Bye Bye Miss American Empire

“We are a country born in secession against a distant colonial power. The Declaration of Independence asserts that ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,’ and that ‘whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.’ This does not imply the perpetuity of established states; should a government commit ‘a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations,’ the people have not only the right but the duty to throw it off. To secede means to withdraw. It is not self-effacement; the seceding party does not disappear. It simply removes itself from an arrangement it no longer finds satisfactory and sets up another” Bill Kauffman. 2010. Bye Bye Miss American Empire.

Kauffman argues for the Left to embrace seccession in the US. Yes, a big structural problem behind the intransigent problems of the global economy, US militarization, and global imperialism, is that the US is a leviathon.

But given not just the domestic but also the global elite interest in maintaining the US as a large market and center of high resource and profit extraction, and given the massive level of police militarization in the US, I think the Left should strategically consider its position in the natural geographic faultlines of the US.

Strategic Secessionism

First, let us acknowledge that in the United States, the Left today is not just balkanized, but atomized. The Left in the Anglosphere has for much of the past several decades been deactivated, disoriented, and sometimes reduced to a puppet–Without philosophical coherence, solidarity, and multipronged, wide-view strategic vision, its adherents are only capable of implementing prefab conservative policy–as long as they’re enunciated in an altruistic or fatalistic way, not building progressive policy.

However, in the early 20th century, a small number of Leftists cohered to mobilize people. They influenced policy, including the framework of the thinkable. If some dedicated, mobilization-oriented cohesion were to again emerge within the Left (From a basis in OWS?), collective Left strategy could be pursued again, and humane and economically and environmentally-facilitative Leftist ideas could influence North American societies again.

Cohesion does not mean undifferentiated identity. Successful social movement strategy requires different groups of people engaging in distinct tactical “prongs,” under a framework of guiding ideas and long-term goals. This allows a coalition to take advantage of different kinds of people’s strengths and meso/micro-philosophies.

As necessary as it is, the multi-pronged movement is vulnerable to individuals’ and groups’ lack of discipline and perspective; different coalition groups and actors must be disciplined to recognize and be tolerant of the mid-to-long-range strategic necessity of multiple, different tactical prongs that superficially “clash” in the short-term. For example, social movement requires both within-establishment work and independent outside disruption. Two coalition prongs are needed in Left  movement.

The majority of the Left coalition, including Left-liberals, social anarchists, anarchists and Leftists who are primarily interested in prefigurative politics can, for example, engage movements such as Transition Town, where they plan, mobilize, and organize to wean communities off their vulnerable dependency on highly-extractive, capital strike-prone, financial-military elites’ political-economy.

Strategically-minded Leftists could take a page out of the FBI Cointelpro book. They can organize to pose as Right-wing commentators on-line and as community members in churches, urging the Right wing to press for seccession. This approach would strategically use frame resonance, a social movement concept which Snow & Benford tend to lean too much on (because usually it’s impossible for Leftists to mobilize for Leftist goals). Encouraging the American Right to take up its traditional, localist version of conservatism, however, is a real framing opportunity for the Left.

Right-wing average Americans have historically taken and would take to a seccessionist movement. They could put their money, their energy, their communal passion behind it, and in creating a threat to governmentality, they could bear the brunt of police and military repression. [Discuss: Obama Presidency as time-delimited political opportunity for activating Imperial Apartheid social contract framework, mobilizing American Right populists around secessionist movement.] At the very least, this could force a useful split between the organized capitalist Right and the populist Right in the United States. The limit of this strategy is that at this point in history, capitalists are highly cohesive, across geography. That could change.

The Left can facilitate, or refrain from opposing–and take advantage of– a populist Right-wing secessionist movement, to gain strength in particular territory, and to mobilize the progressive public around labor- and environmentally-friendly ideas, policies, and institutions.

Geographic Mobilization

Because being pro-US seccession will activate the massive police and military apparatus, for the Left this should be about the basic tactical consideration of geography. The strategy should be about mobilization, laying down a left organizational foundation in regions and cities that have not been irrevocably overdetermined by slavery, military bases, and financial institutions, and therefore have not been heavily, deeply influenced by conservative theory and culture.

Securing territorial contiguity between the Atlantic and Pacific has always been a vital interest of American elites. Even Jefferson sacrificed his vision of the good society to attain that continent-spanning territory. Lincoln engaged in domestic war to secure it. It would probably be most strategic for Leftists to plan to organize in northern territory that would leave to the conservative capitalist elite a strong territorial corridor between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Order in One Basket: The Comparative Vulnerability of Pro-democracy Socialist Systems
One of the fundamental advantages of a capitalist system is that the capitalist market (characterized by concentrated effective demand and thus the social dominance of its elites) is a ubiquitous, depoliticized institution that effectively constrains freedoms, thereby maintaining system stability. Capitalist places of production, workplaces are totalitarian and depoliticized, and they dominate the capitalist societies’ institutional landscape.
The problem for socialist systems is that in socialism there is no equivalent, total, depoliticized, extra-state institution (comparable to the capitalist market) to constrain freedom. Socialism is about recognizing that economics are political. Opportunities for authorities to take advantage of depoliticized relations are rarer. This lack is what makes socialist systems much less robust than capitalist systems in the face of oppositional networks and their oppositional ideas.
Political-economically democratic systems are more sensitive to oppositional pressures to change than capitalist systems are. It’s no coincidence that whereas it was relatively easy to dismantle communist and social democratic societies at early signs of systemic global capitalist trouble, capitalist societies only become more so with the proliferation of crises. Socialist systems break too easily at anti-socialist opposition; capitalist systems are too insensitive to non-elite needs and do not permit essential deliberative change under the common conditions of system failure.
Beyond figuring out how to counter the pathological over-robustness of capitalism, as rooted in the totalitarian workplace, another problem for leftists to solve is how to foster democracy while also fostering a ubiquitous, depoliticized institution (analogous to the inegalitarian capitalist market) that sufficiently constrains oppositional demands for systemic change. This institution should be less constraining than the capitalist market, but it should still provide robustness to the socialist system. Anticapitalists should not assume this problem away. What massive, depoliticized social arena can stabilize socialism, at least transitionally in the long era of contest with capitalism, if we do away with the totalitarian workplace or the patriarchal church or the patriarchal family–given that part of the goal is to relieve humanity of excessive, rigid, stultifying social control, and to enable people’s capacity to regulate the flows of pleasure and pain (as per the Greek materialist tradition)? This problem is why so many Marxists come back to the importance of culture and cultural institutions.
Consider: Isn’t a version of this problem being handled badly by the Enlightenment society of Europe–France? Eg. Their use of state legal constraints on the public symbolic display of Anglo-American-activated anti-Enlightenment, oppositional Islamic fundamentalist patriarchy. To begin with, Islam has fundamental Western Enlightenment tradition–Why do the French not put energy into activating that–via depoliticized cultural institutions? At this point in history, it does not advance an Enlightenment tradition to make the politicized state the institution imposing order.
Left External-relations Considerations:

To maintain less-obstructive external relations, the Left should take a page out of capitalism’s book and facilitate a broad (but not infinite) range of symbolic cultural concessions–eg. “celebrations”: pride parades, carnivales, ethnic food and culture fairs, recognition awards, artistic tolerance, free speech and academic freedom, a degree of self-funded religious networking tolerance, some personal private property– to identity-liberation groups–but never at the price of undermining a permanent campaign of labor-focused economic literacy and advocacy. Never at the price of giving up the war of position.


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