Occupy as Mutual Recognition

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* Article: Occupy as Mutual Recognition. By Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding

URL = http://www.heathwoodpress.com/occupy-mutual-recognition/


"Recent waves of revolutionary struggle – the Occupy movement in New York and elsewhere, London on the steps of St. Pauls, Cairo at the time of Mubarak’s fall, Greece and Spain in response to neoliberalism-imposed austerity, Gezi Park in Istanbul…the list is endless – throw into relief a common issue. The issue is that of recognition. Occupy-style events and initiatives point towards a future where mutual recognition serves as a guiding thread in human interaction. The present short paper explains the sense in which this is the case.

What follows carries forward arguments made in Gunn & Wilding, ‘Revolutionary or Less-than-Revolutionary Recognition?’ and R.C. Smith, ‘In defence of Occupy’s emphasis on non-dominant, non-hierarchical organisation’."


"How should the crowd-insurgencies and occupations of the post-2011 period be regarded? Their significance is difficult to bring into focus. Their justification is not instrumental: that is, they do not seek to expend a minimum of political energy to bring about a desired result.[6] Their claim is not that they are well-attuned to achieve a determinate outcome; it is that anything short of autonomous action is self-defeating in the end. Likewise, the significance of post-2011 initiatives are missed if they are seen as assertions of hedonism: although they at times resemble carnivals, those who participate know that they are dancing out in the political open and under threat of repression – in short, they know that they are dancing at the very edge. Are they, then, motivated by Quixotic altruism? Or bearing witness, in a quasi-religious sense? Such approaches fail to catch the atmosphere of the events they categorise. The ‘fun’ and the ‘caring’ which they involve[7] are real fun and real caring, and are important for their own sake. If Occupy-style events are not merely instrumental protests, so also they are not merely invocations or provocations of the repression which they frequently unleash.

How then should we think about them? We offer two suggestions. One is that their anomalous character – “anomalous”, that is, in the terms of the existing world – testifies to their revolutionary character. The other is that we should attend to formulations offered by the revolutionaries themselves.

One of the most telling formulations comes from the Occupy Wall Street movement. According to Yotam Marom, ‘Occupation in general, as a tactic, is a really brilliant form of dual-power struggle because the occupation is both a home where we get to practice the alternative – by practicing a participatory democracy, by having our radical libraries, by having a medical tent where anybody can get treatment, that kind of thing on a small level – and it’s also a staging ground for struggle outwards’.[8] The notion of what Marom calls ‘a home where we get to practice the alternative’ is fundamental to post-2011 revolution. Occupied spaces – frequently the parks and squares of of major cities – have become what Roos and Oikonomakis (following Hakim Bey) refer to as ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’.[9]

Before proceeding, we may raise a question about the formulations just quoted: to what social space do the ‘Autonomous Zones’ (however ‘Temporary’) belong? In what social and conceptual context does an occupied space count as ‘home’? An answer to such questions is supplied by a further revolutionary affirmation: the direct democracy, the horizontalism, the not-for-profit exchange or mutual aid and the ‘caring’ which goes forward in the occupied zones has what theorists and practitioners refer to as a prefigurative status.[10] That is to say, it offers itself as an exemplar – to be sure, an experimental and tentative exemplar – of the world at which revolution aims. This affirmation suggests an answer to the questions we have raised. To the extent that occupied zones are prefigurative, they are (so to say) fragments of a social space which is not yet in existence. If they are anticipations, their homeland is a pattern of interaction which is alien to – and, hence, anomalous within – the present world.

In the light of our comments, we renew our original query: how should the events and initiatives of the post-2011 period be regarded? Is there a concept or set of concepts which allow us to do justice to the atmosphere – so to say, the pitch and pathos – of current revolutionary experience? We think there is. The term recognition is, when understood aright, a key which makes the events of recent years intelligible. More than this, the notion of specifically mutual recognition illumines the sense in which the occupations of Zuccotti Park and Syntagma Square and Gezi Park count as prefigurative and as glimpses of what may be. Our general view can be summed up in an (adapted) quotation from Marx: the history of all hitherto existing revolutions is the history of struggles over recognition. More to the point in the present context is that present-day revolution has made recognition and mutual recognition an explicit and – so we claim – vital theme." (http://www.heathwoodpress.com/occupy-mutual-recognition/)

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