Thoughts on #OccupyBrisbane so far

Occupy Brisbane is like nothing I’ve ever been involved in.

I’ve only been on the fringe of the Brisbane site (which had about 50 tents last night), as I’ve been mainly helping out with Facebook, Twitter and the website. But I’ve attended two General Assemblies, one very divided, and spent maybe ten hours on site, including two half-hour stints on the OB livestream.

The Left (no matter how broadly or weakly you define it) are in a minority at the Brisbane occupation. Brisbane has three small Trotskyite groups; no more than four or five people from all those groups are in any way seriously engaging with the occupation. On the weekend two of the groups set up tents to try to capitalise on public interest but the ones who weren’t here already usually don’t even stay around for the General Assembly.

The newest thing for me is a group called The Zeitgeist Movement, “an explicitly non-violent, global sustainability advocacy group”; it’s common to hear talk about them and their project of a “Resource-Based Economy” from the Brisbane occupation. I think linked with this is a significant strand of opinion on site that:

– opposes the flouridation of water

– opposes compulsory vaccination

– opposes fiat money and central banking [ADDITION: and fractional reserve banking], and

– has a generally conspiratorial, rather than systemic, view of politics

Magical thinking seems common in people who hold to some of these views. On Sunday I was at a General Assembly where the possibility of the police evicting the camp was discussed. One organiser seriously advanced the priniciples in The Secret as a guide to political action, and an attendee at the Assembly said that discussing a possible violent eviction meant it was more likely to manifest.

Some of this may have been an over-reaction; perhaps those opposed to violence feared that those who aren’t opposed in principle wanted to get it on with the police. But even if so such attitudes present wide political gaps between outlooks.

There is bitter opposition from some people to even acknowledgment of indigenous custodianship/ownership of land, discussion of female, queer or class oppression and so on. One tenet of the Zeitgesit movement I mentioned about is that divisions between nation, gender, class are denied, as described on the Australian chapter’s website:

The Zeitgeist Movement is not a political movement. It does not recognize nations, governments, races, religions, creeds or class. Our understandings conclude that these are false, outdated distinctions which are far from positive factors for true collective human growth and potential.


The most interesting conflict on site is about the idea of whether Occupy Brisbane is in fact political. This may be a mere confusion over terms in some cases where people assume “politics” is “what politicians do”. But there is also a strand of real hostility to any idea of systematic analysis of oppression.

However I’ve been learning a lot about getting information about an ongoing event onto Facebook, Twitter, our website, Livestream etc. I’m looking now for more people who want to make a team to do this sort of thing.

I’m also learning about what is and isn’t possible. I re-read Fascism and the Left the other day after I recommended it to someone else for its descriptions of pathological behaviour, but this paragraph in particular struck me:


“This article is not a plea for everybody to be more tolerant of everybody else. It is a call for sharper defence of our basic principles and less tolerance of attempts to undermine them. One cannot be a Communist if one is not first a democrat. The democratic revolutionaries of England, France and so on in earlier centuries had no hesitation about chopping off the heads of their aristocratic opponents and neither should we.”


This principle is bound to come into conflict with people at the Occupations and at would seem to make, at most, a unified short-term unification around reformist goals the most that could be widely agreed on by an Occupation. Perhaps a wealth tax” or a “People’s Bank” are the sort of things that could happen here.

It seems clear to me at the moment that to form a party contending for government is the last thing likely to arise out of the Occupy movement as a whole. I could see several possible parties arising from the various tendencies, but not one that could possibly encompass people who believe that politics drives human relations, and people who are avowedly non-political.

8 Responses to “Thoughts on #OccupyBrisbane so far”

  1. 1 jad

    Hi YM

    While it may have some loopy elements, I wouldn’t be too dissmissive of the Zeitgeist Movement. A lot of their ideas can be traced back to Thorstein Veblen, who has been discussed quite favourably on this site.
    Worth reading:


  2. 2 Deb

    I suspect that you have indeed spent only a little time onsite. Yes, coming from our extremely and sometimes diametrically opposed perspectives, semantics has been and will continue to be an issue of contention until the necessary conversations have taken place. Yes, there are proponents of Zeitgiest, Anarchism, Socialism – even Capitalism and a wide range of conspiracy theorists who, through their passion for their various ideologies have been quite vocal. Yes, there are some who believe the Occupy Movement to be apolitical and some who feel that it is by its very nature of wishing to change the way politics is done in our country, entirely political. As the conversations continue on these themes, it is becoming clearer that it is less that we disagree on the fundamentals than that we have different meaning generalities associated with specific terminology. Any aims of the movement need to come from a consensus of its members. To those who suggest that the Occupy Movement is aimless and incoherent, I would recommend a dose of viewing some episodes of Hansard. It is quite different to parliament in that there really is no cronyism occurring and as such, it takes time to reach agreement. My guess is that, since we are adamantly respectful in our disagreements, we will take less time to come to consensus than our political parties. That said, given that the Australian Senate and House of Representatives can take several months simply to agree on a topic of conversation, and then years to actually write and vote on any given law, we are doing a far better job of it. There are elements of many differing ideologies here, no one spiked the cool aid; we will defend the right of anyone to speak their truth, even if we vehemently disagree with it. What comes of this? I think there is nothing in history that can inform a prediction to that question. I think we need to just wait and see what all our minds come up with and try not to be disheartened by the lack of instant results.

  3. 3 Arthur

    Its certainly very inchoate but that’s both inevitable and positive.

    Australia isn’t in the same situation as other countries where the movement is much stronger so the weight of both fringe elements and “the usual” is naturally greater. But there certainly are new people involved and there is space in which ideas can contend and develop.

    I have a totally negative attitude to “the usual” “left” demos but a positive feeling about the potential of this one (despite the absurdities and the influence of “the usual”).

  4. 4 youngmarxist

    “But there certainly are new people involved and there is space in which ideas can contend and develop.”

    Yes, this is what’s really inspiring about the occupation. Finding ways for those ideas to really get thrashed out as publicly as possible is one of the exciting things happening right now.

    As the conversations continue on these themes, it is becoming clearer that it is less that we disagree on the fundamentals than that we have different meaning generalities associated with specific terminology

    Up to a point, but not entirely. As you know we’re busy working through the idea of “what do you think politics means” – but even after that’s been thoroughly thrashed out, it’s at least possible that people will still fundamentally disagree about EG whether an agreed platform of demands should be drawn up. Some people might regard such a platform as irrelevant to the change of consciousness they see as necessary, whereas I think presenting a platform to people is a fundamental part of changing society.

    I don’t regard this possibility of deadlock as a major problem though – the point is that these debates over what we believe are sharpening us up and opening us to new ways of working with new people, whether or not the Occupation has any formal result.

  5. 5 Bill Kerr


    “Any aims of the movement need to come from a consensus of its members … we will defend the right of anyone to speak their truth, even if we vehemently disagree with it”

    This not so new ethos of alliance politics is analysed in some detail by andy blunden. I don’t agree with a lot of his analysis but the description is useful in terms of understanding what is happening. Essentially we have a disparate group of demonstrators many of who have influenced by cultural relativism and post modernist thinking. They do not subscribe to rational or scientific thought. In fact rational, scientific thought may be the enemy that has helped to build the military industrial complex, greed, capitalism etc. But they are nice people who support the oppressed in a vague sort of way provided they don’t have to think about it too much:
    – anti war (war kills people)
    – solidarity with indigenous people (but don’t look too closely at dysfunctionality in indigenous communities)
    – save the planet (capitalism is destroying the environment)
    – personal liberation (rights are more important than responsibilities)

    Any argument about these self evident truths is automatically dismissed as people who have been duped as brainwashed by the capitalist machine. As Deb implies everyone has the right to speak but no one has the responsibility to think rationally.

    Given the abandonment of the universal principles of The Enlightenment, that scientific progress and knowledge is a universal good, Andy argues that the only basis left for unity here is the need to collaborate around particular short term actions. That there only remains an ethical basis of collaboration keeping the whole thing together. Consensus meeting policy is the linchpin principle which prevents any old style majority rule socialist types from taking over and trampling on the rights of the majority. In this context any cutting edge demands, such as a wealth tax on the top 1%, will never be adopted. I’d recommend reading Andy’s paper for a more detailed description of alliance politics. I haven’t described his paper accurately here but have presented my interpretation of what follows from it. My feeling is that new “ordinary” people who join the Occupy movement will become frustrated with this consensus politics and then either drop out or will support efforts to replace it with something more focused.

  6. 6 Bill Kerr

    “Consensus meeting policy is the linchpin principle which prevents any old style majority rule socialist types from taking over and trampling on the rights of the majority”
    replace the final word majority with minority.

  7. 7 Arthur

    I think the consensus stuff is actually more naive than that.

    eg Today there was no consensus between staying at RMIT and moving elsewhere, so “moderator” proposed that we do both! (ie those who wanted to stay, stay and those who wanted to go, go).

    Naturally that got no support so he said “I guess that was a stupid idea” and everybody clapped good naturedly at the acknowledgement of a simple mistake.

    After further discussion there was still no consensus so the “moderator” AGAIN tried to propose that as though it was some new idea that had emerged from the discussion (despite having already been unanimously rejected and NOBODY having spoken in favour of it).

    At that point I moved no confidence in the chair and eventually forced a vote on that (which wasn’t taken properly but was not clearly carried so I backed off).

    Lots did support no confidence in the chair, while others were extremely offeneded at this confrontation.

    My assumption is that nobody would behave that stupidly either as intentional manipulation or on the basis of the theories about “consensus” Andy describes.

    Obviously you do not build consensus by splitting when there is disagreement and you cannot successfully manipulate a meeting by putting proposals that have been unanimously rejected. So I assume a lot of the confusion is non-malicious lack of any clear conception at all.

  8. 8 pseudonymous

    Hi there,
    Arthur, if your reading, I met you last saturday night (29/20/11), and I am the young guy that you rebuked for discussing sectional left wing parties such as SAlt, Socialist Alliance and Maoists excessively, and which you tersely described as ‘nonsense’.

    While I can respect, as a man of the left, your conceivement of the “Langer Vote” (and you were right, you are apparently fairly famous, this fact led me to your website,) some of the political beliefs that are both expounded and implied in the articles on this website, are nothing short of bizarre. They appear to be a sort of strange melange of Neoconservative-style foreign intervention, techno-utopianism, one-world globalism & some sort of notion that “money” should be abolished. These opinions of yours I derived from the reference section of your wikipedia article, btw. Needless to say though, this stuff is all batshit-crazy.

    It’s also astounding that one can in the past take such a principled stand on the Vietnam War, which is creditable in its own right, yet also once be a cheerleader for George w. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Especially since the Casus Belli for this war was predicated on the trumped-up charges against the Iraqi “fascist” Baath party, of possessing weapons of mass destruction. This sort of war-mongering attitude doesn’t belong in the 99% movement.

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