No, I’m Not Tom Frank’s Doppelgänger—and Other Clarifications

I’ve been meaning to link to, and clarify, my recent piece at Jacobin.

Posted last week, the essay is on Occupy ‘s aversion to politics and it is, I’ll concede, quite critical of the movement. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a curmudgeon, dumping on Occupy as they do vital work in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I was in New York City last weekend and helped out in Staten Island, an area with a minimal Occupy presence compared to the Rockaways. As a result, I wasn’t able to get a sense of what the post-hurricane resurgence might mean, if anything, for the democratic left more broadly. Instrumentalist metrics aside, though, this is the time when mutual aid, overtly political or not, is most beneficent.

So if my affection didn’t come through in my essay, let me state it here explicitly: I still love Occupy, foibles and all, and Sandy has only reinforced that. I don’t want to be thought of as Tom Frank’s dismissive doppelgänger. I retain a visceral affinity for Occupy, the kind of affinity that develops when you see a previously moribund, dejected left awakened and people’s lives transformed in a few short months.

A few other things: Some readers seemed to think I was equating politics with electoral politics. I quoted Joseph Schwartz in my essay, so I’ll quote him here:

The uniqueness of political activity lies in its authoritative allocation of values. Political action renders judgments that are legally—ultimately, forcibly—binding on the members of that community. Such activity, when carried out democratically, involves the citizens of a polity engaging in a public allocation of goods which takes precedence over social relations deemed to be voluntary or private.

I’ll use the heavily publicized Rolling Jubilee campaign to illustrate my point. Doug Henwood has articulated the most persuasive objections debt-based organizing (see here, here, and here), but bracket that for a second. If we grant that debt is a good thing to organize around, the telos of such a campaign should be to abolish debt en masse, via state action. Actions to bring that about would be political. I have a fairly expansive view of what constitutes politics, but the actors in question have to, in some fashion, at least eventually, engage directly or indirectly with the state.

I think I might have presented my argument somewhat confusingly, because I elided this point and another one: I see the political process as a means toward achieving a genuinely egalitarian democracy, but also, following Bernard Crick, as normatively desirable in and of itself. Chris Hayes explained it well several weeks back:

I also think my process-as-an-end argument led some to people misread me as a social democrat. I’m no such thing. I call myself an egalitarian leftist to give myself some wiggle room, to ward off dogmatism, but, effectively, I’m a democratic socialist; I’m an anti-capitalist and a proponent of economic democracy. Social democracy isn’t my preferred terminus. I fully recognize—and loathe—the limits of bourgeois democracy, to put it in Marxist terms. Political equality in a class society is an impossibility. The question is how we get from the imperfect here to the more perfect there. I value the conventional political process because it mediates conflicts that would otherwise turn bloody. Holding this view isn’t tantamount to proposing insipid reformism. In the immediate term, for instance, I like Andre Gorz’s notion of non-reformist reforms.

With all that said, I was really honored to appear in the (online) pages of Jacobin, one of my favorite publications. I hope you’ll check out my piece if you haven’t already.

Shawn Gude

Shawn Gude is a writer, graduate student, activist, and assistant editor at Jacobin. His intellectual influences include Chantal Mouffe, Michael Harrington, and Ella Baker. Contact him at or on Twitter @shawngude.


  1. Decentralization as an organizing principle is common to both OWS and Anonymous.
    “do what you like, we’ll help you learn how to do it better.”

  2. If we grant that debt is a good thing to organize around, the telos of such a campaign should be to abolish debt en masse, via state action. Actions to bring that about would be political.

    The ones that brought about the Rolling Jubilee idea more than likely concluded that’d be impossible. What route would be available to prove that wrong?

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