It’s time to acknowledge that the Occupy movement began as an anarchist movement. Adbusters, the magazine that started the ball rolling, describes itself as “anti-consumerist,” but it’s arguably anarchist, or at least heavily influenced by anarchists.
The hand signals now commonplace at Occupy originated with the Direct Action Network, a confederation of anarchist groups formed to coordinate WTO protests in 1999. And the whole concept of the consensus process used at the general assemblies comes straight out of anarchist organizing manuals.
Mainstream commentators are baffled, because they are trying to define how this horizontal, leaderless movement intends to influence top-down, authoritarian politics. They don’t realize that the movement was designed from its outset to replace mainstream politics with a horizontal, leaderless society — building a new society in the shell of the old, as the saying goes.
There are no demands, because the movement is the demand.
Most of the occupiers probably don’t even know this, but it was those familiar with anarchist thought who picked up on these themes and became the early adopters of the movement. Anarchists still represent a minority, but they hold many key organizing positions.
Admittedly, most of them are social anarchists, not market anarchists; but I’m still hoping that the movement expands into a full-blown autonomous anarchocommunist experiment, because nothing spoils someone on communism quite like actually trying it. (Or I could be proven wrong. Either outcome would be excellent.)
I do have one piece of advice. It strikes me as strange that the “social-justice” crowd focuses on legislative processes like democracy, when justice comes from a judicial process. The movement needs to develop a judicial branch for dispute resolution. I suggest that the Occupy movement look to the existing anarchist judicial method in Somalia, which anthropologist Michael van Notten calls “kritarchy.” It could easily be adopted with or without approval from the general assemblies.
Kritarchy is a judicial process in which justice (“krito” in Greek), rather than written law, is the ruling principle. A kritarchy does not form a court of law. It forms a court of justice, which is completely compatible with the horizontal, leaderless nature of the Occupy movement.
There are two types of justice, commonly symbolized as the sword and scales. The sword connotes punitive justice, which assigns punishment for breaking written laws. The scales connote restorative justice, which holds that a person is liable for the damages they cause another person. Kritarchy is only concerned with restorative justice, not punitive justice.
Until someone claims to have suffered an injustice, all behavior is permissible. Disputes are mediated by judges, but it’s important to understand that judges do not enjoy any special status. They serve only at the request of the disputants. Anyone in the community may serve as a judge, or request a judiciary be formed, so a court of justice is truly a people’s court.
A simple kritarchy involves just three people: two disputants and any third person they approach to help them resolve the injustice. The judge investigates the conflict and attempts to discover the justice between them — to balance the scales. This could be as simple as mediation or as complex as weighing evidence and witness testimony.
The judge decides a case based on the normative customs of the community and the reason and conscience of the disputants. This judicial model is elegantly suited for the Occupy movement, because it’s not based on written law, and it can accommodate a wide diversity of philosophies.
The seeds of a simple kritarchy are already developing in the movement. Normative customs emerge out of people’s natural respectful conduct without any written law or central coercive authority; and there are already individuals in the movement developing a reputation for diffusing conflicts. They are commonly being called “peacekeepers.”
Peacekeepers are already engaged in the first phase of the judicial process in a kritarchy, which van Notten calls “segmental opposition.” Whenever there is a physical altercation between two individuals, those around them move in to establish a stalemate so that the dispute must be settled with words instead of fists. All that would need to change to make this a simple kritarchy is to transition from having proactive peacekeepers who break up fights to having proactive disputants who seek out peacekeepers to act as judges.
A recent conflict that occurred at OccupySF (San Francisco) could easily have been resolved by a simple kritarchy. Someone left his guitar in the common area while he went to the restroom. While he was gone, another Occupant used it without permission and accidentally broke one of the tuning pegs. This erupted into shouting. Segmental opposition prevented a physical fight, but justice was never satisfied.
A court of justice might have decided that the guitar player was liable to replace the broken part, or that the guitar owner was negligent in leaving the guitar in the common area. But either way, the discussion would happen in public, which facilitates the development of normative customs.
Hopefully the disputants honor the decision of the court, but if they refuse, they do so with their own names and reputations on the line.
Enforcement of a verdict requires a more complex level of kritarchy, and it would likely require the participation of the general assemblies. Somali society is organized into extended clans, called xolos, each composed of many subclans, called jilibs. Somali clans are unified by family ties, but they could be replaced by self-selecting groups based on common philosophies or goals. The regional occupations, for instance, could replace extended clans: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Denver, Occupy Phoenix, and so on. And the autonomous groups within each occupation could replace subclans.
Clans serve two basic functions for the judicial process. First, judges emerge from the confidence of subclans. So if a dispute occurs between individuals in different subgroups, they may select a judge from each subgroup to decide the case. Second, clans maintain communal funds that members voluntarily contribute to. This fund serves many purposes. Among them, it operates as a social insurance for every member against liability. If a person owes restitution that they cannot or will not pay, the responsibility falls on the subgroup to cover the liability with the communal fund.
This ensures that victims can always be made whole, and also incentivizes clans and subclans to enforce verdicts on their own members, because they are ultimately liable for the damages. The regional occupations already have substantial communal funds of donations that could easily serve this purpose.
A conflict at Occupy Oakland can help illustrate how a complex kritarchy operates. During one of the marches, the windows of Tully’s Coffee were broken. This was particularly egregious because the owner of Tully’s Coffee had been a substantial supporter of the occupation. The cafe is adjacent to Oscar Grant Plaza, and the owner had allowed activists to use her restrooms and Wifi Internet, and she had made donations of food and money.
The specific activists who broke her windows are unknown because they cover their faces with bandannas, but the subgroup is known and had a regular tent site. In a kritarchy, the owner of Tully’s Coffee could serve a claim of injustice against the offending subgroup. A judge representing Tully’s Coffee would approach a known judge inside the subgroup and request a Court of Justice be convened, and the two judges would attempt to find agreement over the liability.
If the individuals who broke the windows will not take responsibility, the damages can be paid by the subgroup collectively. Holding them accountable for their actions would incentivize them to be more judicious with their tactics in the future.
But imagine that an agreement could not be reached. In that case, a third judge would be approached from the extended clan, meaning the general assembly of Occupy Oakland. If this third judge awards damages and neither the individuals nor the subgroup will abide by the verdict, the restitution would come out of the occupation’s general fund.
First and foremost, this prevents the movement from losing the support of its productive members because of the injustices of its destructive members; but also, by placing the burden of injustice on the general fund you express clearly that the movement will not tolerate injustice internally, and you cause a huge hit to the reputation of those activists who refuse to balance the scales.
If the price of injustice becomes too great, and reputations become too poor, an individual may be cast out of a subgroup, or a subgroup may be cast out of the occupation to preserve justice. Social ostracism is sufficient to enforce the vast majority of verdicts in Somalia, and it would likely be the only mechanism available to the Occupy movement. (Also, in a kritarchy, an outcast no longer enjoys the protection of any court of justice until they offer restitution.)
Developing a judicial branch of the movement also has exciting and powerful long-term potential. If a simple kritarchy can become a normative custom and a complex kritarchy can become as firmly established as the general assemblies are, then we will be able to begin developing a real alternative to the state monopoly of the courts.