Workers Of The World, as “creating the new world in the shell of the old”. This method is neither outright unpredictable revolution nor is it gradual reform. Prefiguration occurs through and is organized by external democracy. The best example of prefiguration in the Occupy movement is the creation of food, energy, and health systems at the occupation sites that are in turn managed by the direct democracy of the General Assembly. In contrast, elections rely on representation within a republican form of democracy. This form of democracy is the limited kind of democracy that will always be found in the state, and so it is the embodiment of internal democracy. At first glance, it may seem that activism and elections are in constant opposition since activism works outside of the system and elections are always inside of the system. When attempts have been made to form a convergence of activism and elections, there has been an eventual cooptation where the structural limits of the state block the goals of real prefiguration through activism. However, in the case of independent candidates, parties, and organizations outside of the two-party system, there is still the potential or at least the need for some sort of relationship between external activism and internal elections. Activism through direct action can easily be ignored if there is no electoral component, and as previously mentioned an electoral strategy without a constant outside catalyst can easily lead to compromise and cooptation to make the overall movement harmless. The seemingly horrible choice between being ignored and being neutered presents itself as a truly daunting situation. But with the Occupy movement, taking from anarchism the process of resistance and creation, there may actually be a productive avenue to real structural change. In other words, there is a chance that the new active direct action and direct democracy can energize the previously passive activism and elections. Structural change addresses causes rather than symptoms, and needs both external democracy and internal democracy. The goal of structural change is an authentic reciprocity between activism and elections. The direct action and direct democracy of Occupy, a true case of resistance and creation, must inject itself into a more conventional activism and elections in order to make activism and elections more like resistance and creation. What has been accomplished by the Occupy movement in terms of the occupation sites must then be seen as a kind of reawakened and comprehensive activism that connects to elections as an internalization of this external democracy into the internal democracy. The internalization of external democracy would lead to a major change of internal democracy, and a type of change that culminates in a resistance of the republic structure and a creation of a direct democracy structure. This would be the completion of the process, as well as the accomplishment of the goal of structural change.

In conclusion, it can be stated that the idea of resistance and creation, and how they work together, is possibly the most important element to come from anarchism. In turn, this phenomenon is also the core of the Occupy movement, making it unique despite having many antecedents like that of the Bonus Army during the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the worldwide revolts during the Spring of 1968, and the antiglobalization movement. By noting this core of the movement, and its role as a primary engine, then the people who want structural change have the proper conscious orientation to accomplish what they desire.