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Monday, December 17, 2012

Anti-Governmentality is Functionally Pro-Violence

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:
Well, definitely the right-wing madness of the prison-industrial complex driven by the punitive-racist war on drugs and substituting for the public provision of mental health services, education, and basic housing must be regarded as a surreal failure in every imaginable way. Republicans hate government and so dismantled government and built prisons and arsenals instead. Time for democratic government of by and for the people to empty the jails of non-violent offenders and buy back the guns and to start building clinics, schools, and homes of by and for the people.
Side note, people drawn to anarchist theory who equate the state with violence should attend to this empirical connection of actually existing anti-governmentality and the facilitation and even suffusion of society with violence. As I regularly insist, democratic theory seeks to deploy the state-form precisely to provide non-violent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes (including disputes as to what properly constitutes violence), to provide a scene of informed non-duressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce, and to circumvent the structural violence of private abuse of public and common goods. This is not to deny the reality of violence in the policing of any order -- although I would insist that violence inheres as a permanent possibility in plurality and so precedes and exceeds states and hence cannot be eliminated through the fantastic elimination of the state -- but to deny the essential or exhaustive anarchist identification of the state with violence that yields all too often a reactionary hostility to or dismissal of democratic government even among notionally left-leaning anarchists.

11 comments:

ian paul said...

I think the main reason my hair stands on end when I read these attacks against left-anarchist thought is found in the way you champion specific expressions of the state-form (as a democratic body, a democratizing force, etc) to qualify the state, while simultaneously pointing to the most egregious examples of right-wing libertarian nonsense as somehow at the core of anarchist principles. I think, rhetorically, this is rather effective, but ethically and politically, is not helpful.

There are (and have been, throughout history), expressions of left-anarchist forms of organization that do not congeal into a state-form (at least as we would historically understand states) that also equally act to further the causes of nonviolence and democratization, just as there are countless examples of states that have very much been (by far) the greatest historical machines of violence. If anything, the left-anarchist forms of organization have not lasted historically because they fail to have the capacity to administer violence at the same scale as the state (the paris commune, the spanish anarchists, and the zapatistas perhaps being a contemporary exception).

I do not consider myself an anarchist for many discursive and historical reasons, but I also don't feel it's productive to establish these binary caricatures between the state and left-anarchism, when both offer liberatory potentials, lessons and traditions.

Dale Carrico said...

If this rhetoric provokes any left anarchists in the US who are otherwise dismissive of democratic politics to embrace them, then I can't think of anything I could say in this area that would be more helpful.

You know, there is a whole discourse on the tradition of council democracy that affirms the ephemeral forms of alternate governance you are identifying with anarchism (perhaps not exactly aptly in my view).

We live in America, and the sweeping reactionary ideological force of market spontaneisms conjoined to delusive assertive individualisms cannot be underestimated. The discursive terrain in Europe may be different enough to render anarchist theory less susceptible to reactionary appropriation (re-read Marx on Stirner and you may seriously reconsider), but that just cannot be said about the US. And don't get me started on aestheticized anarchisms that just amount to consumerism promoted as political intervention!

I get it that there are good, right-on-with-their-right-on people who are anarchist-identified whose feeling might be hurt by my mapping of the terrain here, but I say it's good for them.

Almost anything can potentially be appropriated or refigured progressively, you know, but that doesn't mean everything is everything else. Everbody draws lines and then has to sign. I'm happy to pay the price of the ticket.

ian paul said...

I understand that your rhetorical and political positioning is tactical in nature, but it still is in my view not productive. I feel the agitating-left in this country has been overwhelmingly and undeniably influenced by anarchist (and anti-state communist) politics over the last two decades, from the anti-nuclear movement, to the anti-globalization movement, and now with #occupy. I genuinely do feel there is a healthy discursive ecology for these conversations to inhabit and exist it.

The reasons I do not identify as an anarchist in public organizing environments is I think spurred on by similar concerns to the ones you're mobilizing (that in some ways it is equated with terrorism or libertarianism in popular discourses). That being said, I do think the radical-left in this country (or, what's left of one) is not in danger of adopting libertarian politics in their engagement with anarchist traditions.

Discursively, I'm happy to draw out arguments and rhetorics from anarchist struggles of the past in service of the current historical moment, given the proper context. I think if we were to sacrifice terms for their failures, we would quickly have nothing left to mobilize with ("democracy", as was used to mobilize for the war in Iraq, I think could be found equally guilty of being complicit in a neoliberal expression of society).

Dale Carrico said...

in some ways it is equated with terrorism or libertarianism in popular discourses

To be clear, I don't care that it is equated with terrorism in popular discourse -- most of my family equates anything to the left of Newt Gingrich with terrorism for example! And I do not think it is a popular misconception to structurally associate (not equate, exactly) left-anarchism with market libertarianism, so-called, I agree the affinities are very strong and I think they tend to be disavowed at the expense of clarity among the left anarchist-identified.

I don't deny anti-statism has been an influence in the progressive mix, hell that was true in the Founding era, the Progressive era, the New Left, and on and on, lots of things are **historically** in the mix, but that is a separate, and empirical, question from **understanding** that history or generating a **critical** vantage or **justifying** best practices.

These things matter to me as a teacher who is always teaching: In my view, any identification of the state-form with violence or exhaustive characterization of the state-form as violence undermines the capacity of democratic theory/ practice to deploy the state form in the service of creating nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what constitutes violence) and the maintenance of a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday life. I really do believe that, and I think it is important, and that is why I keep hitting on the point.

It's not that I am unaware of the vulnerability of the state-form to function in the context of class-struggle to violently maintain an already violent elite-incumbent order, it's that I critique that tendency from a democratic vantage that sees progressive struggle as a wresting of the state-form from elite-incumbency into government of by and for the people.

Anarchist anti-statisms provide a fatally impoverished vantage for constructive critique and are too prone to make activists mis-aim their tactics. None of the creative tactics or campaigns you are identifying with anarchism, by the way, are purely indebted to the anarchist left, are only employed by anarchists, or are not just as easily taken up by radical democrats to better effect than by anarchists in my view.

There are rich strains of radical democratic as well as of socialist aspiration in the best anarchists -- also, in my experience, there is better taste in music and some especially good fucks among them -- I'm not denying plenty of them are plenty fine etc etc, it's just that they are coming from the wrong place theoretically in a way that confuses the scene and frustrates world-building in my view. I simply don't agree that it is not "productive" to strive for clarity about these sorts of matters. One should try to think what one is doing, to quote Arendt. On the ground, in the midst of struggle, actually in an action you are already committed to for your reasons, of course, I don't think anybody spends time assuring themselves that everybody there agrees with them as to the theory before they proceed. But when the theory is what is discussed, you say what you mean and mean what you say, to put it bluntly.

ian paul said...

I think this is where my inner Deleuzian bumps against your inner Arendt. I suppose in the end (in discourse on blogs, or behind barricades in the streets) I would prefer having these political boundaries and distinctions be much more fluid and porous in the interest of fostering an ecology of these different traditions. I very much like the idea of having these positions as tools to deploy in different moments (An anarchist at the prison gates, a communist at the union meeting, an antifascist at the deportation hearing, etc). As you've pointed out, my bias is certainly towards "entanglement" and "assemblage".

When you say: "In my view, any identification of the state-form with violence or exhaustive characterization of the state-form as violence undermines the capacity of democratic theory/ practice to deploy the state form in the service of creating nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what constitutes violence) and the maintenance of a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday life. I really do believe that, and I think it is important, and that is why I keep hitting on the point."

My inner anarchist replies: "In my view, any identification of the state-form with nonviolence or exhaustive characterization of the state-form as nonviolence undermines our capacity to combat the extreme forms of violence that continue to be (and will always be) managed and perpetuated by the state and are specific to the state form, such as prisons, detention camps, deportations, etc.."

I find it much more interesting and generative to be somehow supporting both of these claims simultaneously, and letting the paradox have a life of its own in some way. I think to be in the fight for liberation one is always stuck in these contradictions. For example, the desire and fight to abolish gender (desubjectification) always runs against the need to make fight existing gender disparities within the registers of identity politics (resubjectification). I feel it's quite necessary to participate in both of these trajectories.

So, while I feel an affinity with your appeals for a democratic state, I also simultaneously seek to generate anti-state critiques, as in some way I think allowing these inner anarchists and communists to share a room is worthwhile and informative.

Dale Carrico said...

"In my view, any identification of the state-form with nonviolence or exhaustive characterization of the state-form as nonviolence undermines our capacity to combat the extreme forms of violence that continue to be (and will always be) managed and perpetuated by the state and are specific to the state form, such as prisons, detention camps, deportations, etc."

But doesn't it matter that I actually didn't propose the contrary identification or make the contrary exhaustive characterization? I **specifically** affirmed the indispensable reality of violence in the policing of order and the inderadicable vulnerability to violence in the state-form. Even classical liberalism grasped and decried these basic political realities.

My democratic position is far from stolid and static if it's fluidity you're looking for -- since it demands constant criticism and experimentation given the inherence of violence both in plurality as such as well as the vulnerability to violence in the contingent universality of legal form -- even if it is true that I have actually assumed a recognizable intellectual position here heaven help me.

Again, I have just said that democratic politics seeks to deploy the state-form to overcome violence, including actual violence on the part of the state itself. We simply don't need the vantage of anti-statism to critique state abuses -- indeed (broken record), I think anti-statism isn't a particularly useful vantage for the critique of specific state abuses if there are no non-abusive statisms.

By the way, I don't want to abolish gender either -- but to de-literalize and re-poeticize the actually existing available language of gender to render a more capacious space for legible desires and identifications. I only mention this because this politically queer strategy is for me analogous to the politically democratizing rather than smashing of the state.

jollyspaniard said...

The Spanish Anarchists were incredibly violent. Franco won in the end because the communists, republicans and anarchists started killing each other. Franco idled for a time and let this enemies do his job for him before rolling in and mopping up.

So if you want to hold up an example of left wing anarchism that didn't suceed due to a lack of violence I think you need to dust off a better example.

Apostolis said...

Revolutionary Marxists say that the state is controlled by the ruling class and that the violence of the state wants to prolong the current social structure.

Not only do Marxists make a critique on the Capitalist state, they also believe that when the revolution of the working class occurs, the new state will continue to be the dictatorship of one class, in this case the working class. And only in communism we will have no state.


Should we then abolish any views that talk about the democratization of the current state?
Absolutely not.

Abolishing the state is our strategy.
Democratizing the current state is a contemporary tactic.

After all, the experiences that are drown from the movements are the best way to learn the theory.

Abolishing the state will naturally feel extreme for those that didnt try before to reform the state.

As a general rule, politics should be based on reality, not the other way around, (reality distorted to fit our political theory).

This is a huge problem with theoriticians. Instead of trying to find common tools to analyze the reality and thus prove or disprove a claim, we just fight on the conclusions.

For example, concrete discussions would start with examining the current network of economic and political power.


Being a European citizen, I find interest in the differences of our political traditions.
Unfortunately, It seems to me that the anarchist antistatist beliefs can indeed lead into neoliberal views if they aren't accompanied with requests for a "big" social just temporary state.

Dale Carrico said...

Abolishing the state will naturally feel extreme for those that didnt try before to reform the state.

It won't feel like anything because it won't happen. Democratization can happen, and that will feel emancipatory to the extent that it does. Plutocratization can happen, and that will feel precarizing to the extent that it does.

anarchist antistatist beliefs can indeed lead into neoliberal views if they aren't accompanied with requests for a "big" social just temporary state

The social is never not administered, the struggle is over how democratic its governance. Of course, I am pleased by your concession that anarcho-discourse conduces to neoliberalism whatever the best intentions of its advocates. That's the key thing to keep in mind, even if you're not convinced yet. Just pay attention and you'll come around eventually.

ian paul said...

In having reflected on these exchanges, I wish to put forth another provocation. I believe that there are historical conditions (present and past) in which an anti-state stance is productive, useful and necessary, and would be interested to hear your thoughts.

In a significant way, the struggle for decolonization in much of the Americas often take on anti-state/autonomist/anarchist modalities. This is obviously most visibly seen with the Zapatistas, but also similar programs have been adopted by the Mapuche in Chile, or by various indigenous tribes in Canada (as has been seen in the recent “Idle No More” social movements). In these instances, the struggle against the continued genocidal policies of many of the nation-states is articulated in resisting the adoption of the European state-form itself (opting instead for indigenous forms of sovereignty and governance). I think this is an interesting case for us in the sense that it goes against your suggestion to simply attempt to democratize the state, and instead takes on insurgent or separatist forms. I would argue that these strategies also further the cause of democracy as a virtue of its anti-state stance, not despite of it (in claiming the importance of a kind of direct-democracy).

What do you make of these movements? Would you suggest they take on reformist positions? Are their claims to indigenous sovereignty neoliberal at heart? I understand you may simply respond and say that they are just participating in their own state form, but I think that this would be to miss the way in which the historical state-form in particular enabled colonization to occur materially and politically (and continues to enable it, in some regard).

I don’t mean to make light of any of this, but rather attempt to problematize the abstractions we so often find ourselves within. As I’m sure is more than clear, I’m not willing to chuck the anarchist tradition (I think we just make different claims as to what constitutes an ‘anarchist’ tradition, just as we perhaps would claim different things about what the ‘democratic’ tradition has produced).

I hope you’re well at the end of this year, and I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best,
~i


@jollyspaniard – I realize the anarchist militias were incredibly violent (such is war). I also have a very different understanding of the use of political violence than Dale does, and am not necessarily a proponent of ‘nonviolence’ rhetorically speaking. What I meant to assert was that they (by virtue of their antiauthoritarian forms of organization) they were incapable of organizing the scales of violences we’ve seen historically from traditional industrialized states. Franco won in part because of infighting, but also because of the vast amount of aid he had from other states (Such as the German aerial bombings), as well as hierarchical and centralized military.

Dale Carrico said...

Anti-colonial struggle has almost only taken the form of nationalist struggle, which is obviously not even remotely anarchist.

Democratization is a matter of giving more people more of a say in the public decisions that affect them, and there are endlessly many means of experimentally implementing improvements of that precept, and so I tend strongly to disapprove the use of the phrase "direct democracy" which seems usually to describe particular fetishized forms of popular-agency like ballot measures or absolute consensus in comparatively small and homogeneous decision-making settings and so on that sometimes do indeed work very well but also sometimes work less well than other ideas like periodic elections of representatives, but none of which are rightly thought as more perfect approximations of some one democratic eidos that crucially doesn't exist precisely because who the people are and what the public is and what constitutes having a say are all changing in history.

Every struggle you mention sympathetically (many of which I too celebrate substantively) would lose little and gain a lot by reframing its resistance as pro-democracy rather than anti-state -- to the extent that this isn't actually already happening.

Anarchists can contribute to democratization, hell, dumb plutocrats occasionally mistakenly manage the same. Political struggle is fraught with serendipities and opportunities. But if you would understand democratization, anarchism is a blind alley in my view, as you know.

You are, as always, a marvelous interlocutor, have a great new year, Ian!