Thursday, January 17, 2008

State Power and Social Movements

Standard service-to-power, state-reverential propaganda has it that progressive gains are doled out by benevolent state power rather than forced out of the state by organized and sustained social movements. A particularly repugnant version of this myth was offered by Hillary Clinton in an interview on Fox News recently when she said that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do; presidents before had not even tried. But it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives, because we had a president who said, “We’re going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished.”

Hillary should be ashamed. I cannot even think of a more vulgar formulation of the bourgeois argument that inverts social history so egregiously. Apparently Hillary would have us all believe that Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel (the Jewish MLK Jr.), A. Philip Randolph (beloved trade unionist), Bayard Rustin (revolutionary civil rights activist), A. J. Muste (socialist civil rights leader) – in fact, Randolph and Rustin were principle architects along with MLK Jr. of the famous march on Washington, and it was they who rallied the unions – all of the freedom riders, all of the thousands of activists “whose sit-ins and other organizing forced the government to do something about Jim Crow segregation” didn’t really matter or paled in comparison to the awe inspiring benevolent justice of Lyndon Johnson. As Elizabeth Schulte points out, “Clinton would rather identify herself with Johnson, a Southern politician who was unrelentingly hostile to the civil rights movement as he came to power,” than the nameless thousands of activists who risked their lives and well being organizing and resisting in the streets.

Hillary Clinton’s formulation of the standard rank defense of state power is a mythology of history. Such social gains as civil rights were not enacted by some benevolent state power, some southern white gentleman, but rather, the state was forced to make concessions and concede such gains in the face of massive social protest and activism.

When citizens today not only forget that the rights they enjoy were not initiated by the state - having instead been forced upon the state by massive social protest and upheaval - but go even further and mistakenly believe that the rights they so enjoy - which are being attacked all over again through state mechanisms such as the NSA and policies and laws such as the PATRIOT ACT and Homeland security - were initiated by the state, repressive state forces are then free to conduct business as usual without criticism, objection or even an awareness by the people.

Such historical mythologies, only being tenable with a complete misunderstanding or ignorance of social and political history, is an actual danger.

The government does not exist to protect the common person; insofar as it does, it does so because of the generations of social protest and activism which force the state to grant ever more rights and freedoms. Ultimately states exist – especially in the United States as formulated in the constitution – so as to protect the existing order of power relations and class structure. The state, in pursuit of a true people's democracy and social freedom, requires dismantling.


Renegade Eye said...

Every democratic right comes out of struggle. Hillary's remarks were a stupid slap in the face to the civil rights workers, who risked their lives.

melloncollie said...

Now Hillary's trying to spin the whole mess into a misunderstanding.

But this is not a case of poorly chosen words. Like your blog suggests, she made a grotesque, completely inaccurate statement that has no correlation to reality.

The funny thing is that she told The Advocate the OPPOSITE about gay rights. She told the magazine that equal rights for gays will come about not through a president but instead through the "wonderful work that gay rights groups are doing."

I'm guessing that decades from now when gays have equal rights, Hillary will say it came about through a president who had the power to acheive the peoples' dreams.

What a joke. Kucinich for president!!

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDHURF said...

renegade eye:

Exactly right, she should be ashamed of her self.


Thank you for mentioning Hillary’s comments about the gay rights movement. It helps better illustrate her hypocrisy and her pushing of triangulation politics, to quote Nora Ephron, “to a geometric level never achieved by anyone including her own husband.”
The civil rights movement has already achieved its major goals and thus she can ascribe the credit of these daunting achievements to the southern president Lyndon Johnson, rather than the activists who made the movement succeed on a daily basis from the bottom up through life endangering activism. This, in her view, demonstrating that leaders at the helm of state power effect change, rather than social movements, an alleged argument in favor of her “experienced” leadership.
The gay rights movement, still in progress, is another issue entirely. Hillary, implementing triangulation politics, wanting to shore up the bigoted, anti-gay votes of social conservatives and at the same time the votes of progressives who support gay rights, she maintains that the movement will only succeed through the work of the activists and the groups they form in order to simultaneously appear to endorse their work, yet personally stay far enough away from them so as to remain viable to the right, or so she and her political advisors think.
It’s the sort of cynical, empty and soulless Machiavellian politics that has so effectively doomed bourgeois parliamentary politics in America.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.

melloncollie said...

Quote: "wanting to shore up the bigoted, anti-gay votes of social conservatives and at the same time the votes of progressives who support gay rights"

Exactly!! I'm so happy you wrote this blog. I really hope she's not the Dem's frontrunner.