Sunday, October 30, 2011

No consensus with Nazis, no change without struggle

Racism and fascism have no place in Aotearoa. In the UK combating racist groups like the British National Party means confronting them in the streets.

On the 22nd of October, an incident occurred at the Wellington occupation, which elucidates several fundamental issues requiring resolution within not only the local movement but also to an extent the global movement as a whole.

An individual from the occupation was made aware of a nearby rally in Midland Park by the National Front, an openly fascist, neo-Nazi organization and took it upon himself to approach the neo-Nazis in the interest of inviting them along to a talk he was conducting and welcoming them to the occupation. After a number of concerned individuals expressed their discontent with this idea, a general assembly (GA) was called on the basis that one person from the group did not have the right to invite a whole contingent of people openly hostile to the espoused principles of the Occupy Movement. From the start of the GA, several openly queer/transgendered individuals voiced their obvious concerns at welcoming an outwardly homophobic group to the occupation, primarily regarding their concern for their own personal safety and their right to exist in a safe space. Other members expressed their opposition to the occupation openly inviting and associating with a neo-Nazi organization, regardless of whether association occurred on a group or individual basis on the grounds that in principle the proposition ran contrary to the movement’s goals. However, countering the concerns of those opposed to associating with the likes of fascists and homophobes, a sentiment arose within a majority of the GA that if the occupation really wanted to stay true to its adopted line of “We are the 100%” inclusiveness, it was in the group’s best interest to welcome everyone to the occupation, regardless of the hateful and discriminatory nature of their beliefs. Ironically, this dogmatic notion of all inclusiveness extended to welcoming the “1%” as well, essentially undermining the whole reason for creating a space where the masses have a real voice in determining their own future.

The GA went on for around an hour and a half, where a multitude of na├»ve ideas regarding the occupation’s power to change, reform, or heal the neo-Nazis were thrown around in favor of welcoming them, indicative of the low level political consciousness that the group as a whole possessed. The line of complete inclusivity was virtually raised to a tyrannical level trumping all other principles, including the preservation of a safe space for all marginalized groups. At a basic theoretical level, the issue of whether or not to endorse the presence of neo-Nazis derives from a fundamental misconception of the “99%” on the part of members of the GA.

After a great deal of deliberation, it was finally agreed upon that no one from the GA outwardly supported the National Front, and that if they used hate speech at the occupation they’d have to leave. This decision nonetheless left many in the group dissatisfied for totally misconstruing the crux of the issue; namely, how to implement the principle of solidarity in actual practice. Can real solidarity with oppressed groups like queer people, Maori, and immigrants exist in conjunction with the open inclusion of those who actively support the subjugation and extermination of minorities? Do we really expect to create safe spaces for marginalized groups through welcoming neo-Nazis to our occupations? Herein lies the danger of a politically undeveloped occupy movement. In the interests of 100% inclusivity, groups that do not understand the implications of their own empty principles can inadvertently undermine the rights and safety of minorities, creating a situation that leads to the disintegration of the movement we seek to create before it has even really established itself on a truly mass level. In addition to fragmenting the occupiers, it totally negates the principle message of the movement.

As a result of this situation, queer members of the GA and others that stood in solidarity with them formed a Queer Caucus to address the issue at hand in a democratic setting where unity existed against neo-Nazis. The caucus returned to the GA that night and made some progress towards heightening the consciousness of the occupation, explicating the conditions that led to the total disregard for the rights of the queer members and any others that felt threatened earlier in the day. The ability of the Queer Caucus to develop the political consciousness of the GA demonstrates the vital role political education must play within the occupy movement as a whole in advancing the struggle.

An important lesson to be learned from this example is that such efforts towards 100% inclusivity ironically end up having the opposite effect on those groups whose rights become marginalized in the pursuit of consensus where there simply is none – it actually pushes people away. In the case of Occupy Wellington, no one who is actually familiar with the beliefs and actions of the neo-Nazi movement has any interest in sharing the occupation with them, let alone tolerating their presence. Indeed, some even feared for their own safety in a space that was ostensibly set up as a means combating oppression and discrimination. The idea of 100% inclusivity is clearly problematic in regards to maintaining the cohesion of the Occupation Movement, but where does it derive from on a conceptual level?

A fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of the 99% was the distinguishable factor that led to a near division within the Occupy Wellington movement. On the one hand of the Wellington discussion, individuals with little or no understanding of class struggle falsely conceptualize the power of the 99% as one founded in the transformative power of love and total inclusivity to magically transform our society. In their view, enemies of the masses, like fascists and the rich business elite for example, will simply experience a change of heart, abandoning their terrible ways once they are incorporated into the Occupy Movement through the intoxicating power of the love demonstrated to them, if only we are strong-willed enough.

A more politically conscious analysis of the “99%” is that a majority of the members of society have been oppressed for the sake of serving the interests of a small minority, and that this situation will not change without some kind of struggle; a reclamation of power. It is the conflict of interests itself that gives the “99%” its true power; namely to overthrow the interests of the “1%” by establishing a system in which the basic interests of the 99% are put before all else, privileging freedom from all kinds of economic, racial, and sexual oppression as the core basis on which progression from capitalism takes place. Those with a more thought out political consciousness recognize the importance of acknowledging that the rich upper class will do everything and anything to maintain the current unequal power structures within society. Moreover, standing united against hate groups and in solidarity with marginalized groups in society is essential to preserving the integrity of the movement.

Without political or class consciousness, or at the very least a rudimentary principle of exclusivity from which to build on, it becomes difficult to avoid situations where the rights of minorities are infringed upon in the interest of pursuing the empty idea of total inclusivity. Unfortunately, the apolitical perception that unconditional love and total inclusivity are the solution to the multitude of problems we seek to ameliorate as a movement is much easier and more convenient to engage with than that of political struggle, deriving itself from an ignorance of the complex issues the Occupy Movement seeks to deal with.

The mechanism of political education as a means of advancing the political consciousness of the members of the Occupy Movement is critical if we wish to build the struggle for justice and avert fragmentation from within. If a GA does not at a minimum share a common understanding of who the oppressor is and a willingness to stand united against them, it is irrational to expect the movement to remain cohesive and progress forward.

-Daniel Hockenberry

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