Saturday, March 17, 2012

From #Ur-Occupied Boston (#Ur-Tomemonos Boston)-General Assembly-The Embryo Of An Alternate Government-Learn The Lessons Of History-Lessons From The Utopian Socialists- Robert Owen And New Lanark

Click on the headline to link to the archives of the Occupy Boston General Assembly minutes from the Occupy Boston website. Occupy Boston started at 6:00 PM, September 30, 2011. The General Assembly is the core political institution of the Occupy movement. Some of the minutes will reflect the growing pains of that movement and its concepts of political organization. Note that I used the word embryo in the headline and I believe that gives a fair estimate of its status, and its possibilities.
An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend All The Occupation Sites And All The Occupiers! Drop All Charges Against All Protesters Everywhere!
Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It, It’s Ours! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!
Below I am posting, occasionally, comments on the Occupy movement as I see or hear things of interest, or that cause alarm bells to ring in my head. The first comment directly below from October 1, which represented my first impressions of Occupy Boston, is the lead for all further postings.
Markin comment October 1, 2011:

There is a lot of naiveté expressed about the nature of capitalism, capitalists, and the way to win in the class struggle by various participants in this occupation. Many also have attempted to make a virtue out of that naiveté, particularly around the issues of effective democratic organization (the General Assembly, its unrepresentative nature and its undemocratic consensus process) and relationships with the police (they are not our friends, no way, when the deal goes down). However, their spirit is refreshing, they are acting out of good subjective anti-capitalist motives and, most importantly, even those of us who call ourselves "reds" (communists), including this writer, started out from liberal premises as naive, if not more so, than those encountered at the occupation site. We can all learn something but in the meantime we must defend the "occupation" and the occupiers. More later as the occupation continues.
In the recent past as part of my one of my commentaries I noted the following:

“… The idea of the General Assembly with each individual attendee acting as a “tribune of the people” is interesting and important. And, of course, it represents, for today anyway, the embryo of what the “new world” we need to create might look like at the governmental level.”

A couple of the people that I have talked lately were not quite sure what to make of that idea. The idea that what is going on in Occupy Boston at the governmental level could, should, would be a possible form of governing this society in the “new world a-borning” with the rise of the Occupy movement. Part of the problem is that there was some confusion on the part of the listeners that one of the possible aims of this movement is to create an alternative government, or at least provide a model for such a government. I will argue here now, and in the future, that it should be one of the goals. In short, we need to take power away from the Democrats and Republicans and their tired old congressional/executive/judicial doesn’t work- checks and balances-form of governing and place it at the grassroots level and work upward from there rather than, as now, have power devolve from the top. (And stop well short of the bottom.)

I will leave aside the question (the problem really) of what it would take to create such a possibility. Of course a revolutionary solution would, of necessity, have be on the table since there is no way that the current powerful interests, Democratic, Republican or those of the "one percent" having no named politics, is going to give up power without a fight. What I want to pose now is the use of the General Assembly as a deliberative executive, legislative, and judicial body all rolled into one. In that sense previous historical models come to mind; the short-lived but heroic Paris Commune of 1871 that Karl Marx tirelessly defended against the reactionaries of Europe as the prototype of a workers government; the early heroic days of the Russian October Revolution of 1917 when the workers councils (soviets in Russian parlance) acted as a true workers' government; and the period in the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 where the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias acted, de facto, as a workers government. All the just mentioned examples had their problems and flaws, no question. However, merely mentioning the General Assembly concept in the same paragraph as these great historic examples should signal that thoughtful leftists and other militants need to investigate and study these examples.

In order to facilitate the investigation and study of those examples I will, occasionally, post works in this space that deal with these forbears from several leftist perspectives (rightist perspectives were clear- crush all the above examples ruthlessly, and with no mercy- so we need not look at them now). I started this Lessons Of History series with Karl Marx’s classic defense and critique of the Paris Commune, The Civil War In France and today’s presentation noted in the headline continues on in that same vein.
A Five-Point Program As Talking Points

*Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay to spread the available work around. Organize the unorganized- Organize the South- Organize Wal-Mart- Defend the right for public and private workers to unionize.

* Defend the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray Republican) candidates. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized and other labor-specific causes (example, the November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio).

*End the endless wars!- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops (And Mercenaries) From Afghanistan! Hands Off Pakistan! Hands Off Iran! Hands Off The World!

*Fight for a social agenda for working people!. Quality Healthcare For All! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! Forgive student debt! Stop housing foreclosures!

*We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. Build a workers party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed.

Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!
Robert Owen and New Lanark

A Man Ahead of His Time

Robert Owen (1771-1858)

Robert Owen was a man ahead of his time. During his lifetime, he endeavoured to improve the health, education, well-being and rights of the working class. This driving ambition to create a better society for all took him around the world, from a small mill village in Lanarkshire in Scotland to New Harmony, Indiana in America with varied success. Although, he encountered much criticism and opposition in his lifetime, he influenced reformers who came after him and many of his views are as relevant and resonate today in their modernity and progressive nature.


Born on the 14th May 1771, in Newtown, a small market town in Wales, Robert was the sixth of seven children born to the local saddler and ironmonger. He was an intelligent boy who read avidly, loved music and was good at sports. He began his career in the textile industry early on, from around the age of 10. By the time he was 21 he was a mill manager in Manchester. His entrepreneurial spirit, management skill and progressive moral views were emerging by the early 1790s. In 1793, he was elected as a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, where the ideas of reformers and philosophers of the Enlightenment were discussed. He also became a committee member of the Manchester Board of Health which was set up to promote improvements in the health and working conditions of factory workers. Meanwhile, in Scotland, New Lanark Cotton Spinning Mills were being established. This enterprise was to prove pivotal in Owen’s career as a businessman and social pioneer.

New Lanark – Beginnings

The story of New Lanark begins with the River Clyde. In 1784, an enterprising and far-sighted Scot, David Dale embarked on an ambitious plan to found cotton mills powered by the natural energy of the powerful Falls of Clyde in Lanarkshire. Dale was already a very successful businessman and a member of Glasgow’s entrepreneurial elite. At New Lanark, he built 4 large mills and solid stone housing for his mill-workers. It was to become the largest cotton- manufacturing establishment in Scotland with a living and working community of 2500 at its height, with many early workers coming from the Highlands and later, Ireland. Cotton was spun there for almost two hundred years.

David Dale was, for his time, considered an enlightened employer and although he employed pauper apprentices, the education and welfare of his workers were important to him.

When Dale sold New Lanark Mills to his new son-in-law Robert Owen in 1799, little did he know that this would become “the most important experiment for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world. “ Robert Owen.

A Model Community

Under Robert Owen’s management from 1800 to 1825, the cotton mills and village of New Lanark became a model community, in which the drive towards progress and prosperity through new technology of the Industrial Revolution was tempered by a caring and humane regime. This gained New Lanark an international reputation for the social and educational reforms Owen implemented. New Lanark had the first Infant School in the world, a creche for working mothers, free medical care, and a comprehensive education system for children, including evening classes for adults. Children under 10 were not allowed to work in the Mill.

Leisure and recreation were not forgotten; there were concerts, dancing, music-making and pleasant landscaped areas for the benefit of the community.

When Owen opened the Institute for the Formation of Character, which was effectively a community education centre for his workers, he outlined his visionary plans for an astonishingly progressive and enlightened system of education which he believed was the key to a happier society, and universal harmony.

"What ideas individuals may attach to the term "Millennium" I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”

Extract from Robert Owen’s "Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark"
New Year’s Day, 1816

Inspiring a Modern Approach

While at New Lanark, Robert Owen demonstrated management policies that are now widely recognised as precursors of modern theories relating to human resource management, as well as skilful and ethical business practice. His work inspired infant education, humane working practices, the Co-operative Movement, trade unionism, and garden cities.

Even today New Lanark attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see the historic buildings and visit the award-winning Visitor Centre. Robert Owen’s legacy continues to inspire New Lanark Trust, the independent Scottish charity which is dedicated to restoring and caring for the historic village of New Lanark in Southern Scotland. The site is now a World Heritage Site. Visit for further information.

His Works

In his lifetime, Robert Owen was a prolific writer and campaigner. Read extracts from a selection of his writings on:

A New Society for a New Millennium
Social Inclusion and Early Intervention
Working Conditions
Employment Training
Child Care/ Workplace Nurseries

Rules for the Inhabitants of New Lanark
The Environment
Health, Preventive Medicine & Health Education
Care for the Elderly and Infirm
International Co-operation
Campaign for Universal Harmony

Find out more about Robert Owen

For further information about New Lanark World Heritage Site click on the link:

Owen's inspirational and influential ideas are explored in film in New Lanark Visitor Centre. The Quest for Universal Harmony highlights the continuing relevance of Owen's ideas to today's society. For information about visiting New Lanark World Heritage Site go to

Recommended Reading

•Robert Owen, A Biography
F. Podmore [Allen & Unwin, 1906]
•Life of Robert Owen
G. D. H. Cole [Macmillan, 1930]
•Robert Owen: Prince of Cotton Spinners
ed. J Butt [David & Charles 1971] [ ISBN 07153 51648]
•A New View of Society and Other Writings by Robert Owen
edited with an introduction by Gregory Claeys, [Penguin Classics 2007] [ ISBN 0 14 043348 1]
•Historic New Lanark
Donnachie and Hewitt [Edinburgh University Press, 1993][ ISBN 0 74860420 0]
•Selected Works of Robert Owen in 4 volumes
ed. Gregory Claeys [Pickering 1993] [ ISBN 1 85196 088 0]
•David Dale of New Lanark
David McLaren [Caring Books, 1999] [ISBN 0 9523649 3X]
•Robert Owen: Owen of New Lanark and New Harmony
I Donnachie [Tuckwell Press, 2000]
[ ISBN 1 86232 131 0]
•Nomination of New Lanark for inclusion on the list of World Heritage Sites
Historic Scotland [2000] [ ISBN 1 903570 00X]

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