Speculative remarks on political trends in the present U.S.
Hypotheses on reform and repression in the United States
1. The main response to social movements from on high is a repressive one and we know it’s a coordinated response, that’s clear. But how high up is “on high”? As in, who is making the calls on the repression? I think it is or at least has been relatively low level decision making and agency-to-agency information coordination rather than a high level consensus and centralized command. I think we’re seeing in action the relative autonomy of relatively low level state personnel, in a context of relatively inattentive and indifferent higher level personnel.
2. That will change quickly, it’s already begun to change and may have already changed. Higher ups are involved, but it’s not clear how much, in what way, and what the consensus is. With ongoing repression there will certain be lawsuits. Lawsuits are at best limited as a tactic, and they’re conservative as a strategy. At the same time, lawsuits are in part a site of conflict between different parts of government. There will be intra-government conflict over the behavior of the repressive apparatus of the state. This is already happening with immigration, as with the Department of Justice’s detained immigrant rights hotline. That’s not merely cosmetic; it represents different state personnel and agency perspectives on how to approach immigration issues.
3. Changes in how to handle social mobilization will result from movements’ actions and from intra-governmental conflicts. Changes in responses to movements that rely less on the repressive apparatus of the state will be taken by some people in movements as evidence of the workability of our current society. To put it reductively, less clubbing will mean more faith in the system for some people. This is part of why some government personnel will push for less clubbing. That said, the political content of changes in how government forces respond to movements is made, not given. What matters is how changes in state responses will affect working class anger and forms of struggle; that affect is a massively open question. Different political forces and outlooks will interpret changing responses in different ways and will aim to make their interpretation carry the day.
4. The heat of repression will be potentially transformative and radicalizing for some people. It will knit people together across political differences in positive ways. In the long term, this will be incredibly significant. A new generation of radicals will come out of this and for years they will talk about these events. In the short term, repression will also likely create situations encouraging political differences being papered over, because of the seriousness of repression and the good hearts of the people involved. That will probably give a kind of inertia to whatever the over-all tendency is in the groupings or mobilization that are running up against repression.
5. There is a rising current of reformist forces within social movements. Passive or tactical reformists will encourage working within existing institutions (elections and so forth). They will fail as much or more than they succeed at least for the short term. Militant reformists will play increasingly important roles, providing funding and personnel. Their militancy and the repressive response will minimize differences with them and radicals. Plus these terms are both blurry and in flux – who is a radical and a reformist isn’t easily apparent all the time and these positions aren’t fixed, they can change. The militant reformists will gain short term credibility in movements due to the existence of passive or tactical reformists but these forces will also work together quietly behind the scenes on some occasions. For example, the militant reformists will agree with other reformists that electoral reforms are needed, but will place less priority on pursuing that goal immediately in the near future, perhaps based on a different analysis of where institutions are at currently.
6. If passive or tactical reformism becomes politically viable it will be due to a combination of militant social movement action and response from those in positions of institutional power. The ideology and culture of those in power plays an important role here. If reformism does begin to get serious traction in institutions of official power, militant reformists will press social movements in that direction, drawing on whatever credibility (if any) they build through their militant participation prior to this turn.
7. Communist analysis and practice in the short term will be rare and will get little traction, not least because both will tend to be unclear in presentation and in content, at least initially.
8. People feel to a high degree the unacceptability of the current social order and the current efforts to make it all even worse. This feeling will increase. The intensity of this feeling will lead to counterproductive practical and theoretical responses to repression and to the failures of movements, including some potentially self-destructive behavior.
These speculations are pessimistic in the short-term but there are important potentials in the short term to lay the groundwork for the next cycle of struggles after the current cycle. How to maximize those potentials is a pressing problem but their existence is very encouraging. There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.