I am playing catch up with the recent dust-up around the choice of tactics used by Antifa in the United States in it’s struggle against the proto-fascist elements energized by the current Republican Administration led by Trump.  There are several sources in this brief overview, first from a academic journal to help with the context of state violence, then a rough sketch of the position taken by Hedges and Chomsky, and finally the reply found in Counterpunch.  The last article from Counterpunch, is a retort to Chris Hedges, a voice on the credentialed left who has taken a stance against the violent tactics used by Antifa.

We’ll be visiting Hedges’ article (and criticism)on Truthdig in a later post, but for now, examining the question of violence and how it is used, and by who it is used by in society provides a stepping stone toward providing a more nuanced entry into this debate.  To better understand how (in just one way) the state uses violence to arrange society we turn to an article written by Carol Nagengast, in the Annual Review of Anthropology titled Violence, Terror, and The Crisis of the State (p. 24): 

“The state must be a state of mind that divides people into the purified and honest who do legitimate work and a politically suspect or criminal,
deviant underworld of aliens, communists, loafers, delinquents, even thieves, killers, and drug lords who do not. The violent dissident must be positioned
and repositioned as necessary, “in a negative relationship with middle-class rational masculinity, a model that ensures a relationship of dominance and
subordination … by locking the two into a mutually defaming relationship”

     (16:15,21). In the United States, the presumed idleness of the unemployed, the poverty-stricken, the drug user or gang member, the single parent, gay man or
lesbian woman (all the latter with overtones of promiscuity and contagious disease) is also seen as violence against the social body. It cannot be just any
old work; it must be work that contributes to what dominant groups have defined as the common good (153).

     The hegemony of respectable culture and good taste and the denigration of what is represented as the disgusting, degenerate, worthless, criminal lower
parts of the social body is so strong that, according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News in September 1989, 66% of those surveyed
favored random searches of peoples’ houses, cars, and personal belongings, even if the police had no suspicion of any wrongdoing. Seventy-two percent
said they approved of censorship of any film depicting illegal drug use. People have been so inoculated with the fear of evil and with the myth of an essential
relationship of repression to the cure of society, that they are willing to give up some of their own rights for what has been defined as the good of the social
body

The questions the fascist/antifa situation embodies goes back to the genesis of why we have states in the first place and the techniques used (see the myth of the relationship between the use of repression to cure soceity) to maintain order in said States.  The use of fear to discipline society is nothing new, case in point, consider the the fear cultivated in the buildups to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The use/misuse of fear as a cultural motivator in Western society is being replayed yet again on the national (within the US) instead of international stage.   Looking toward answering the question of who gets to legitimately use violence in society with regards to the fascist/antifa question Noam Chomsky opines:

     “As for Antifa, it’s a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were,” Noam Chomsky told the Washington Examiner. “It’s a major gift to the Right, including the militant Right, who are exuberant.”  Many activists affiliated with the loosely organized Antifa movement consider themselves anarchists or socialists. They often wear black and take measures to conceal their identity.  Chomsky said, “what they do is often wrong in principle – like blocking talks – and [the movement] is generally self-destructive.”  “When confrontation shifts to the arena of violence, it’s the toughest and most brutal who win – and we know who that is,”

So, it would seem that Chomsky and Hedges, who cites this interview, believe that the antifa use of violence is not the correct course of action.  The counterpoint to their assertion comes in with

     “One crucial question in this regard is why the conversation about violence that is continually re-staged in the media overwhelmingly focuses on tactics of resistance by the underclasses. Among those who are vociferously proclaiming a pure form of “non-violence” as an unquestionable moral principle, who of them is arguing that this principle should be applied to the corporate state and all of its imperial endeavors? Alongside the countless statements reprimanding anti-capitalist activists for street scuffles, where are the articles calling for the dismantling of the military-industrial complex, the dissolution of the police force, or the abolition of the prison system? Why isn’t the debate around non-violence centered precisely on those who have all of the power and all of the weapons? Is it because violence has actually worked successfully in these cases to impose a very specific top-down agenda, which includes shutting out anyone who calls it into question, and diligently managing the perception of their actions? Is violence somehow acceptable here because it is the violence of the victors, who are the ones who presume to have the right—and in any case have the power—to define the very nature of violence (as anything that threatens them)?

     Clearly, the fetishization of non-violence is reserved for the actions of the underlings. They are the ones who, again and again, are told that they must be civil (and are never sufficiently so), and that the best way to attain their objectives is by obeying the moral dictates of those above. Let us recall, in this light, James Baldwin’s powerful statement in the context of the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s: “The only time non-violence is admired is when the Negroes practice it.”

So, what is the answer here?  How effective will violent leftist action be, and will the backlash further empower state repression?   Will the backlash continue to inoculate the citizenry with fear of violent ‘leftist violence’ thus justifying an increase in state use of coercive and repressive force against the left even though the initiators of said violence (aka the proto-fascist/nationalist Right in the US) are ultimately responsible for the situation in question?

 

Advertisements