Toward an American Revolution
Exposing the Constitution and other Illusions
A Song Without Knees
One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge...[our] consciousness. Functionally, oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it.
When Protestors Become Police
We are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society...We must see that the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together, and you really can't get rid of one without getting rid of the others...The whole structure of American life must be changed.Many of us might agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. that the whole structure of American life must be changed. John Judge, a researcher in California who, after comparing the irrationality of our political economy with Germany in the 1930s, was asked, But where are the camps? Judge responded:
There are camps. There's slave labor here in the United States. It's hidden under the corporate fronts, on the privately owned farms, in certain industries. But it's here if people took the time to look at it. It's in the institutions. It's in the prisons, the pyschiatric prisons, the legal prisons that are our Third World, that everyone turns their face and attention away from. It's in the VA [Veterans Administration] where people are used 80,000 a month as human guinea pigs to test the drugs and the new techniques for the medical and psychiatric facilities. It's out in the streets where the homeless are not caged, but left to die, left to be surplus population, left to be useless eaters. People are not picked up and put into ovens, ovens are dropped out of the sky, white phosporous and napalm in Vietnam and El Salvador and in the countries that are attacked. It's still genocide. It's still aimed at the same target and it still comes in the end to the same thing. And should power ever shift on this globe, should this ever not be six percent of the population consuming sixty percent of the energy and thirty percent of the resources of the world. And should we ever be held accountable, ask yourself honestly how different will the testimony be from that of those fascists in Nuremberg at the end of World War II, how different from the testimony of Contragate, that I was only following orders? I did what I was told. I was supporting murder, sabotage, death, in the name of freedom, anything in the name of freedom, someone's freedom, somewhere - certainly not the people under the gun, but for their version of freedom and their version of democracy which means class privilege as opposed to their version of communism which means democracy and democratic control.1Suggestions that something is fundamentally wrong with our political economy and the Constitution are more than difficult to accept; they are difficult even to reflect upon. It is far easier to live in the comfort zone and seek happiness, as The Director would have us do, in liking what we have got to do. Even in our protests we slide away from a direct confrontation of the structure of American life. We tend to avoid the harsh implications of reality and cling to the image of the United States as a basically free and democratic country in the way that one clings to prayer beads or a good luck charm. The axioms of empire have become the axioms of faith. The result is that instead of effective radical politics, our movement tends always to be divided into two main camps. One camp, composed of Congressional Technocrats, insists that the problems we face are problems which can be dealt with by working through the system; politics for them is essentially legislative work. In the second camp are Abstract Spiritualists who believe that the problems we face are problems that can be solved through individual commitments to spiritual renewal, peace, non-violence, and justice. For them political work consists, essentially, of acknowledging that a life force, or god, exists in every human being and in expressing the kind of respect for others that befits a peace-loving community. In neither camp is the Constitution and the global capitalism it supports pointed to as a feature of our existence that is in need of radical change.
These two categories are somewhat artificial as are most analytical tools. It is possible that there is no real single person that fits neatly into either category and certainly there are groups and ways of thinking that overlap both and then some. Moreover, I wish to state very clearly that this analysis is not an indictment of the people involved in doing political work in either camp. Rather it is an attempt to identify a very dangerous tendency. Because each group is marked by a failure to confront the system, it carries within it an implicit endorsement of the system and a very real tendency to discipline, if not purge, those protestors who seek to pursue a strategy which does have as its center an indictment of the whole structure of American life. There is a dynamic, then, which moves protestors to become police.
Congressional TechnocratsThe first responsibility of the federal government, as we have seen, is to promote economic growth. And those people in the private sector who own industries in the growth sectors also own the goose that lays the golden egg. They set the policy agenda. This has been the theme so far. The theme which I wish to develop in this section is this: legislation, of necessity, fits within and becomes part of this overall process of expanding the opportunities for investment and profit, and of limiting political opposition so that it too does not challenge the assumption that all of this makes for a free and healthy society. The legislative process is an instrument of conquest and social control. Therefore when we do legislative work, without at the same time trying to expose and challenge its limitations, we inadvertently become complicit in the act of conquest and our efforts at social change slide into measures of social control. Before we go further, let us identify some obvious limitations that need to be challenged.
The Bias of Congressional ActivityHave you ever wondered why certain policies, while opposed by a majority of U.S. citizens (such as the funding of the Contras or the production of more nuclear weapons), continue to be promoted, financed, and implemented year after year? The explanation has to do with what is called structure . And as we have seen, the Constitution was designed to permit large property owners to have more power or influence over public policy than the majority of people with little or no property. People of property were thought to be wiser; the political tendencies of common people were distrusted because the have-nots tend to challenge the privilege of the haves. The legislative process was and is, in addition to being a process where laws are made, a mechanism intended to insure that common people not discover their own strength. Let us see exactly how this happens.
A legislative process governed by simple majority rule would look something like this: there is a single body of representatives. Legislative proposals are introduced, debated, and voted upon. If a majority of members vote for the proposal, it either becomes law or, depending on the kind of constitution, sent on to another branch of government. Our system is not like that. First, there are two legislative chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, each with different rules. All legislation must be passed by each chamber in identical form before it can become law. And within each chamber, work is done by committees; that is, bills are routed through a series of committees within each chamber. Therefore, there are numerous places at which bills may be blocked or checked and majorities defeated. In other words, powerful interests opposed to any piece of legislation have multiple opportunities to shoot it down. Only a few bills of the ones introduced ever become law. For example, of the 7,458 bills that were introduced into the House of Representatives in the 97th Congress (1982-83), only 251 actually became law or about 3 percent.2 To use Madisonian language, the process is one of refinement and filtration.
We could spend quite a bit of time going over the legislative process, but that would be as tedious and as boring as the subject of our study.3 The conclusion we might draw, however, after having studied the legislative process in detail is that it is not only complex, it is biased. As many students of Congress have noted, The American system of federal government was designed with the intention of making sweeping, decisive reform difficult to enact...[It has] a bias toward `doing nothing.'4 Doing nothing, of course, maintains the status quo. But the bias in question does more than give advantage to those opposed to reform. It gives, as was intended, great advantage to property. For example, a group of gas and oil companies known as the Alaska Natural Gas Consortium wanted to bring gas from Alaska to consumers in the United States. They went before Congress in 1981 and argued that because Alaska gas was expensive compared to Texas and Louisiana gas, tax payers should help pay for the cost of doing business. Congress agreed and a bill was passed stating that if the market price of the gas turned out to be so high that it could not find a market in the lower forty-eight states or if the pipeline was only 70 percent completed, the cost would be paid by the consumers who would have gotten the natural gas had the pipeline been completed. Potential liability? Forty-five billion dollars.5 I think most would agree that such legislation is controversial. But it passed rather easily because it was consistent with the function of the government to promote economic growth and to protect the freedom and privilege of large property owners. The legislative or filtration process as conceived by the Framers was designed to check the compulsive passions of common people because of the anticipated resentment which common people would feel from being used and which would issue in challenges to the prerogatives of private power.
We can better understand the legislative bias when we note that congressional activity itself is but the most visible aspect of the legislative process. Less visible is the very structure of political-economic power in which it is lodged and in which corporate elites set the legislative agenda. Less visible still is the corruption and covert legislation that is required by a system which is committed to both protecting privilege and maintaining the appearance of democracy. It is to the less visible structure of power that we now turn.
Structural ImperativesMark Green, in a study exposing the enormous collusion between large corporations and members of Congress, has written, The point is not that members of Congress are corrupt. Few are. It's the system that's corrupt - a system that provides nearly irresistible temptations to public office holders.6 Green is referring to the constant need of members of Congress to raise money for re-election campaigns and the constant willingness of corporations to engage in various forms of bribery. The dairy industry's conversion in 1971 of its half-million line of credit with Congress into a half-billion in extra income is pretty common stuff. But tales of corruption only remind us that corporate leaders will cheat even when the deck is stacked in their favor. The primary function of the government has always been to advance the interests of the property owning class against all others. It is a structural imperative. Their interest is the national interest. The drafting of major legislation has always been rooted in the need to promote the interests of whatever happens to be the major industries - from shipping, tobacco, and cotton on up to the defense related industries of today.
Consequently as the U.S. economy became truly international in character, most major legislative initiatives emerged not from Congress but from the executive branch which is a far more effective representative of multinational corporations than are the 535 members of Congress with their parochial interests. For example, between 1882 and 1909, Congress was responsible for drafting 55 percent of the major laws passed while between 1933 and 1940 that percentage had dropped to 8. Also through the creation of the Bureau of the Budget in 1921 (now the Office of Management and Budget) and its movement to the Executive Office of the President in 1939, revenue raising bills, in effect, no longer originate in the House of Representatives as stipulated by the Constitution. While this violates the letter of the Constitution, it does not violate its spirit: major legislation is still initially drafted by private elites or their representatives. It is just that today, the global nature of corporations has rendered Congress and the interstate industries for which it was created somewhat anachronistic. As Ira Katznelson and Mark Kesselman reaffirm, Most major bills are drafted in the executive agencies and are put on the president's legislative program, which becomes the basic legislative agenda.7
But what are executive agencies? They are the government's host of corporate lobbyists, which in 1983 was estimated by Fortune magazine to consist of an army of 92,500 or 6 percent of the entire Washington labor force. In addition to bribes, they provide Congressional staffs and executive agencies with information and analysis necessary to draft legislation. During the energy crisis of 1973-74, the government continued to rely heavily on, of all disinterested observers, the oil companies and their lobbyists for data on oil and gas supplies...8 But this is a pluralist system. Anyone is free to organize. Tenants' rights organizations can compete with urban real estate magnates, mortgage bankers, downtown merchants, and developers for the attention of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Quite often lobbyists are dispensed with and members of the executive branch, Congressional leaders, and executives meet and bargain directly. In June 1981, when the smaller, more conservative wing of big business was about to succeed in drafting tax reform measures that would have hugely slashed personal tax rates for top income brac-kets, the Business Roundtable (a group of about 200 of chief executive officers of the nation's very largest corporations), worried that personal tax cuts would risk increased budget deficits and jeopardize many corporate tax breaks, called an emergency meeting. The result of the meeting was that executives of America's top firms descended on Washington in droves, for an orgy of lobbying that became known as the `Lear Jet Weekend.' Working directly with White House officials, other business groups (such as the American Council for Capital Formation, the American Business Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers), and leaders of the congressional Ways and Means Committee, the Business Roundtable's conception of tax reform prevailed. Normally, such emergency action is not necessary. The different sets of big-business coalitions work very closely together to form what are often quaintly referred to as political parties. And it is through political parties that private elites choose the congressional leaders (the Speaker of the House, Majority Leaders, Minority Leaders, and party whips in both chambers) who are, essentially, corporate gate-keepers positioned strategically along the legislative path.9
Today, with the American empire in decline, the projection of force and power abroad and the imposition of economic repression upon workers in the weakest sectors of the economy at home (sacrifice) have become structural imperatives. Policy options have narrowed. Congressional debate and competition has fallen to unprecedented levels, while most campaign contributions are invested in incumbents, who in 1984 won 96.4 percent of all congressional races. An ominous consensus has emerged and it is within this very structured set of options, called reindustrialization, that Congressional Technocrats must, with their meager resources and divergent views, pressure Congress.10
The basic thrust of reindustrialization is to move away from a liberal approach to state intervention in the economy where the imperial dividends of an expanding empire were once sufficient to pay for a variety of limited social programs. The newer approach, based on the shared understanding that the imperial dividends are drying up and America's economic pie is shrinking, requires that the state curtail business regulation (`deregulation'), subsidize businesses with a promising future in the international economy, reduce taxes on capital and savings, increase depreciation allowances, decontrol oil and natural gas prices, subsidize a shift from oil to coal, give private management more help in improving worker productivity, and sharply increase military production.11
Business Week, in June 1980, spelled out the new reality confronting embattled elites: no longer could they comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because it severely limits corporate payments of fees to obtain contracts abroad. In other words, bribery is a necessary part of doing business. Trade embargoes designed to protect human rights must be abandoned; they limit sales of grain and high technology equipment to the East bloc. The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty needs to be reconsidered because it limits exports of nuclear reactors and materials to countries that might produce a bomb. An emphasis on human rights is problematic because it limits trade with certain countries that violate human rights. Antitrust laws need to be revised because they prohibit U.S. corporations from establishing joint trading companies. Health, safety, and environmental regulations are too costly to comply with at home and they enforce strict U.S. standards for overseas operation of U.S. companies. What we need, suggests Business Week, is a remodeling...of the social contract, one that reflects the understanding that our common interest in returning the country to a path of strong economic growth overrides other conflicting interests.12 We need a social contract, in other words, in which we agree to put profits before people.
To keep the system afloat, it is generally agreed, the state must provide the most important corporations with as many resources and with as much military support as is politically feasible. Elites are being quite blunt about it. The state can no longer support an ever rising standard of living; create endless jobs; provide education, medical care and housing for everyone; abolish poverty; rebuild the cities; restore the environment; satisfy the demands of blacks, Hispanics, women and other groups. But the state can satisfy the demands of capitalists because the political system is their system. Here, in so many words, elites have told us that the purpose of the state is to do everything it can to assist capital but it cannot meet the demands of environmentalists, women, blacks, Latinos, and other groups. I doubt that we shall get clearer signals. Reindustrialization means discipline. As Congressional Technocrats, our oppositional stance merely lends legitimacy to a process that needs to be challenged.
Legislative Dirty TricksAs if the checks built into the legislative process were not enough, there is yet another another undemocratic weapon in the legislative arsenal of elites called covert or black budget financing where billions of dollars in Federal funds remain hidden from public view. They undergo no audit by the General Accounting Office [GAO]. They are concealed even from most Members of Congress. And there are dark corners of the budget, where congressional knowledge is nonexistent.13
Covert financing is nothing new. The Framers supported the need for perfect secrecy (Federalist No. 64) and President Washington was provided a $40,000 fund in 1790 that he could spend secretly. But today there are funds which remain secret at every stage, from appropriation on through to auditing. Often this is done through sleight of hand book-keeping. Money appropriated for refugee programs, for public health, agriculture, economic and technical projects, and for the Food for Peace program, for example, was once diverted for CIA- directed paramilitary programs in Laos.14 Also covert activities are sometimes carried out by agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency because they do not have to be reported to Congress.15 Today, budget manipulation has assumed greater regularity and deception. There is a secret budget within the Pentagon, which the Pentagon calls its black budget, and about which national security laws forbid public congressional debate. It has tripled to $35 billion since President Reagan took office in 1981. Bigger than the entire federal budget for health care, it is used for the research and development of super-secret projects. Moreover, it is the fastest growing of any major sector within the federal government.16
Thomas Amlie, a Pentagon missile expert, stated that with regard to the black budget there is no accountability whatsoever. Representative John D. Dingell (D-Michigan) notes that the Pentagon keeps these programs of almost unbelievable size secret from Congress, from the General Accounting Office, from its own auditing agencies, and that covert financing conceals outright illegal activities. The Pentagon can hide what it is doing by simply deleting projects from unclassified budgets and then classify them so that they are beyond the reach of congressional investigators. The Pentagon also uses code names such as Elegant Lady or vague classifications such as special activities, as well as a double ledger system of accounting in which brooms become computers and computers become bombs in order to cover its tracks. In other words, it lies. Representative Denny Smith (R-Oregon) has complained, As a congressman, I can't get information...They don't want us munching around in their budget. There's a real question here. Will the military accept civilian leadership when it comes to choosing weapons?
The seamy side of U.S. military activity was inadvertently exposed a bit when in March 1983 a retired colonel testifying before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee acknowledged that he had worked with the Activity on a secret mission to find U.S. soldiers that had been missing in Laos. Congress had never heard of anything called the Activity. Further investigation revealed that the Activity was the Intelligence Support Activity, a secret spy squad, with a corps of at least 250 officers, that was created in 1981 without the knowledge of Congress. The unit was intended to be a permanent, unified, clandestine group to coordinate paramilitary actions and intelligence gathering. It has been active in Nicaragua, Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. The Activity appears to be part of what Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has told Congress to be one of this administration's highest priorities, and that is the building up of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, or covert soldiers, to a level of 20,000 by 1989. Special Operations Forces, unlike the CIA, are not required to report their covert activities to Congress. Senator Jim Sasser (D-Tennessee) has warned that There is a real danger that these Special Forces could be used by CIA programs and thus skirt congressional review.
More startling has been the Pentagon use of covert financing to fund weapons systems that would be able to operate in a post-nuclear war battlefield and orchestrate space satellites and nuclear weapons during World War IV. Since 1981, according to Tim Weiner, the fundamental U.S. defense strategy has been to be able to fight and win a six-month nuclear conflict - World War III - and remain strong enough afterward to strike again. The strategy is as follows: nuclear war command posts would consist of 747s in the air, lead-lined tractor-trailers positioned on interstate highways, and deep underground command centers in the Catoctin Mountains near Raven, Pennsylvania. Robot soldiers or hexapods that move like a tank and quadrupeds that gallop and trot, in addition to walking vehicles, would operate in an enhanced nuclear environment. Eight satellites (Milstar), placed in orbit 70,000 miles into space - above the electromagnetic pulse generated by nuclear blasts, would become the global nuclear-communications switchboard, transmitting information to the secret command posts. Lest anyone think this is pure fantasy, on December 4, 1986, an Atlas-Centaur rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral to carry out the first space test of the Milstar system. The projected cost of preparing for World War IV is $40 billion, but it too has become an imperative.
The Policing Effect of Congressional TechnocratsCongressional Technocrats assume that our political system is democratic, that congressional policy options are not structured, that there are no systemic imperatives, and that the good men and women of Congress can write, and implement, policies within a range that is virtually unlimited. If we work hard enough, it is assumed, and carefully enough, and if we educate enough people, we can build a broad enough coalition to pressure congress into writing policies that we want. I have argued that our political system does not work that way. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a capitalist system in which freedom means the individual freedom to own and accumulate property. The function of the government is to help property owners do just that. Policy options are structured, in short, to make the economy grow. At any given stage of development, there are certain growth imperatives - protecting market relations in 1787, acquiring land and subsidizing railroad expansion following the Civil War, and today the consensus among many elites is that reindustrialization must move forward. The function of representatives is to write policies toward that end and help us to understand that what we need is what the system can provide. When our perceived needs and systemic imperatives collide, it is the job of representatives to channel our demands into systemic imperatives. Thus, wars of aggression are defined in ways that validate our values: the United States is fighting for democracy. If we refuse to pay higher taxes, that is taken as an opportunity to cut corporate taxes, increase budget deficits, and discipline the poor. Preparation for nuclear war is increasing the inventory of peace keepers. And so on. Let us examine one example of co-optation in more detail.17
In 1982, the Reagan administration's economic policy had failed to reverse the downturn that had begun with Carter. In addition, its huge military buildup and Regan's own Evil Empire rhetoric toward the Soviet Union appeared to be destabilizing. These failed policies particularly disturbed a faction of elites within the Democratic party that were linked to multinational corporations that were oriented toward Europe and interested in doing business with the Soviet Union. Among them were Averell Harriman (a prominent investment banker), Thomas J. Watson, Jr. (IBM), Robert McNamara (World Bank, Shell, Ford Foundation), Admiral Bobby Inman (former Deputy Director of the CIA, head of MCC, a computer consortium), Sol Linowitz (Xerox, Time Inc.), Roberto Goizueta (Coca-Cola), Robert Pheiffer (IBM-AFE), Donald Platen (Chemical Bank), Frank Shakespeare (RKO General), Jerome Wiesner (director of Schlumberger, a giant French oil-drilling concern). Also concerned were Richard Lyman, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller grandchildren (The Rockefeller Family Fund), and leaders of the MacArthur foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This alliance, of which the above is but a sampling, began funding a host of studies on arms control and nuclear issues, various peace related groups, and meetings. Their objective was to build up conventional land and air forces, especially in Europe, cut back and save on the huge naval build-up, and reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons. This would reduce tensions among First World nations and the Soviet Union and enhance the U.S. capability to militarily penetrate and control strategic areas of the Third World. Their strategy was build a movement among dissident elites. This was necessary to pass legislation. And their strategy was to co-opt the growing grassroots campaign for a nuclear freeze. This would popularize and legitimize empire building. It was the old liberal strategy revisited.
Forbes 400 contributed to groups like the Council for a Livable World and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Physicians whose salaries were diminished by Reagan's budget cuts now flocked to Physicians for Social Responsibility. They could do good and get rich at the same time. New England anti-nuclear activists suddenly found themselves in meetings in posh urban hotels. But as Ferguson and Rogers note, there was a danger in funding the grassroots part of the movement; Few of the business groups and foundations that how helped push it along wanted to explore the relations between multinational business, the use of force in American foreign policy and social class. Accordingly, the critical content of the early freeze proposals largely evaporated. At the great anti-nuclear demonstration of June 1982, for example, where 2.5 million people would march in New York and San Francisco, sponsors of the actions met privately and decided not to protest Israel's invasion of Lebanon that had taken place days before. This is an important point: whenever our work is centered on passing legislation we must build coalitions by appealing to those elements in society for whom the legislative process was designed, is meaningful, and in whom there is no genuine sympathy for fundamental change. We invariably are compelled to discipline and police those whose politics suggest that, in some important ways, the legislative process is a fraud.18
With a relatively controlled popular movement behind them, the Democrats went on to endorse the freeze. This meant they could move away from supporting some of the big-ticket items (the MX, B-1, Trident II) and escalate the drive for a whole new generation of conventional weapons (precision-guided munitions, battlefield missiles, pilotless drones and robots, supersophisticated tanks). The movement also permitted the freeze-inspired Reagan administration to push for the scrapping of old nuclear weapons (build-down) and the modernizing of strategic forces as freeze-inspired.
Toward the end of the 1984 campaign, Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee, deviated a bit from orthodox elitism and made vague statements about redistributing income from the rich to the poor. When his business supporters complained bitterly, Mondale responded: Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be rich. I want to be rich. The statement illustrates quite well the real range of policy options within our political system today. The point is that when we work as Congressional Technocrats, not only are political questions transformed into technical considerations regarding the legislative and electoral strategy, not only is our ability to think reflectively and critically diminished, but our assumptions to start with are wrong. Consider the role of doing educational work. Focusing on education implies that the irrationality of contemporary public policy is due to the fact that citizens are uninformed. It may be that we are not as informed as we should be. But the argument I have developed so far suggests that having more information will not translate into having more power. American political institutions were not intended to ensure that those people who were best informed or who had the best argument would write public policy. Our political structure was designed to ensure that those people who own significant property and who have power will write policy whether or not they are informed, wise, or rational.
Because Congressional Technocrats assume that our system of electoral politics permits the decency of most Americans to find expression in public policy, it is unlikely that they will examine the possibility that our political system was designed to help the few who have economic power keep it to themselves. Educational strategies that teach people to believe that their lives would be noticeably improved if everyone kept informed, voted, assembled quietly, signed petitions, and wrote letters to their representatives is a strategy for purging those who believe that a system which holds them in contempt must be confronted. For when political opposition is defined in such a way as to fit within the space provided by the Constitution for political opposition, then those who work outside that space must appear to be irresponsible and deserve to have rationality imposed upon them. Confrontational acts which disrupt then must be viewed as mocking perseverance and patience. And radicals who engineer such confrontations, it must seem, carelessly alienate the very constituencies that have influence and that must be enlisted in order to effect social change. Regrettably, perhaps, but necessarily, such radicals must be contained.
[A]mong some humanistic and transpersonal psychologists...[it is assumed] that at the core of every person is a fundamental spiritual harmony that links him or her not only to every other person but to the cosmos as a whole. Here, too, external authority, cultural tradition, and social institutions are all eschewed. The self in all its pristine purity is affirmed. But somehow that self, once discovered, turns out to be at one with the universe....But such romantic individualism is remarkably thin when it comes to any but the vaguest prescription about how to live in an actual society.Protest of modern life has always been, in various ways, an attempt to overcome its expressive deadness. In this respect protest may be generally thought of as embodying a spiritual dimension. And as protestors, we are all spiritualists to varying degrees. Indeed, spiritualism allows our souls to be nourished. It permits us to dream. It is the source of our poetry.
Many dissidents today are attempting to bring forward spiritual rhythms and a sensitivity to the hidden poetry of everyday life. Many identify with the New Age movement which is centered, according to Harvey Wasserman, upon an overriding commitment to health, both individual and planetary, and to holism, or the interrelationship of mind, body, emotions, relationships, plants, and animals as a whole organism. The roots of the New Age movement make contact with earlier peace and environmental movements, self-treatment and back-to-the-earth tendencies of previous decades, the influx of Asian gurus in the 1960s, and the revival of interest in Native American culture. Many have been drawn into the practices of Zen, Sufism, Vipassana Buddhism, Sikhism and eastern religious philosophies which unlike mainstream western ways of living call attention to the value of opening ourselves to the rewards of direct experience and discovering the god within.19
Spiritualism has also spread rapidly within certain branches of the women's movement, particularly among radical feminists (increasingly referred to as cultural or spiritual feminists) who emphasize the power relations emerging not out of class but out of the sex/gender system. According to Joan Cocks, radical feminists today pay a good deal of attention to mutuality and their organic connection with other women as well as with the good, beleagured earth. Their work has shifted away from politics as such and into the domain of culture and to the introspective domain of the psyche.20 Among more traditional spiritualists have been Jewish and Christian groups. In the 1980s, particularly within the solidarity and peace movements, traditional spiritualists such as the Unitarians and the Quakers have frequently provided the leadership. This in part is due to the broad acceptance of their stress upon Gandhian principles of non-violence and pacifism and the value in moral witness, the strength of their organizations, and their steady, hard work.
Although quite varied, efforts to open ourselves to spiritual life seem to express a longing for elements of a world gone by. We can glimpse that world by putting ourselves in the place of Crollius who looked out at the world in 1624 and understood the following:
The stars are the matrix of all the plants and every star in the sky is only the spiritual prefiguration of a plant, such that it represents that plant, and just as each herb or plant is a terrestrial star looking up at the sky, so also each star is a celestial plant in spiritual form, which differs from the terrestrial plants in matter alone...The celestial plants and herbs are turned toward the earth and look directly upon the plants they have procreated, imbuing them with some particular virtue.21The relationship between the stars and the plants in Crollius's world may seem odd to us until we understand his way of understanding. It is a world in which nature, sacred texts, and even words are alive with God's signature and purpose.22 Joan Cocks adds that ...the medieval Christians understood the world as the manifestation of...divine reason that in turn justified - indeed, required - specific emotional attitudes on the part of humans toward the various things in the world, from floods to hazelnuts, from magnanimity to war. Crollius's interpretation of his world was his attempt to understand something of the purposeful order given to us by God. Knowledge assumed the form of commentary on meanings and affinities inscribed in the text of the world by God. To know, as Cocks points out, was also to know a feeling; reason and emotion were unified. The world was enchanted, full of spiritual life. Today our knowledge is based upon laws of nature which have been established experimentally and upon the collection of facts which in themselves have no meaning. Reason and emotion are separate. The world is disenchanted, emptied of spiritual life.23
The great advance in the shift away from the spiritual world toward modern institutions had to do with how we thought of our-selves as a subject. Whereas in previous ages each of us was defined in relation to a larger divine or cosmic order, today we are self-defining, conscious of ourselves, and therefore self-creating. Consequently we understand ourselves to be responsible for the way we live. We have a bicameral legislature, for example, not because it is the signature of God but because a group of men in Philadelphia in 1787 decided that that is what we should have. The disenchantment of our world, in other words, permitted us to see ourselves, not God, as the creators of our world. We became subjects. We became citizens. Legitimacy became an issue. And protest, political change, reform, and revolution became possibilities.
But at what a cost! What a high price we have payed for subjectivity. We have been divided into mind and body, body and soul. Emotion has been separated from reason. Passion and spontaneity have been devalued. Nature has become inert, dead, an object for scientific and industrial manipulation. Society has become bureaucratic organization. Our everyday life has become routinized and predictable as we strap clocks to our bodies. Our lives are measured in terms of production, utility, and profit. In short, we have gained a mind and have acquired the ability to create but little that we do expresses what it means to be human. We have gained minds and lost our souls.
Protest that arises both out of clear critical thought and deep sensitivity to spiritual life promises a great deal. It promises to recover the lost expressive unity in order that the personality of the modern subject may be made full. It promises, in other words, to give bureaucrats back their soul. But spiritualism itself, however, can also be expressively dead. As some Nicaraguans pointed out prior to their revolution, the trouble with many priests was that they spent most of their time praying in the church. A priest who spends nearly all his time praying would be someone whose spiritualism is expressively dead. It is pure, to be sure. But it finds no expression on the public stage. Its principles do not directly challenge any principles of this world about which the priest prays. Spiritualism of this nature is without situation. It becomes abstract. And Abstract Spiritualism, rather than becoming a source of liberation, becomes an escape from politics, and ultimately a source of discipline. But it is the escape from politics that makes Abstract Spiritualism so attractive.
For those of us who cherish the hidden poetry of a simple life but who avoid the pain and difficulty of confronting our responsibility for the orgy of grotesque inhumanity that flows from empire, Abstract Spiritualism seems to provide a way out. We can retreat to the edge of conflict where our purity and our outrage can be maintained without jeopardizing our identity as a free and innocent people. But while we live on the edge of conflict, we live on the edge of history. Our spiritualism must become private and directed inward. The celebration of peace and the artificial construction of harmony displaces political struggle. In order to keep the peace, Abstract Spiritualists must dampen the struggle.
A Case Study: The Pledge of ResistanceFounded by major peace, justice, and anti-interventionist groups in October 1984 and led by religious activists, the Pledge of Resistance is a national campaign to mobilize opposition to U.S. military intervention in Central America. The organizing vehicle for the campaign is a pledge. Already signed by tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, the pledge is a commitment to engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience and/or legal protest in the wake of significant U.S. military escalation in Central America.24 The Pledge of Resistance, or simply the Pledge, has come to dominate the mode of response by activists working within the solidarity movement; and given the importance of Central America within the Reagan administration's foreign policy agenda as well as its linkage to broader questions of militarism, budgetary concerns, and global peace, the influence of Pledge organizers extends well beyond the issues of Central America. Moreover, much of what the Pledge is about - the marriage of resistance and spiritualism, a strict obedience to nonviolence, the practice of consensus, the use of small, autonomous groups, the emphasis on respecting all people, and the development of orderly and disciplined protest is an amalgamation of principles derived from previous campaigns directed against weapons production and nuclear power. Pledge activists, as most unhappily agree, are white and middle-class. The thinking of Pledge organizers represents the thinking, perhaps, of the better educated, better organized, more privileged elements within the movement today. In any case, among resistance-minded activists it is a major, if not dominant, force. I shall argue that in spite of their decency and honorable intentions, the thinking of Pledge organizers compels them, in the end, to work with elites in isolating and purging dissidents whose vision of community challenges the political-economy of the United States.25
Given the analysis presented in the Pledge of Resistance Handbook, the position of Pledge organizers may be briefly characterized as follows: It is urgent that we begin to live our lives in a way that implies love, respect, and human dignity. Many of the pledge signers are like the pastor who, by signing the pledge, believes s\he is living out what's called the good news, that is the good news of God's peace and justice. The general threat to peace and justice is violence. Specifically the threat is war and repressive economic and social structures. Living out the good news or simply living a life which expresses respect for others inevitably brings one into confrontation with repressive structures and with those who carry out war.
But how does one confront these things? The traditional answer, namely that war can be stopped by more decisive violence, must be rejected; the means by which we come together and act determine and affect our ends. The guiding vision of the Pledge suggests an alternative approach: war can be repudiated before it fully erupts...by the nonviolent withdrawal of support for it. Indeed, Pledge organizers emphasize, This campaign is rooted in the simple intuition that wars happen because people cooperate with them - and wars end when that collaboration also ends. Each of us has power, therefore. And the power to wage war depends upon our continuing obedience, so when we refuse to obey our rulers, their power begins to crumble. Moreover, by resisting in a nonviolent way, we reveal another model of human nature, one which encourages love, respect, and human dignity within the broader community.
There can be no question but that the ends of the Pledge organizers are noble. Their general effort to empower people by encouraging resistance to the corruption of public policy needs to be kept as the first item on every citizen's agenda. Moreover, the Pledge appears to offer an opportunity to link spiritual principles to effective, practical action. But there are serious, if not dangerous, defects within this approach as well. The source of these defects lies in the failure of the Pledge analysis to attend to the complexities of the relation between the structural features of the U.S. political economy and the subversion of peace and justice. Reference is made to such maladies as corporate lies and we learn that Gandhi bade his followers to focus their anger and hatred on their true enemy - repressive economic and social structures - not people, but nowhere is there the suggestion that the very structure in which we are implicated (the U.S. political economy) begets violence and repression. Of course this is a tremendous advantage. It means that signers of the Pledge are able to link spiritual principles with a practical course of action without having to develop a general critique of our political economy, without, in other words, having to be placed outside the mainstream of American political thought. Or to put it quite bluntly, it means that as protestors they are able to stake out a position whicih avoids official pronouncement as a deviant, troublemaker, or radical. The Pledge looks like protest but it does not really challenge our political-economic institutions and therefore contributes to their legitimation. The appearance of political freedom within the United States, for example, tends to be reinforced by their example. By working within the Pledge framework, we risk becoming Hegel's beautiful soul who lives in dread of besmirching the splendour of its inner being by action...in order to preserve the purity of its heart...it flees from contact with the actual world and persists in its self-willed impotence to give itself a substantial existence or to translate its thought into being.26
The danger in preserving the purity of our heart in the face of the national security state is not simply one of living with the illusion of effectiveness, it is, ironically, becoming complicit in repression. We are moving in this dangerous direction in several ways. Although these tendencies are not confined to the Pledge movement, Pledge organizers are far more explicit about their politics; therefore their writings and actions serve as useful illustrations. Let us probe, then, these tendencies.
Nonviolence and Peace: A Dangerous FocusPledge organizers make it very clear that all those who choose to participate in civil disobedience are required to take a day-long introduction to the philosophy and methods of nonviolence or nonviolence training. Participation is conditional on the acceptance of a particular philosophy, codified into a set of nonviolence guidelines (listed below). The Handbook does not reveal who determined what the guidelines would be, but it does state that all who sign the pledge will abide by the following guidelines of nonviolence. Given the organizational strength of the Pledge, smaller independent groups or unaffiliated individuals who do not share the political philosophy of Pledge organizers frequently find themselves, at demonstrations, confronted with the dilemma of either going along with a strategy which they do not endorse and sometimes oppose or directly challenging Pledge monitors, which not only undermines the possibility of a unified front but also makes smaller, isolated groups more vulnerable to state repression. Although Pledge organizers say that they are a leaderless organization committed to a feminist process and small autonomous groups, decisionmaking and analysis is strictly top-down, with the organizational relationship between the national decisionmakers (the analyst group and signal group) and grassroots affinity groups appearing much like a chain of command. The range of action available to the smallest of local groups is set ahead of time by the official leadership. The Pledge organization, in short, is hierarchical, highly centralized, and distrustful of non-Pledge affiliated solidarity activists within the general population. One cannot help but notice that its structure is not much different than the political structure of the United States.
Why the rigidity and elitism? The answer may lie in the fact that the nonviolence guidelines, which serve to protect property and censor all expressions of anger toward those who hold power, are an affirmation of republican and capitalist values. The guidelines are less a mode of resistance than they are a guide for protestors to earn the respect of mainstream society, the privileged white middle class. At a time in our history when many of our cherished ideals appear hollow, Pledge organizers, unwittingly, are attempting to keep the movement from crossing that historical threshold whereby we become the other - the troublemaker, the deviant, the leftist fringe, the communist, or whatever the term is that stigmatizes and disciplines the revolutionary thinker. The guidelines, independent of the intentions of Pledge organizers, become are disciplinary measures to control and contain protest.
The need to resist and be a respected member of society on the part of Pledge organizers leaves them no room to be other than the gentle and the good protestor. What emerges from their writings is a conception of a person that is one-dimensional, abstract, and perverse. For example, we may assume that to be a person is to be capable of acting in accordance with a socially accepted set of rules such as understanding the implications of one's personal actions on the life chances of others, and of exercising self-restraint in the interest of the health of the community and environment. It is because we understand that a fully capable human being may act in accordance with a given set of rules and may not that we express such attitudes as love, resentment, trust, hate, and respect for one another. Whether I love someone or hate someone, I am respecting that person as a human being who is capable of acting in accord with a set of rules and who may therefore be held accountable to those rules. I may hate President Reagan when I believe that he favors policies knowing that they inflict pain and injury on the poor while they assist the rich in obtaining even greater privilege. Implicitly I am invoking shared standards of fairness, equality, and justice which I endorse and to which I believe, the President, as a fully capable human being, ought to be held accountable. Now if I learn that President Reagan were truly ignorant of the effects of his policies - that he is poorly educated and uninformed, my feelings of hate would diminish. But my feelings would still be based on my respect for him as a fully capable person. On the other hand, if I were to learn that President Reagan had suffered brain damage as a child and had never been capable of acting in accordance with a socially prescribed set of rules, I would not be able to consider him a fully capable person and my feelings of hate would be inappropriate. We do not hate trees or bicycles because we cannot hold them responsible; we only hate, resent, trust, respect, and love people for their actions and we do that in the context of what we believe their capabilities are. It is in light of our respect for a person's capabilities that we distrust, resent, or hate (among other attitudes) that person. The point is that the expression of negative attitudes towards someone and the expression of respect for someone as a person is not contradictory; they are not contrary essences. Similarly, if we were to act unfriendly toward a bank president during a civil disobedience at a bank, it would be because we consider that person a subject, capable of acting in accordance with social standards that we endorse. It would be one very small way of holding that person responsible for him or herself. Acting unfriendly toward someone could quite possibly be the most appropriate way of expressing respect toward that person.27
By denying us the opportunity to express negative attitudes towards those whom we encounter, Pledge organizers limit our opportunity to judge the actions of powerful elites against our own values and our own standards. They are, in effect, letting responsible people off the hook. Outside the federal building in San Francisco during a symbolic blockade, Pledge monitors scolded one demonstrator for calling a police officer (who was arresting a non-Pledge protestor quite roughly) a fascist.28 Presumably, real fascists could not be so identified. Murderers cannot be called murderers. States the Handbook, The truly nonviolent will not have `enemies'...the true enemies of our human family...[are] manmade structures... But with U.S. political and economic structures never specified and critically evaluated and with no enemies to confront, our outrage, finding no direct expression toward accountable human beings, melts into resignation. For without responsible people to confront, there is no responsibility. There is only crisis.
One effect of this abstraction is the drift, like the beautiful soul, toward an apolitical purity. Spiritualism in this setting tends to become personal and private only. It seeps into institutions separated from centers of power, such as the church, the synagogue, or ashram. Our principles of unity and wholeness are not pushed toward the center of the community and held. Instead, our life-giving principles are expressed in the deepest recesses possible, in the darkest rooms, in the most private and isolated chambers, quietly, silently, in meditation, in prayer, and in the unconscious mind. And it is there that they are nurtured and visited. And ironically, we become split and dichotomized as we go into the public world, disguised as mainstream citizens blending into the mainstream deadness, only to reappear at night and on weekends to pray and chant, to eat organic foods, to talk of peace perhaps, or to set up literature tables in parks and on street corners. Rallies become solemn, downbeat affairs sprinkled with prayer, moments of silence, dreary singing (all we are saying, is give peace a chance) and where in hushed tones we are reminded that we have no enemies, that we are whole, and one with the earth.
Winning the approval of responsible middle-class professionals is costly. Positions which might invite their sharp rebuke tend to be avoided. Prior to a radio interview, Pledge activists in Santa Barbara, California cautioned a young woman who had returned from a visit to El Salvador not to use the phrase U.S.-sponsored terror. We tend to shift our focus, particularly as New Agers, from the political to the cultural. We tend to think of the health of our political economy in terms of our own personal health and well-being. This is not to say that the cultural is separate from the political but it is ominous when we substitute the body for the body politic. It may be of little consequence that we know more about which herbs ease constipation than we do about which corporate interests explain a given set of public policies. But it is terribly significant when as spiritualists we become far more concerned with physical injury than with spiritual death, the suffocation of our ability to express ourselves critically, imaginatively, artistically in ways not yet clearly comprehended - of our ability to become revolutionary. It is significant that the term nonviolence has become the watchword of our movement and not the term used throughout most of the world, the term which signifies the creation of space for the expressive unity of both body and soul in the modern era, the term liberation.
But the issue is greater than falling short of a liberation movement. The issue is one of unintended complicity. First note the shift within the nonviolence movement itself. Martin Luther King, Jr., by the time of the Birmingham campaign (1963), which was called Project Confrontation, had decided not to depend upon the value of moral appeal. Instead of submitting to surreptitious cruelty in thousands of dark jail cells and on countless shadowed street corners, King said, the nonviolent resister would force his oppressor to commit his brutality openly - in the light of day - with the rest of the world looking on. Adds, Stephen Oates, his biographer, provocation was now a crucial aspect of King's nonviolent strategy. The point, King emphasized, was to dramatize the gulf between promise and fulfillment...to make the invisible visible. The point was to create a situation in which political and economic elites, through their agents such as the police, would commit their crimes in broad daylight so that the reality of political economic structures and the responsibility of human beings within them could be made clear. In the campaign that King never lived to complete, his advisors recalled they were going to confront the economic foundations of the system and demand reforms (emphasis added).
King's philosophy of nonviolence stands in marked contrast to the nonviolent strategy of Pledge organizers. Today, the pretense that situations are unstructured and that friendliness and openness (moral appeal) is the basis of social change is made a unifying principle. Relationships of power and responsibility remain mystified and unclear. Conflict or what King sometimes referred to as creative tension (but not violence) was once thought to have been necessary to expose the hidden structural realities of racism, militarism, and poverty. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive...injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates... Nonviolence is effective, King summarized, if it's militant enough, if it's really doing something. The nonviolence guidelines of the Pledge, intended to avoid conflict, are at odds with King's nonviolence which was often designed to provoke conflict, to create tension, and to identify human beings who treat others contemptibly. So, strangely, the confrontational dimension of King's strategy, his direct criticisms of capitalism, or his suggestion that the United States is on the wrong side of a world revolution are elements of a critical analysis that are often dropped by many today who are fond of invoking his name. Instead, those who identify with King today are more likely to bring forward his emphasis on nonviolence, his love for his enemy, his perseverance, and the religious backdrop that seemed to nourish his politics. King, the revolutionary, has been exorcised. King, the spiritual leader, has been embraced. And the dichotomy, dreadfully, has been protected.29
Thus, if there is one tendency that weds Pledge activists with other spiritual activists today, it is the rejection of conflict and tension as a political strategy. Instead there is the complete embrace of the concept peace. Indeed, the term peace is somewhat ubiquitous. There are marches for peace, dances for peace, veterans for peace, peace resource centers, peace days, peace bumper stickers, and so on. It is the political equivalent of the happy face logo, which is not so bad if that is all that is meant. After all, who is not in favor of a more relaxed, open community? But the danger is that our unreflective, unqualified quest for peace may become a movement to eliminate all conflict. And here we come to the crux of the matter.
The vision of peace which guides us, which everyone seemingly endorses, is nowhere, to my knowledge, spelled out. Conveniently, it is not situated and remains abstract; that is, there is no discussion or attempt to identify what forms of tension, anxiety, opacity, indirectness, and conflict are inescapable and ineliminable features of the human condition and which tend to suffocate the human spirit or, if you prefer, are forms of violence. The concept of peace bandied about is sterile and empty; it is situation-less. One must presume that it is an extension of the terribly unrealistic model of human activity which animates the Pledge movement, a world in which there are no enemies, no hate, no resentment - just the truth of love and human dignity.
The use of the consensus process by Pledge members, and many other activists as well, illustrates the dangers in assuming that real world conflict is due alone to aggressive desires, uncontrolled anger, or some other form of wrong thinking. According to the Handbook, consensus is a process for group decisionmaking...by which an entire group of people can come to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. As opposed to voting, which is a means by which we choose one alternative from several, consensus is a process of synthesizing many diverse elements together. The goal, to give everyone an opportunity to express him- or herself is laudable. But the situation in which fundamentally competing political perspectives are introduced - the situation in which there is a great deal of anxiety and conflict and potential growth - has been pushed aside. Suppose someone like myself were to participate in a Pledge meeting and suppose that person in the interest of contributing to the movement were to (carefully and respectfully) introduce some of the critical ideas thus far delineated. According to consensus rules, any individual who objects to a proposal on moral grounds (I trust that includes strong political objections) may block the consensus, thus forcing more discussion and synthesis. Anyone who has been at a meeting of twenty-five or more people that stretches late into the night because of the strong convictions of a blocker knows how difficult it is for anyone to sustain an unfavorable position. The consensus process, while it may provide more space for those who share the assumptions which underlie a given position, tends to isolate, derogate (the term blocker is pejorative), and eventually grind down the position that enlightens and inevitably disturbs.
What is missing? The concept peace is itself in tension with the process of change. Whites who were personally confronted by blacks in the 1960s and held accountable for the subtle expressions of racism (for using the term colored for example), men confronted by women in the early 1970s for their sexism within the context of personal relationships, or students who challenge their parents (and vice-versa) on political grounds will recall that the introduction of competing perspectives and the subsequent modification of assumptions requires prolonged and, at times, quite anguishing discussions, perhaps even over years. The challenging of one's identity involves a great deal of anxiety because the movement to new relationships and understanding are not without loss and not without pain. Change, fundamental change, is not peaceful; it is conflictual because it requires the persistent and rigorous advance of competing ideas which initially appear wholly untenable. A proposal to fundamentally modify the consensus process could not be adopted when using the consensus process. (We alienate some by acting, just as we perhaps exclude some who don't `believe' in consensus process, note Pledge organizers.) The option reserved for those who challenge the Pledge framework is the same: exclusion. Much like the New Ager who, when pressed to clarify his or her assumptions, cuts short the discussion because of bad energy, Pledge organizers will suppress serious intellectual confrontation and debate in the interest of preserving a conflict-free mode of decision making.
The suppression of conflict within an organization may serve only to diminish the ability of members of that organization to think critically and act boldly. But when abstract notions of peace are used by self-appointed monitors to dampen conflict at points of protest across America, Abstract Spiritualists risk working in complicity with authorities in the repression of protest. Let us outline the steps:
1. In order to avoid conflict and to act in an open and friendly manner, Pledge organizers cooperate fully with the police and local officials when organizing demonstrations. (In Concord, California, one groups states explicitly in their Covenant of Nonviolence, We will show respect for the police.) Police are notified in advance of the time, place, and number of people wishing to be arrested. The police, at the demonstration site, typically cordon off a specific area with yellow ribbons in order to identify an area in which demonstrators are not permitted to go. Those wishing to be arrested then cross the yellow line and are arrested. While this scenario does not hold in every instance, it is the orderly, disciplined, and nonviolent situation aimed for.Perhaps we do believe that the nonviolent person has no enemies and that repressive structures, not people, are responsible for the crimes we witness. Perhaps we will go to great lengths to cooperate with authorities in order to avoid conflict. It may be the case that many of us want to treat everyone with friendliness and respect all the while knowing that if authorities treat us violently, we shall not resist and if they treat other demonstrators violently we shall bear nonviolent witness. And perhaps, in spite of the violence perpetrated on people, we do promise not to damage property. Okay. Fine. We are nonviolent peace activists. But when we intercede as peacekeepers and stop the action of protestors because it is confrontational while at the same time we fail to do the same to agents of the state whom with our own eyes we watch commit violence, then we are peacekeepers of a particular species. We are peace officers, we are police.
To a more disinterested observer, might it not appear a bit Orwellian for us to make it a practice to consult with the authorities, to cooperate with the police in curbing militancy, to permit violence to be done to our own bodies while we promise not to damage property, all the while we present ourselves to disaffected citizens as the pledge of resistance?
An Alternative Approach: Politics Without KneesI have charged that Congressional Technocrats and Abstract Spiritualists are escaping politics; that is, while having superbly trained our critical sights on a number of important areas (such as environmental degradation, military intervention abroad, patriarchy, and nuclear proliferation), they have failed to train their critical sights on the fundamental assumptions undergirding our political and economic institutions. We tend to believe that we live in a free country that is governed by consent, which means of course, that we have freely endorsed or consented to our laws. Therefore, we move in two directions when we are greatly outraged by what our country is doing. We attempt to use the democratic institutions available to us (Congressional Technocrats) or we call attention to policies which we feel are unjust (even though they may have the consent of the governed) by, as respectfully as possible, violating laws generally related to the implementation of those policies (Abstract Spiritualists). We tend, therefore, to identify with and respect the work of members of Congress and the police more than we do confrontational demonstrators. We believe that it makes sense to work within the rules to which we have freely consented and that if one chooses to deviate from those rules, then that person deserves to be punished.
The purpose of this book, essentially, is to encourage you, the reader, to reflect upon and critically assess your political beliefs. The implication is that many of our beliefs, such as the one which suggests that we are governed by consent, are not justified. Why then do we hold them? People, generally, are neither dupes nor dopes, but we do need to believe in what we have got to do. That is what ideology helps us to do. It provides a reasonable set of beliefs that match up with the limited job opportunities within a given set of power relationships. During the feudal era, serfs believed that their station in life was God's will. It would have been quite difficult for serfs to accept our beliefs concerning individual freedom even if they were liberating because to do so would have made it exceedingly difficult for them to carry out the tasks of a serf, to perform the only role available to them given the set of power relations at that time. We face the same predicament today. It is much easier and painless for us to be critics of our way of life so long as we do not do anything that would make it difficult for the army of workers to perform their assigned tasks. Once we do cross that threshold, however, we are no longer escaping politics, we are becoming political. Let us probe this line of reasoning a bit more.
Robert Henri in 1918 wrote, I have no sympathy with the belief that art is the restricted province of those who paint, sculpt, and make music and verse. I hope we will come to an understanding that the material used is only incidental, that there is an artist in every man; and that to him the possibility of development and of expression and the happiness of creation is as much a right and as much a duty to himself, as to any of those who work in the especially ticketed ways.31 That all men and women are essentially creative and that it is our duty to ourselves to express ourselves creatively is an idea which I think most of us share. Virtually everyone dances, sings, writes poetry, paints, or draws. We are a veritable army of artists busily creating in our off time. It is strange that we do not consider the time and space to be creative a need that must be satisfied. But then again, we live in a world according to John Locke and Adam Smith, not Robert Henri. While each of us has the capacity to create, we cannot satisfy our creative need as workers unless we have control over our worklives and to do that we must own, perhaps with others, our tools of production. But we live in a society where the private ownership of productive property is called freedom and where a few people own most of the productive property; In a nation of 236 million people, the means of production are owned by a group no larger than the population of Denver, Colorado.32 Therefore, most of us have little choice particularly given the Constitution's protection of private property and our endorsement of the Constitution but to sell our creative capacity to those who own productive property in order to live. Our unreflective acceptance of their notion of freedom compels us to accept the prevailing conditions of work. Our creative need becomes a curse.
This obviously gives owners great power over our creative capacities and great power over how we express ourselves and over who we are. Many radicals have noted this power relationship and have based a critical assessment of capitalism upon it. But it is difficult for the radical, as a worker to sustain his or her beliefs. As William Connolly points out, The worker must be punctual, obey the commands of the boss, adjust work rhythms to the pace of the machinery, accept wages as the incentive to work, live up to the terms of the wage contract, and adjust overt attitudes and behavior in a thousand ways to established rules, norms and expectations. One can try to be a dissident and a worker at the same time but if there is no chance of finding a role consistent with one's real beliefs then one's political commitment is always at odds with what one does, thus eroding one's own sense of integrity. Friends and co-workers tend to feel resentment and betrayal if what they do is implicitly repudiated by frequent political commentary.33
Under these structural pressures we tend either to let our radical critique slip into private memory and gradually adopt the beliefs appropriate to our work lives: the relation between owner and worker is one of free exchange. Or we may hold on to critical insights in those areas where we have support at the same time that we affirm the basic soundness of our institutions by adopting beliefs appropriate to the roles we play within them. Congressional Technocrats may, for example, deplore U.S. intervention in Central America, and at the same time adopt the belief that economic growth is in the interest of all without seriously exploring the notion that expansion of the private economy requires state support of economic and military aggression in Central America. Abstract Spiritualists may, for example, deplore the violence carried out by the state and at the same time adopt the belief that production in advanced industrial societies must necessarily be organized in authoritarian and routinized ways without seriously exploring the notion that the relatively privileged, middle-class standard of living within the United States requires the violent extraction of workers' labor on a daily basis.
One virtue of doing political work through the building of a movement is that it is sometimes possible to clarify these rather complicated relationships of power in a way that reaffirms, publicly, what many people already knew but were afraid to say. At times, dramatic and public forms of resistance empower and liberate in ways that essays simply cannot do. When our grievances go unexpressed or remain unclear because they cannot be linked to their structural source, we often withdraw from political activity and become resigned to accepting the system as it is. Often when ordinary practices are challenged and confronted, debate and conflict over the appropriateness of such disruptions helps us to connect our grievances to their sources simply because we are compelled on such occasions to probe more deeply the assumptions and understandings that we share. This is not to suggest that all confrontation is healthy. It is, rather, to suggest that to be political is to become strategist. It is in this context that I would like to advance the following proposal. I believe it makes contact with the Congressional Technocrat's interest in electoral politics, the concern of Abstract Spiritualists with nonviolence, and the belief of many other critics of our way of life that we need to contest the way the average citizen is treated with contempt.
An ExamplePrior to the 1984 presidential election, Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, in their effort to register the millions of unregistered clients of the welfare state, said that they hoped to increase the electoral participation of people at the bottom, and to politicize the terms of their participation. We can anticipate once again that similar serious efforts will be made to encourage voter registration of the people at the bottom. But it may be worth considering that the most effective way of increasing the electoral participation of these citizens is to politicize the terms of participation by challenging voter registration.
It is important for those who would focus their energy on registration campaigns to recall James Madison's understanding (in Federalist No. 10), noted earlier, that the problem confronting the Framers in designing the Constitution was how to secure...private rights against the danger of...faction, and at the same time...the spirit and form of popular government. The solution arrived at, you will recall, was a design which so fragmented political power that it would be difficult for the majority to discover their own strength and act in unison with each other. The Framers' lack of confidence in the ability of the people at the bottom to think or act as citizens is the source of contempt that is felt by the tens of millions of Americans who today are altogether outside the voting universe and whose active alienation, according to Walter Dean Burnham, is on a scale quite unknown anywhere else in the Western world.34
Personal registration legislation, ostensibly intended to prevent ballot box stuffing, was introduced in urban areas at the turn of the century and was erected as a barrier to impede the ethnic and working-class voter. It represented just one of several changes in the rules governing electoral activity. The poll tax, the literacy test, white primaries, and a variety of municipal reforms were others. At a time when cities were becoming vital centers of economic life and in some instances when city officials were siding with workers by refusing to use police to protect strikebreakers, elites were busily using these kinds of reforms to weaken the political influence of blacks, agrarian populists, and immigrant workers and to eliminate the partisan possibilities of political parties and urban machines.
Comparison studies, as is noted below, suggest that our form of voter registration obligations may be uniquely undemocratic. Moreover, research developed by Kevin Phillips and Paul Blackman reveals that voter registration does not prevent fraud. Therefore, without calling into question the contempt for the underclasses which is expressed by voter registration, organizers of registration campaigns unwittingly construct the pathology of the apathetic voter.
Much like the Freedom Rides of the 1960s which challenged the legitimacy of specific laws, we need a form of resistance which directly challenges the legitimacy of personal registration requirements. I have called the strategy outlined below Freedom Voting.
The purpose of Freedom Voting is to alter or abolish the practice, as we now know it, of voter registration. The process would consist of the mobilization of those people for whom voter registration is a clear barrier to voting. The homeless, for example, who find it very difficult to vote given registration requirements and whose political needs are great, would become ideal Freedom Voters. Freedom Voters, after legal consultation and resistance training, would attempt to vote without first having registered to vote. Undoubtedly the effectiveness of Freedom Voting would be enhanced if it were used in the context of a program with several components such as proposals for twenty-four hour voting or weekend voting and a slate of candidates (within the Rainbow coalition perhaps) pushing at the boundaries of electoral politics by endorsing a host of redistributional programs.35
The resulting arrests would politicize the terms of their political participation in a particular way. Arrest of this nature in sufficient numbers could reveal the contradiction of our democratic system, namely that it works when certain constituencies are disenfranchised (recall Trilateralist arguments to this effect in Chapter 5). Much in the way that Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to make the invisible visible, Freedom Voting could make our electoral process' contempt for people without property quite visible. For all the world to see, police would be dragging away the poorest of our society for attempting to vote.
The process could also be initiated in the context of presidential primaries so that 1) the actions could be linked to a progressive party coalition (such as the Rainbow Coalition) and candidate (such as Jesse Jackson); 2) the issue could be politicized in several states over a prolonged period; 3) others would be encouraged to participate in succeeding primaries as the process was repeated and as momentum built; and 4) the presidential candidates, and citizens generally, would be compelled to come to grips with the bias internal to our electoral process.
It would be important for the participants, and especially candidates that headed the movement, to clarify the reasons behind the action. Points similar to the following could be made:
1. The United States is alone in placing the onus of registering on the individual citizen. All other developed countries produce voting lists and do not leave it to the individual to register as elector.The repeated (within the context of a presidential primary) arrests of thousands of the poorest citizens attempting to vote would not only make clear that the U.S. government does not permit the enfranchisement of all it citizens, it might broaden the range of debate to include such critiques as Walter Dean Burnham's that, the American political system is...significantly less democratic today than is any other Western political system which conducts free elections.37 Hopefully, the national self-awareness that actions of this sort might help to generate would channel the political alienation of many citizens into the creation of more political space that would parallel the political mobilization of the early 1950s' Civil Rights movement. The important point regarding confrontational strategies is this: our political system was designed with distrust and fear of common people in mind. When we participate in electoral politics or established politics generally we must act in a dozen subtle ways (registering to vote for example) that show deference to ruling elites. Agreeing to participate in the current political process does not empower us. Rather, it reminds us of how politically impotent we are, drains our confidence and self-respect and, consequently, discourages us from future attempts to engage in politics. Therefore, before we participate in the system, we must challenge the beliefs that underlie it - the beliefs that say we, the common people should not have an active, powerful voice in the structuring of our lives.
In August of 1987, the FBI fired John Ryan, a twenty-one year veteran of the Bureau, because he refused to begin a domestic security/terrorism investigation of the Veterans Fast For life. Stated Special Agent Ryan, I believe that in the past members of our government have used the FBI to quell dissent, sometimes where the dissent was warranted. I feel history will judge this to be another such instance. Ryan's refusal was a confrontation to and a sort of emancipation from a system of which he had been an integral part for a long time. We need to do make that challenge more often. And we need to do it together. It sounds strange to our political ear because we do our politics in a spiritually dead society where our involvement is scorned. But we must struggle, nonetheless, to acquire a clear conception of our creative freedom and our responsibility to exercise it.38
Chapter 61. John Judge, in a talk given in San Francisco, December 1987.
2. Nelson W. Polsby, Congress and the Presidency (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1986), 139.
3. Perhaps you might want to study the process yourself; Polsby's work is a
good place to begin.
4. Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, (ed.), The Political Economy (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1984), 180.
5. This example was used by Ralph Nader to illustrate the power of corporations in a talk delivered at the University of California in November 1982.
6. Mark Green, James M. Fallows, and David R. Zwick,Who Runs Congress (New York: Bantam Books, 1972), 36
7. Ira Katznelson and Mark Kesselman, The Politics of Power (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1987), 159.
8. Green, 61, 62.
9. Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 121. For a discussion of the relation between political parties and corporations, in addition to Ferguson and Rogers, see Gerald John Fresia, There Comes A Time: A Challenge to the Two Party System (New York: Praeger, 1986).
10. Ferguson and Rogers, 30; Green, 31.
11. William E. Connolly, Politics and Ambiguity (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 21.
12. Business Week, June 10, 1980; cited in Connolly, 22.
13. Louis Fisher, 1975, 202,203.
14. Fisher, 226; see Chapter 5 for the selling of drugs and covert financing.
15. Martin A. Lee, How the Drug Czar Got Away, The Nation, Sept. 5, 1987, 191.
16. The information concerning the Pentagon's black budget and the projects funded by it is taken entirely from a three part series by Tim Weiner, The Pentagon's `black budget,' San Jose Mercury News, February 15, 16, and 17, 1987.
17. The following example is taken from Ferguson and Rogers, 146-154.
18. Ferguson and Rogers, 151.
19. Harvey Wasserman, The Politics of Transcendence, The Nation, August 31, 1985, 146.
20. Joan Cocks, Wordless Emotions: Some Critical Reflections on Radical Feminism, Politics and Society, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1984, 32.
21. Qoted by William Connolly, Legitimacy and the State (New York: New York Universtiy Press, 1984), 2.
22. Connolly, 2, 3. ܌
23. Cocks, 40.
24. Information about the Pledge is drawn from Basta: A Pledge of Resistance Handbook, (Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1986); the nonviolence section of the manual was adapted from previous handbooks such as those produced by The Diablo Blockade/Encampment Handbook and The Livermore Weapons Lab Blockade/Demonstration Handbook. The following groups were represented at the initial meeting: Witness for Peace, Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, SANE, the Emergency Response Network, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaign, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the National Network in Solidarity with Nicaragua, the Chicago Religious Task Force, the Presbyterian Church, Maryknoll, the Interreligious Task Force on Central America, Mobilization for Survival, Sojourners, World Peacemakers, the Mennonite Church, the Central America Peace Campaign, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
25. It may be worth noting that I have signed the Pledge, participated in Pledge workshops and affinity groups, and I have been arrested in Pledge organized nonviolent actions of civil disobedience.
26. G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 399-400.
27. For a discussion of this subject see William E. Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1974), 193-198.
28. Examples such as this one used in this section are based on my own personal experience.
29. Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 212, 226, 461.
30. Guardian, New York City, August 26, 1987, 5.
31. Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (New York: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1960), 225.
32. Katznelson and Kesselman, 45.
33. W. E. Connolly, Appearance and Reality in Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 52, 53.
34. Walter Dean Burnham, The Current Crisis in American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 52.
35. I am grateful to Ken Dolbeare for the suggestion of linking Freedom Voting to a more complete program which gives voters something to vote for.
36. With the exception of numbers 4 and 5, these points were quoted directly from Keven Phillips and Paul Blackman, Electoral Reform and Voter Participation (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1975), 23, 26, 33.
37. Burnham, 121.
38. For information regarding Agent Ryan, see Letters, The Nation, November 14, 1987; the statement regarding human beauty is a paraphrase of an idea of Roque Dalton's.
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