On the Complications of Counterhegemonic practice; the Early Risers and the Left

mail.google.comA couple of weeks ago, my mind was on recent student struggles at CUNY, where I work (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/socialistvoice/cuny79.html).  I was reading a Chris Hedges’ article that someone had sent via the #strikedebt email list. There, he mentioned the existence of popular resistance (http://www.popularresistance.org/ ) as an example of “the articulation of a viable socialism as an alternative to corporate tyranny” (http://www.nationofchange.org/our-invisible-revolution-1383056375). I visited the site. There, to my surprise (as I hadn’t been paying much attention, I admit), I learned that students had occupied spaces in several universities in Bulgaria. Under the category of RESIST, I encountered my first news of the occupations, in an article entitled (Bulgarian students join anti-government protests, occupy university buildings) that had originally appeared on October 28th on Euronews.com.

By November 5th I learned from LeftEast editors that the Hungarian student movement had officially declared its support for Bulgarian student protesters, and that the “the early rising students”, as the Bulgarian student movement is calling itself, had posted a following declaration on its facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/RanobudniteStudenti?__user=202900015)
In the declaration, the Early Risers state: “We Early risers students* are united in our belief that our country is in serious political and even more severe crisis of values​​. We are united by the indignation caused by the lack of moral and political irresponsibility of MPs. We protest against the daily demonstrated by politicians cynicism behind the curtain and lack of audibility”. They have two immediate demands: “1. Resignation of the Government of Oresharski, 2 . Dissolution of the 42th National Assembly.”

Following the vague statement that “We believe that the time is ripe to conduct a broad public debate about a new social contract”., they state that they will insist on the following before any subsequent National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria:

1. Responsible government policy towards an education model that
encourages and requires the construction of independent and critical thinking personalities rather than apathetic artists.
2 . Building modern and independent state institutions working for the benefit of society rather than serving private, oligarchic or party interests ;
3 . Providing adequate long-term strategies for the development of all spheres of public life and continuity in their application;
4 . Admission to senior positions of only proven professionals whose actions are guided solely by the interests of the sovereign ;
5 . The termination of the consistent practice of using media for party propaganda and constructing a pseudo reality.
6 . Compliance with the norms of morality and responsibility.

In conversations with friends in Bulgaria and at LeftEast, some expressed  “deep skepticism regarding the politics of the Bulgarian student occupation.” Others noted that “students have radicalized since the beginning of the occupation, at least in tactics, and expelled most members of the right who tried to frame their protest for their own purposes. They organize only among themselves to come up with new demands”. Friends told me that “students have said how difficult it was to come up with more concrete demands because they would repel other groups”.

Others expressed that the weak demands and a sense that the student protesters have been partisan has led to a left-identifying anti-tuition group, Priziv, (http://www.priziv.org/english) with whom many in the occupation have sympathized to oppose the occupation. “The occupation is in their view,  is anti-student;  uses the autonomous space of the university for partisan political reasons”, yet does not support any government intervention to stop the occupation, believing the situation needs to be resolved within the university”.   Friends claim that there indeed have been attempts at cooption by liberal elite using anticommunist conspiracy language.

Nevertheless, people strongly emphasized that “For now the students have created a certain autonomy for internal debate and are trying to articulate more concrete visions and demands”.  While the occupations can say to be rooted in the summer protest movement dominated by the liberal right, the fact that they have created a space for an internal debate is a significant difference.
Unfortunately, the left anti-tuition group remains outside that space of conversation.

Furthermore, friends stress that “both the so called ‘socialist’ party, as well as the right wingparties are really really afraid of any alternative agenda articulated by the students, because this might seriously damage their legitimacy”.

By asking the questions below, I try to continue the conversation around the Bulgarian protests that took place on the pages of Lefteast in August (thank you, Mariya Radeva and Val Hadjiyski for your enlightening responses).  The central question for us, as Mariya Radeva wrote, is one of counterhegemonic praxis.  How can we lend a sophisticated and credible analysis of this complex situation and its broader political-economic context, and also model and suggest ways of moving forward? As one friend wrote: “How can we aid the radicalization of student demands and hope that students of the world can unite against the capitalist system???”

Several people pointed to tactics as the most radical aspect of the student actions, (and indeed, it is tactics that the Hungarian students seem to be expressing solidarity with)  What do you mean by radical tactics? Do we mean the strategy of occupation itself or do we mean the structure of decision making and organizational forms? In what way are they radical?

What kinds of processes are the students using to come to decisions and negotiate with other students or wider publics? In this process, what kinds of enclosures have happened? If, as friends have suggested, the space for internal debate marks the occupations as different from the summer protests, what does is mean for the leftist anti-capitalist, anti-tuition, group to be absent from it? Do the claims about morality and a crisis of values by the “early risers” foreclose a critique of capitalism or could they be expanded to include it? Are there students among the early risers pursuing a leftist praxis? What are the conversations that are being had? What hope is there for students sympathetic to critique of capitalism, to introduce such analysis and opinion in this internal space?  How can we support that task?
The occupations are taking place in and affecting the context that Mariya Ivancheva has described as a “nightmare before Christmas” of violence and ethnic tension.

The context appears conditioned by biased use of the state security apparatus and “extra state” but partisan violence as Mariya Radeva described. How does the ethnic violence fit into the picture that the students act within or enact? Is it even relevant to speak about the ethnic make-up of the students? Have the students released any comments about the violence?  I understand that the occupation has also been the victim of “extra-state” violence. By whom?

Given the characterization of the summer protests as the provenance of the middle class, in what way might the university students be perpetuating or challenging this class positionality? Beyond the declaration, ate the serious conversations about the kinds of things that were the subject of the February protests? Where are the people who went out on the streets in February now? Do they have any connection with the students?  Finally, what arguments exist for or against tuition?  Can the students be brought closer to the global student movement with an analysis of debt (whether national or personal), or are their conditions too unique?

What does it mean for “occupy wall street” actors or popular resistance to support the student movements? Is it simply misrecognition, as some seem to think, or is a recognition by critics of capitalism of such instances of popular power also the invitation to a conversation?

Since the writing of this article, the early risers have produced new demands, which can be seen here https://m.facebook.com/RanobudniteStudenti?__user=202900015

I hope the conversation will continue on these pages as things progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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