So, on a personal note, I should say that I am now in Mexico City, where I will be situated for the next four months, studying at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. With that in mind, I figured I'd drop a note about something that I've been considering since I arrived last week.
As revolutionaries, we're often pegged as defining ourselves negatively, against the forces that currently control social life. We're anti-capitalist, anti-sexist, anti-racist, etc etc. Some PR-savvy radicals attempt to turn that language backwards and use phrases like pro-feminist (or pro-woman, in a particularly post-feminist articulation) or queer-positive. Despite the twisting of the language, these phrases still boil down to the same idea, that being that we're against a specific kind of social oppression, and that we're pro-whoever is being oppressed and ending that oppression against them. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with being focused on negation. After all, there's a lot to fight. Obviously we also have to articulate alternatives and other models, which is something that we do quite well but doesn't make the 5 o'clock news as well as "Anarchists make total destroy" does. We do both, to a greater or lesser degree, and I could make critiques about the levels that we're engaging with, but that's not what I want to write about here.
What has been making me think a lot this week has been about how the situation wherein one is placed has a lot to do with how this negative articulation gets expressed. In the United States, we often define ourselves, in an anti-statist context, as being against police brutality and was, but also against cooptation by the government utilizing more "soft power." The actions of radicals in movements for welfare rights and ACORN are examples of fighting this soft power that exerts itself through social services and government bureaucracy.
But the state doesn't use the same play book in every situation. Obviously, there are a lot of shared tricks, but the varying levels, balances, and relationships of soft and hard power vary not only horizontally from nation-state to nation-state (here in Mexico the government will kill you a lot faster than it will in the U.S.) but also vertically, from nation-state (or even higher, if one brings in international governmental organizations) to microstates at the smallest levels. Some parents keep their kids in line through hitting them, some through psychological control, and some through a combination of the two. Each different division of power brings in varieties of different tactics to keep us under control.
We can expand this beyond simply the lens of the state to consider a variety of different styles of oppression and domination. The way that people of color are oppressed in the U.S. is different from that of Europe, but also within the U.S.'s various divisions, conditions vary. Workplaces can have friendly bosses who pay next to nothing but have their workers love getting screwed or have tyrannical Carnegies who use fear to make the employees toe the line.
Obviously, I'm not making a particularly novel claim here. Actually, it's an observation basically stemming from Machiavelli, and to an extent, Sun Tsu. But thinking about this has led me to reexamine the values and importance not only of the old strategy/tactics model, but also what internationalism means. Internationalism is an old buzzword, but many of us still hold on to it as an ideal. In order to produce more effective movement(s), perhaps we should analyze more the context under which power, hard and soft, exists across boundaries, but in a vertical way.
That is to say, we should consider not only the well-worn common sense about the struggles in various states (ex: the State in Western Europe will buy off natives with welfare to pit them against immigrants but rarely uses physical violence, the State in Latin America will use patronage and corruption to keep the working class in line, but will repress anyone who steps out of the box) but also the articulation of power up and down the various levels of state and non-state power. This could lead to a more profound understanding of struggles, both at home and abroad, and how to be usefully in solidarity with them. A ton of examples jump to mind, particularly in states that bring up strong controversies on the left. How, on a micro level, does the state in Cuba express itself? How do the improved racial conditions after of the Revolution affect local power? How does the regional conditions of industry affect the local centralization of power by elites? Does the state deploy soft power at the nation-state level and soft power and the local level? Is race soft or hard? Is gender soft or hard? At what levels? In what ways does power-from-above have a vacuum, which is to ask, in what locations, physical or social, is struggle being won? This list could go on and on. Venezuela, Palestine, etc.
Ultimately, I think that an investigation of international struggles from a vertical perspectives as well as a horizontal one can be expressed as looking at struggles through the lens of anthropological investigation as well as a political one. Context, an important tool that often gets left out of political science, is a key part of the radical investigative toolbox. If we do engage in negatively defined struggles, we must be sure to understand what the balance of forces in the enemy camp is.