One of the things that I said in my speech about ALL to the Libertarian Party of Clark County, which was deliberately provocative and carefully worded, was
I am here today to bring you two messages. So let me cut to the chase and deliver both of them right now. They are the point of this entire talk, and I can put them both in ten words or fewer. Here’s the first: Las Vegas will be free soil in our own lifetimes. And the second is: We are all going to make it happen. That may seem ridiculously optimistic, given the immensity, the scope, the pervasiveness, and the ruthlessness of the many-headed monster we call the modern State. I try to discuss a bit in my speech why it is not overly optimistic, focusing on the second claim — that we all, meaning not ALL or the Libertarian Party, but just about everybody in Las Vegas — can and will take part, if those of us who care about these things play our cards right, through the use of populist organizing, coalition building, direct action, and counter-economics.
But another thing that I didn’t focus on much, which I’d like to mention, is the importance of the first thing I said, when I said Las Vegas will be free soil. I said that, and not something else (
the U.S. will be free soil;
the word will be free soil) because I think that’s an achievable goal. It’s not that I don’t want the whole U.S., or indeed the entire earth to be free soil; it’s not even that I think either couldn’t be free soil in the forseeable future. They could; I hope they will; if I can help, I will. But Las Vegas is where I live, and where Southern Nevada ALL intends to act, and I think it’s immensely important to begin there, and not to sell yourself on the idea that action has to be directed against the largest possible targets, or, more importantly at trying to strike some decisive blow at those targets that will somehow defeat Power everywhere and forever. Real empires almost never fall that way, unless they are conquered by some outside force, usually another rising empire, and for anarchists that’s not an acceptable option. So we need to think about getting the empire to crumble, not to implode, and to help it along by chiseling wherever and as hard as we can. If we win, it will crumble in some places faster than it will crumble in others. The basic problem is that a central aim of the imperial State has always been to get people to forget, effectively, about their neighborhood, their friends, their family, and everything else actually around them, and to understand their
homeland in strictly political terms, in terms of a flag and a set of lines on the map and a capital hundreds or thousands of miles away. If anarchists ever want to get anywhere, we’re going to need to break that link, to pry people’s notion of home from out the talons of the State and its notion of political citizenship. Which strategic point brings me to a really excellent recent post by Jeremy at Social Memory Complex (2008-06-13), which is working towards some of the analysis that goes along with:
Or does our whole approach to this dissonant national endeavor need retooling?
I think it does. Is the lobbyist-driven agenda of corporations, special interests, and political culture really any less distant than U.S. foreign policy? Do we have any authentic control over the decisions in our society that affect us? Or are we just treated as fungible units of polity that have only to be deftly mobilized by public relations wizards in pursuit of an agenda fundamentally alien to us? What, in other words, is the difference between our powerlessness within the borders of the U.S. and the powerlessness endured by the residents of Iraq and Afghanistan?
Instead of contrasting our experience under our government with that of its foreign victims, we might do well to compare the experiences. We’ve been taught from a very young age to distinguish American citizenship from that enjoyed by citizens of other countries, chiefly by virtue of our unique institutions of governance. But it is these same institutions that are being built in Iraq: a democratic, constitutional government with corporate control and obedience to international capital, with an established U.S. military presence to ensurestability in the region. These features are proving just as confounding to their freedom as their American counterparts are for us.
Through overwhelming military force, claims of moral privilege, and alleged threats – not unlike the P.R. which allowed the U.S. to conquer the west and the south in the 19th century and frame it asliberation– the U.S. government is imposing a democratic government and a market economy on an unwilling people. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is also continuing to ratchet up the police state at home even as it practices martial law in Iraq. Just as there were Tories and other people loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, the federal government finds plenty of lackeys in the fifty states, Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed throughout the world to do their dirty military or paramilitary (law enforcement) work. Legislative creep and sheer audacity constantly expand the scope of lawful authority, defining down the degree of liberty an individual can expect to enjoy. Participation in the decisions that affect us is framed as a set of predetermined choices provided by the establishment rather than a direct say at the local level. And all of these features bring more and more of the world under direct control of Washington – both the world within U.S. borders and the world outside them.
For it is into Washington, in the District of Columbia, that all the spoils of these policies flow. The D.C. metro area is among the fastest growing in the nation, despite having no productive civilian industry to speak of (except perhaps I.T., but no more than any other city if you discount government contracting). Not only is it the seat of governance for the country, it is the clearing house for the international policy of most nations. By enticing Americans to “work within the system” to influence policy, citizens legitimate the process by which power and authority are steadily concentrated. An entire lobbying industry has sprung up from the need to have some say in this process; doing business in the empire has a high cost of entry, and once you get a seat at the table it’s plunder or be plundered. As more people see D.C. as the place where decisions are made, rather than local governments or foreign capitals, the amount of money and people pouring into the city will continue to grow, while localities and other countries become bureaucratic appendages of D.C. policy.
But it’s not just that Washingtonians rule over an overseas empire; it’s that domestic U.S. territory is increasingly treated as part of the conquered territory, rather than as the source of state legitimacy. Sure, we have elected representatives we send to D.C. from all over the country, but experience shows that only in the rarest of occasions do they not adopt the Beltway outlook of going along to get along with the system. Instead, theyplay the gameto bring home as much of the spoils of empire (taxation and government contracts for further imperialism) as possible. In the process, they cease to represent their constituents in D.C., preferring to represent the Washingtonian agenda in their respective localities. They become little Paul Brehmers, advocating policies that promote the more effective rule of the domestic and foreign empire. They measure success in terms of how they can coax or coerce the locals into compliance with necessarily foreign interests.
If it is policies in Washington, D.C. that are changing this country into an empire, it is inaccurate to label the empireAmerican. Clearly, the vast majority of Americans are not participating in it, but are merelypreferred subjectsin territory as occupied as that in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the decision-making bureaucracy, military might, and economic clout are all based in Washington, doesn’t it make sense to call this system the Washingtonian empire, rather than conflating it with the disenfranchised subjects in the fifty states? It’s no more an American empire than it is an Iraqi or Afghan one.
The Washingtonian Empire is the largest, richest, most powerful, most hierarchically distributed, and most subtly maintained in history. It is so successful that it has even managed to proceed with its agenda without much notice as to its true nature. We should stop trying to get people to take responsibility for the decisions of a foreign city-state, because this only encourages the conflation of their American identity with an alien one.
By drawing on our revolutionary, anti-colonial legacy, we can frame the American political experience as one of historically consistent subjugation. We can then find common ground with other victims of American imperialism while articulating an authentically decentralist agenda.
Make sure you read the whole thing, especially Jeremy’s very salient discussion of the impact of this kind of analysis on strategy.
Let me just add that one of the most important dimensions in which to emphasize the nature of
America as occupied territories is the connection with the daily lives of the most thoroughly oppressed and exploited people under the bootheels of the United States government and its praetors and proconsuls: especially black people, brown people, poor people, immigrants, people labeled crazy, women (especially the women most marginalized and criminalized by the government and civil society), etc. etc. etc. During the 1960s, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and many other New Left liberation groups explicitly linked the conditions and struggles of people in the brutally police-occupied, white-controlled ghettoes of the U.S. — which were founded in slavery, lynch law, apartheid, and immiserating land grabs, which were treated politically as presumptively criminal, unruly elements of the body politic, to be reformed, contained, or eradicated; which were regimented and patrolled on every street corner by the occupying paramilitary forces of the white government — with the conditions and struggles of colonized peoples throughout the so-called Third World, recognizing that just because the lines on the map separated Harlem and Watts from Johannesburg and Nairobi, the people in each had far more in common with each other than any of them had with the handful of white men sitting in the halls of power in D.C., in London, and elsewhere. The false dignity of a morally and practically meaningless imperial citizenship was dismissed; in its place was offered self-understanding for people facing the violence of colonization and solidarity with people rising up against Power in their own homelands throughout the world. In the 1970s, Detroit feminists elaborated the thought by pointing out that, in an important sense, women throughout the world constituted a
Fourth World, which faced subjugation and colonization at the hands of petty patriarchs and male States, whether those sites of colonization were located in the capitals of
Third World regimes. Anarchists can and should learn these lessons well, and take the thoughts to their logical completion, by showing how the State, just as such, always and everywhere, operates as a colonizing force, against all its subjects, and for the profit of the handful of beneficiaries who constitute the ruling class. (Of course, the fact that it operates like this against us all does not mean that it operates this way against all of us to an equal degree. The point here is not cheap sympathy; it’s solidarity, especially with those who are the most trodden upon by this monster State.)
While the legacy of 1776 is worth understanding and learning from, and an important weapon to turn against the power in Washington; but so are many other things, and I think it is vital for the Libertarian Left to take up and learn from this tradition in articulating our anti-imperial theory and practice.