Friday, August 19, 2011

States are, after all, ultimately forms of violence

There is another factor here that is even less remarked, but I think equally important. Everyone knows that faced with a broad and potentially revolutionary coalition, any governments’ first move will be to try to split in it. Making concessions to placate the moderates while selectively criminalizing the radicals — this is Art of Governance 101. The US government, though, is in possession of a global empire constantly mobilized for war, and this gives it another option that most governments do not. Those running it can, pretty much any time they like, decide to ratchet up the level of violence overseas. This has proved a remarkably effective way to defuse social movements founded around domestic concerns. It seems no coincidence that the civil rights movement was followed by major political concessions and a rapid escalation of the war in Vietnam; that the anti-nuclear movement was followed by the abandonment of nuclear power and a ramping up of the Cold War, with Star Wars programs and proxy wars in Afghanistan and Central America; that the Global Justice Movement was followed by the collapse the Washington consensus and the War on Terror. As a result early SDS had to put aside its early emphasis on participatory democracy to become a mere anti-war movement; the anti-nuclear movement morphed into a nuclear freeze movement; the horizontal structures of DAN and PGA gave way to top-down mass organizations like ANSWER and UFPJ. From the point of view of government the military solution does have its risks. The whole thing can blow up in one’s face, as it did in Vietnam (hence the obsession, at least since the first Gulf War to design a war that was effectively protest-proof.) There is also always a small risk some miscalculation will accidentally trigger a nuclear Armageddon and destroy the planet. But these are risks politicians faced with civil unrest appear to have normally been more than willing to take — if only because directly democratic movements genuinely scare them, while anti-war movements are their preferred adversary. States are, after all, ultimately forms of violence. For them, changing the argument to one about violence is taking things back to their home turf, what they really prefer to talk about. Organizations designed either to wage, or to oppose, wars will always tend to be more hierarchically organized than those designed with almost anything else in mind. This is certainly what happened in the case of the anti-nuclear movement. While the anti-war mobilizations of the ‘80s turned out far larger numbers than Clamshell or Abalone ever had, but it also marked a return to marching along with signs, permitted rallies, and abandoning experiments with new forms of direct democracy.

No comments:

Post a Comment