In the wake of the invasion of the US Senate it’s been mildly disappointing, if not surprising, to see some lefties joining in to call it terrorism and/or sedition.
It’s understandable that liberals might come up with this guff, after all they’ve always had their hypocritical streak when the public’s activities interfere with their preferences for how power is administrated. Corbyn found that out the hard way. His election as leader interrupted business as usual in the Labour Party and he got smeared with everything from disrespecting war veterans to being a spy for the USSR. It’s not in the least bit surprising to see such people hand wringing about how the “sacred space” of the US Senate (where more travesties have been carried out than can easily be counted) has been defiled by, variously, scuffling with police (admittedly with deadly consequences but it was no shootout), aggy shouting, waving flags in a building, breaking a couple of windows and carrying a pilfered podium around like a drunk student.
This whole episode has been a liberal’s wet dream, the perfect excuse to get muscular and indulge all those revenge fantasies they’ve been nursing for the last four years from a position of moral certitude. Though even for them, watching Nancy Pelosi suggest in all seriousness that Trump’s rancorous loud-mouthed narcissism might actually stretch to using his nuclear codes out of spite has been a particular triumph of delusional hyperbole.
The left is supposed to be more savvy than to buy into such double-edged propaganda, yet instead large elements of it across the social media sphere have been scrabbling on board like a drowning person grabs onto a life-raft. Retweeting Trump’s ten years in jail line as though it’s a gotcha moment. Gleefully helping identify people for the FBI’s delectation. Making smug comments like “stop calling them protesters, they’re terrorists”.
Our own survival is not helped by such rhetoric. It is not in the left’s interests to promote the idea that parliamentary buildings are off limits, let alone that a ten-year stretch for invading them is funny. It’s certainly not in our interests to normalise running to Daddy State and Uncle Manager with the names of our adversaries. And it’s positively stupid to amp up a division between “acceptable protester” and “fair game terrorist” that starts at the smashing of a window. The US has built tacit public acceptance for its post-9/11 machinery of internal surveillance and extrajudicial interventions on this very notion that “disruption” and “terror” are one and the same. As for “sedition” — many socialists are fundamentally seditious from the perspective of the government. Freedom was founded and is run by people who are quite clear in wanting to eliminate both nation and capitalism from human life. Don’t legitimise the idea that this should be an arrestable offence!
All of the above can be (and often are) turned on us. Considering it legitimate when it happens to people we don’t like is an absolute gift to the State, which is only too happy to grab the role of final “both sides” arbiter and take the opportunity to round up radical lefties who get too bothersome a little way down the line.
To be fair to the left news/comment media sphere, mostly this has been a social media phenomenon. There has seemingly been an avoidance of outright calls for an official crackdown, or participating in one, from the likes of the Morning Star or Jacobin. There is also however a palpable lack of comment against the possibility, and it’s hard to blame the left for quietly letting these comments from liberals and foolhardy “radicals” slide, of feeling a sense of “well fuck the fash” schadenfreude and a reluctance to defend those who are politically indefensible.
After all we have for years been getting whacked, bullied and repressed while Trump’s flying monkeys gibbered delightedly in the background telling us “if you have nothing to hide…” We’ve had to spend years learning how to protest securely, from masking up and covering tattoos, to avoiding colourful clothes and not making a fuss about our activities on social media. Watching these swivel-eyed freaks getting The Treatment meted out to them is deeply cathartic. Oh so you didn’t wear a mask and exposed your valknut tattoo? You announced you were on your way to the event? You filmed yourself committing a crime?? Ahaha what a twonk.
But what is happening now is that the neoliberal State is taking a golden opportunity to identify and eliminate an irritant using all the powers we don’t want it to have. Raiding social media profiles, using facial recognition technology and its massive databases, pulling in civilian busybodies to help — these are not things we want them to have carte blanche on (though it’s worth studying their use in the wake of these events).
Much as few on the left will weep to see the Senate invaders get that “hard justice” they’ve espoused for so many years applied to their own actions (and though they were let out in the initial instance those long sentences are coming) it is not a “victory” we can or should celebrate. A few dozen people going down for a decade-plus of hard time having had a bit of push and shove with the cops, enabled by an incredible free pass to womble around the actual Senate building for a bit taking silly photos, marks two real issues.
First, this was a nadir for our side and one that’s going to stick around, requiring a lot of public organisation to put down. We just watched an assortment of incoherent, rambling idiots doing whatever the hell they wanted with little to no public opposition — providing a very clear lesson about the idea of leaving it to agents of the State to sort these things out.
Second, the State itself will be absolutely over the moon right now. It’s neutralised Trump as an annoying political wildcard, was handed a perfect excuse to wipe up an assortment of troublesome far-right types while re-establishing “both sides” theory in the public mind, has unlocked a huge amount of surveillance data and gone a long way to re-rooting business as usual amid a situation that had been starting to look a bit dicey. Biden will be able to dine out on “fixing the chaos of Trump” for the first couple of years of his Presidency regardless of the number of actual Covid deaths. He will be empowered to do whatever the hell his business backers want in the name of stability, and enact swingeing repressive legislation to make sure “this never happens again.”
In the wake of the invasion, hardcore Trumpists were insistent that conspiracies were at play to destroy their movement. This seems unlikely. The lines from rhetoric to action and the eye-poppingly naive blatancy of people giving up faces and names on camera at the scene of the crime are simply too clear. But while our rulers may not be the Austin Powers villains that tin foil hat Youtube videos assume them to be they are consummate opportunists. They will not fail to take full advantage of a crisis, real or perceived, to advance their interests. And what’s in their interest is full data control, a monopoly on direct action — the means to ensure capital’s compact with the State can continue to exploit and evolve in favourable ways for those in charge. The Senate debacle, and the majority of reaction to it, is an opportunity to advance those causes.
There’s no shame in going after the far-right when they are belatedly shown that the world is as we said, not as they think. But we must take care not to aid in our own downfall while doing so. We must be absolutely clear that the actions of a bunch of clowns who thought no further than getting into the Senate building and then stayed inside the red ropes while shouting about having a revolution do not justify extending the reach of the State by one solitary iota.