Hypotheses on reform and repression in the United States

Hypotheses on reform and repression in the United States

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.

Comments

syndicalist
Jun 1 2012 02:51
Quote:
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.

We would sorta see the social democracts in some of the left wing of the trade union bureaucracy of the early-mid 1980s in that regard. these were mainly the supoprters of DSOC (now the Democratic Socislists of America). De-industrialization, concecessionary bargaining, etc. set the social democracts off the political program and into their free fall in waging any sort of "anti-corporate" (let alone anti-capitalist) fight against the bosses economic on-slaught.

Juan Conatz
Jun 1 2012 05:56

This reads like a couple Facebook conversations...

On the militant reformism thing, obviously we've seen some attempts of that with 'The 99% Spring', which has been a non-starter in some places, but has been relatively big in others. Should be pointed out that here in Minneapolis, SEIU is a big pusher of Occupy Homes, and I've heard it been described that they and the people they are close to are the real shotcallers there. Not very surprising as that local is pretty big and has always tried to be a point that the progressive left circles around, but you see what I'm saying.

I'm actually surprised the mainstream unions haven't used Occupy as unpaid, non-member foot soldiers more often. SEIU used the threat of an Occupy picket on May 1st to win a dispute with an employer here, but I haven't heard about stuff like that too much. One reason is probably because of Longview and the mixed relationship between Occupy and the ILWU. But another is that I don't even think a lot of people in the labor movement think anything is wrong.

One thing on the issue of militant reformism that I think we've discussed is tactical elevation. The lines have been drawn for a long time with tactics and they mostly correspond to political perspectives. But this wasn't always the case and will change. SEIU, for example, I think has long desired to be the mass movement that forces a FDR's hand. Its just now this is more possible. In a similar fashion that I have problems with some anarchists elevation of democracy as an overarching, unchangable principle, there's also issues of tactical elevation. I don't think looking at tactics as inherently anything is useful.

Your last point (number 8), I think we saw with May Day. Occupy just can't draw the numbers it could in the fall. This makes sense, Occupy started as a meme with a relatively low bar of participation. It gave a voice to a post-economic crash of 2008 perspective that previously was dominated by the Tea Party and wasn't expressed in a formal, mass way. Even if people didn't come around, the general senitment was that the campers were saying the right things and therefore also had a right to camp. Police cracking heads angered many and resulted in the increased participation. But winter wiped away most of the encampments.

In that time, a few things happened.

1)Right wing reacted. Even up until the late fall, there was a confused, cautious and contradictory response from the right1. But now, that doesnt really exist anymore. Although it has had mixed success, the reaction came in full swing, with highlighting certain negative parts of the movement, trying to redbait it, tying it to Obama, etc.

2)Violence. I don't think it can be downplayed how big of a thing the black bloc in Oakland during November 2nd was. And since then. As more eyes have been on the West Coast in the winter, black blocs have forced an argument on pacifism vs. violence. A lot of people have been turned off. This has been helped along by journalists like Chris Hedges.

On May Day, we saw that Occupy can't draw the numbers it could in the fall and among the people it can draw, there are many ready for more militant tactics. I mean, just a couple years ago, a block smashing shit in Asheville was highly controversial, even for some anarchists. This May Day we saw property destruction and civil disobedience in a lot of places, and it really didn't receive a lot of controversy within the anarchist or Occupy movement.

But also, if the Occupy movement declines as tactics rise in intensity, we're gonna see more repression and more frustration. The FBI entrapment cases are a good example of this. We will see more of these types of tragedies.

  • 1. This was also when Occupy itself was more of a mixed bag politically, with a sizeable chunk of Ron Paulites involved with weird conspiracy theorists and even fascists attempting to involve themselves. Since then, what can be broadly called the left won out.
Juan Conatz
Jun 2 2012 09:56

I forgot to mention the upcoming elections. It has yet to be seen what effect this will have. Obviously the level of interest there compoared to 2008 isn't the same but not sure if or when that will change

klas batalo
Jun 3 2012 16:58
Quote:
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.

What does this mean actually? On the surface it just seems to be a very blatant statement, like communists or pro-revolutionaries don't know what they are talking about, let's all be sad.

Or maybe I'm not understanding it at all?

baboon
Jun 3 2012 17:40

I think that while it involves many agencies repression in the USA, like all the major capitals, is organised and generated at the highest levels of the state.

There's a good piece on Obama in The Observer today focussing on his rapidly expanding Drone Wars (it discretely ignores the British ones) saying he's getting away with much more than Bush. The drone "kill list" of the administration defines a terrorist as "any military age male in the strike zone when the drone attacks". Many civilian families have been killed.
This is just indicative of how Obama and his national security policy has built and expanded over and above his predecessors. There's greater crackdowns on whistleblowers and there's a massive expansion of the National Security Agency's internal surveillance. "Foreign Policy" magazine says that "Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids".
The administration has used the WWI anti-spy laws more times that all previous administrations combined and the newly built Utah Data Centre will store everything from phone calls to card payments. And the National Defence Authorisation Act is virtually open-end as to who is a terrorist sympathisers.

I think that the bourgeoisie is well aware of the dangers it is facing and acts from the highest level.

Nate
Jun 3 2012 19:59

Baboon, there's clearly concern at all levels of the state but I don't know that there's evidence that the repressive apparatus is responding to social movements in a coordinated planned way - or rather, the character of that coordination is unclear. I'll have to find it but I read an article recently that argued that DHS in the US is coordinating the response to Occupy, and suggested that it had been all along. The actual evidence presented in the article, though, suggested to me that DHS were (at the time discussed in the piece, last November or so) scrambling to play catch up with local agencies who were either acting on their own or coordinating in a relatively decentralized fashion in part through nonstate groups like the police chiefs association. I'm sure that coordination happens and is changing, but assuming it's currently centralized isn't necessarily accurate.

Sabotage, I meant that communists are relatively few, relatively disorganized, and have a lot to still figure out currently. Does that seem inaccurate to you? (At least in the US.)

klas batalo
Jun 4 2012 00:39

thanks that was much more clear nate! smile

Nate
Jun 4 2012 01:17

Sure thing. And also, I think that communist perspectives will not be popular or pleasantly received a fair bit of the time. Some of this because of flaws in the formulation and delivery and some of this because people will disagree with them/reject them. That'll probly make it harder for communists to move forward.

syndicalist
Jun 4 2012 14:32
Quote:
communists are relatively few, relatively disorganized, and have a lot to still figure out currently. Does that seem inaccurate to you? (At least in the US.)

"Communists"? Left-communists, council communists?

Nate
Jun 4 2012 15:53

Libertarian communists, I was being sloppy in a hurry. It's short-hand for 'radicals that people like us can live with'. No ulterior motive there, not trying to sneak in a political point under the rhetoric, if I had written it more slowly and carefully I'd have been better on the terms. I realize people use that term in a bunch of different ways and some people don't like the term.

syndicalist
Jun 4 2012 16:28
Nate wrote:
Libertarian communists, I was being sloppy in a hurry. It's short-hand for 'radicals that people like us can live with'. No ulterior motive there, not trying to sneak in a political point under the rhetoric, if I had written it more slowly and carefully I'd have been better on the terms. I realize people use that term in a bunch of different ways and some people don't like the term.

Naw, I didn't think you were trying to pull anything.
I just hate the unhyphenated word "communist". Just way to bolshevik for me. But I was unsure of what part of the milieu you were refering to.

Juan Conatz
Jun 5 2012 09:53

Actually kind of thinking about WI, since today is the recall election of the governor...one could see the movement there, or what it ended up as, as a kind of militant reformism. Not the same thing as what you mean, really, but its an example of an electoral minded social movement, the kind we saw with Obama in 2008 to a certain extent and hadn't really seen since maybe Eugene McCarthy.

Nate
Jun 8 2012 14:41

Juan, yeah I agree. I think some of us in the IWW felt into that a bit, where we were long on militancy and short of other perspectives. I'm thinking of that first pamphlet, the one I helped co-write.

also, on reform, this proposal about student loan forgiveness is relevant I think - http://www.forgivestudentloandebt.com/content/student-loan-forgiveness-act-2012-hr-4170-bill-text

Nate
Jun 19 2012 19:02

To substantiate at least a little bit...
I mentioned this article in a comment above - http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1163 - it argues that homeland security coordinated police response to occupy. I think its evidence doesn't actually show that. Some quotes from the article and comments --

"Washington and the DHS, along with the FBI, was the nexus of the crackdown, orchestrating it, encouraging it, and attempting to cover its tracks."

But then "on November 9, two days after a demonstration by 1000 Occupy activists in Chicago protesting social service cuts in that city, the NOC Fusion Desk relayed a request from Chicago Police asking other local police agencies what kind of tactics they were using against Occupy activists. They specifically requested that information be sought from police departments in New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. Denver, Boston, Portland OR, and Seattle -- all the scene of major Occupation actions and of violent police repression."

If the feds were already coordinating then why would the DHS need to ask for info rather than provide it? And why wouldn't Chicago already have it? And "On December 12 (...) the NOC “went into high gear” seeking information from local field offices of the Department of Homeland Security about what actions police in Houston, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles planned to deal with Occupy movement actions."

The police response at least in some places was already quite harsh before November 9. Scott Olson was injured in Oakland at the end of October, for instance.

And, "a Dec. 5 copy of the “Weekly Informant, ” an intelligence report published by the DHS’s Office for State and Local Law Enforcement (...) includes an update from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) concerning the activities of the Occupy Movement. PERF (...) is the group that the federal government claims organized a series of multi-city law enforcement calls to coordinate the police response to Occupy, which led immediately to the wave of violent crackdowns." It was mid November when Jean Quan talked about being on a conference call. None of this suggests to me a strong coordinating role for DHS at least from the outset. If anything I think the article shows DHS trailing behind and trying to get involved to begin playing a coordinating role in response to initiative starting elsewhere.

I do agree about "the massive hypocrisy of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, which this election year have tried to co-opt and claim as their own the anti-fat-cat theme of the “We are the 99%”-chanting Occupiers, while actually acting in the interest of Bank of America and its fellow financial sector mega-firms in trying to crush the movement itself."

The NOC Fusion Desk that I mentioned, it's an information and coordination sub-body of the DHS, DHS sets them up, according to the article. About Chicago, the article claims that the DHS was coordinating the police response nationwide. If that's the case then why would Chicago need to make that kind of request? It seems to me that if DHS was already effectively coordinating in the way the article claims then Chicago PD would have already had the info and not needed to request it. And, if DHS was already coordinating like that, then why would DHS need to pass the request on to other PDs? Because if they were already coordinating like that then DHS probly would have alraedy had the info Chicago was requesting.
The stuff Jean Quan mentioned was probably by PERF, which the article mentions. http://www.policeforum.org/about-us/ They're an NGO that does think tank and coordination work among cops. So I don't think the Quan stuff is evidence of coordination specifically through the feds. I think this not least because, like I said, there were information requests made that seem pretty late to me, if the feds were doing what the article says at the time the article says they did it. They may well be coordinating things now, that would make sense. I just don't think the article is convincing when it claims to show DHS coordination at such an early level. I think a more likely scenario here is the feds playing catch-up, I think the evidence shown in the article supports that more than it supports the author's claims.

Nate
Aug 16 2012 16:12

On current repressive measures in the US as centralized or not -
http://coreyrobin.com/2012/08/15/crackdown-on-occupy-probably-not-organized-by-the-obama-administration/

"The issue is not whether the administration participated in or was somehow involved in the crackdowns. (...) The issue in dispute (...) is whether any outside agency had “some unseen hand directing, incentivizing or coercing municipalities to [crack down] when they would not otherwise be so inclined. (...) needless to say, nothing in this post is a defense of the Obama administration’s record on Occupy or much else"