Filed under: Critique, The State, US
You know that Trump is a scary fascist stirring up xenophobia and that Hillary is a war monger co-opting “feminism.” But here’s the thing: Bernie effectively served as the establishment’s sponge, soaking up the mess of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Bernie Sanders channeled the energy from these movements and campaigns into the mire of electoral politics, where despite Bernie’s best intentions, no consequential change will ever occur. Rather than bringing the “political revolution,” his campaign reigned in radical activity by reducing us to deferring to the state for change. Had Bernie won, any changes we got would have been too little, too late.
Now that Sanders’ moment has passed, you may be feeling disillusioned. Many of us have held hope in progressive politicians—Nader or otherwise—at one point in our lives only to have that hope dashed. The question is, where to go from here? There are a number of directions the anti-establishment energy upon which Sanders has capitalized within the US will flow. Some will resign themselves to attempting to push the Democrats to the left, supporting Clinton while gearing up to run another social democrat such as Elizabeth Warren next time around. Others, inspired by examples such as SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos in Spain, will try to build a new progressive party to challenge the stranglehold the two major parties have on political power in this country. Many will lapse back into apathy or despair and return to bingeing on Netflix. And some who are fed up with petitioning the government to stop being so terrible and who yearn for a life worth living will instead set out not to reform governance but rather to oppose it in all its manifestations, from the parties to the cops to the seemingly benevolent social workers. We want to lay out why the latter approach is vital. If there’s one thing we know it’s that we have nothing but contempt for this world of environmental destruction, continuous war and racial apartheid.
Agitating for the reform of the American state demonstrates a fundmanetal misunderstanding of the history of this world we inhabit. The economy, as well as the states and corporations which compete for control of it, was birthed by the extermination and enslavement of hundreds of millions across every inhabited continent on earth. Furthermore this destruction has never ceased, as it is necessary to continuously deploy new waves of expropriation and violence to resuscitate the economy during the periodic crises of capitalism. In this context, arguing that positive social change will come through electing a president who will more generously distribute the spoils of this destruction among the citizens of a single country is naive at best and incredibly self-serving at worst, ignoring all the past, present and future suffering upon which this wealth is based.
Aside from this, recent events in Greece clearly show that running so-called ‘movement friendly’ candidates in elections is a waste of valuable time and energy. In 2015 Greek citizens voted the party SYRIZA (an acronym standing for Coalition of the Radical Left) into power based on their promises to end austerity and confront the bureaucrats of the IMF and the EU, who were looting the country as payment for unsustainable loans that the Greek government had taken out (under pressure from these same institutions) back in 2008 in order to bail out the private banks. SYRIZA promised to play hardball in order to force these institutions to agree to write-off some of the debt. However, seven months into their reign, following an exodus of capital from the already emaciated Greek economy, SYRIZA signed on to a new round of austerity including further slashes to pensions and public spending and a massive fire-sale of public property, including priceless historic and environmental sites. All of these conditions were mandated by the IMF and the EU in exchange for further loans to keep the government solvent, even though the IMF’s own research clearly showed that these further cuts would cause the economy to contract even further, inevitably precipitating another crisis (leading to another round of loans and another round of cuts) a few years down the line. Many have argued that the reason these institutions pushed and continue to push loans they know are toxic is because they have never been primarily concerned with being paid the money “owed” them by the people of Greece. Rather they are carrying out their assault on the living standards of these people in order to discipline them for the fierce rebellions of the past eight years and in order to demonstrate to the much larger populations of states like Spain, Italy and France, all facing impending debt crises of their own, that resistance will not be tolerated.
Just as the IMF predicted, the policies implemented “with reluctance” by SYRIZA have proven to be even more destructive for the people and environment of Greece than the policies of the previous government which SYRIZA came to power by opposing. The reason SYRIZA was forced into going against its stated ideals is that it simply had no bargaining power with which to bring about the changes it promised. Heads of state are powerless to challenge the inherently violent logic of the capitalist power structure from within and devoid of any vision for life outside of the miserable train which they find themselves piloting. Every second we spend paying attention to them is a second we could spend talking to each other. Now, as before, the only real threats to capitalist hegemony in Greece lie in the street-based movements that are fighting borders, looting supermarkets to give away the food and attacking destructive industrial projects such as mining and logging operations. The only difference is that now the militarized police that are deployed against them are commanded by a party ‘of the radical left.’
At the end of the day the actions of governments are not expressions of “the will of the people” or any such nonsense. Governments, whether totalitarian or democratic, always have been and always will be tools by which to manage the inherently unstable process of accumulation, keeping it from overextending itself and bringing about the collapse of the whole tower of bullshit. Governments do this by channeling popular discontent into ineffective forms of resistance, granting cosmetic changes that do nothing to alter the underlying structures of domination and violently crushing those who persist in rebelling. Contrary to what we are taught in school, positive changes that have occurred since the founding of this country have not taken place because of the benevolence of patriarchs like Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR or LBJ. Governments adjust their oppressive structures only when they are forced to by the threat of insurrection. We should oppose them not in order to force them to give concessions or govern more humanely but instead to destroy the power that gives them the ability to so throughly fuck our lives over in the first place. The more we do this the more we will open space to live our lives as we wish.
There is no concrete program of how we should go about doing this. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s not as simple as joining an organization or signing a petition. An autonomous and anti-hierarchical oppositional practice will take patience, experimentation, and a willingness to learn and be challenged on the part of each of us. There will be as many different practices of rebelling as there are rebels.