Six Theses on Fear

‘the fear of what it would mean to bring life here to allow life through’

Love is stronger than fear. It has no fear of its fear, but, led by its fear, it cancels separation, apprehensive as it is of finding opposition which may resist it or be a fixed barrier against it. ​​​​​​​

–– G. W. F. Hegel

I.

State repression operates on two fronts which, in and of themselves, cannot be separated. The first is physical violence, direct repression; the second is psychological/ideological repression, which often takes a more indirect form. We should not forget, however, that both function as parts of a unified, integral strategy to destroy and dissuade radical social movements which challenge the existing social, economic, and political order. Both forms of repression operate at the level of everyday life and during moments of social and political crisis. They characterize the capitalist status quo in its everyday ‘normality’ (a normality of death) and in its periodic crises (times when this normality of death becomes even more explicit and obscene). The first front takes the form of direct physical violence against protesters and revolutionaries: Tear-gas, beatings, projectile weapons, arrests, imprisonment, and murder, to name but some of the most blatant examples. The second front takes the form of strategies meant to instill and manufacture a general state of fear, thereby deterring protesters and revolutionaries from carrying out the actions which the status quo cannot bear. Such strategies include not only the propaganda constantly churned out by the corporate media in the service of the carceral capitalist state (could we expect anything less?), but also the very fear stemming from direct violence itself. In imprisoning protesters, in setting exorbitant bails, in blinding and disfiguring people with projectile weapons, in beating and brutalizing them, the carceral capitalist state sends an explicit message: Disruption of the status quo and its “legality” comes at a high price. We should remember, though, that––materially speaking––there is no actual separation between direct physical violence and more indirect psychological and ideological mechanisms of repression. In other words, they mutually reinforce each other as complementary mechanisms of containing and, ultimately, neutralizing the movements which aim to abolish to present state of the things, to paraphrase Marx.

Consequently, any revolutionary (materialist) analysis of the present conjuncture must take into consideration the material and ideological factors which produce a general state of inertia and paralysis––the transformation of racial capitalism into an unchangeable fact of nature. The theses that follow aim to clarify these material and ideological obstacles and make a contribution to the wholesale overturning of the given social order, pushing the struggle further than what can be presently imagined. That the future trajectory of revolutionary struggle cannot be wholly anticipated, however, does not mean that the struggle becomes directionless, but only that it acquires new valences, encounters new contradictions, and establishes new paths as it overcomes those negative factors and limits which impede its further development. No doubt, this would already be a step in the right direction.

II.

Let us now turn to those more ‘indirect’ mechanisms of repression which serve to create an atmosphere of fragmentation, fear, and alienation. The prevailing ideology tells us ad nauseam that we should make a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters, between legitimate (‘right’) and illegitimate (‘wrong’) actions, between legality and illegality. This ideology of containment and fear-mongering, which is not simply a product of the carceral capitalist state but is also promoted by those liberal ideologues who wish to see change without change––who wish, in other words, to keep things exactly as they are––aims to pacify the prospects of radical social transformation. Whether consciously or not, the very effort to ‘peace police’––to keep actions within certain bounds of respectability and legality, to denounce those who recognize the need to push further and who see that genuine liberation requires a total overthrow of existing relations and structures of exploitation and oppression––serves the interests of domination. For those who benefit from domination will never be convinced by purely symbolic gestures which seek to replace substantive, material transformation with piecemeal efforts at reconciling contradictions which can only be resolved by unrelenting, radical, uncompromising––in a word, revolutionary––struggle. Such a struggle is to be measured not only on its own terms, but also in terms of whether it responds adequately and ferociously against its enemies: fascists, white supremacists, capitalists, etc. As the Black communist revolutionary, George Jackson, writes: “To a slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It’s aggressive. It isn’t ‘cool’ or cautious. It’s bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred.”  

Thus, it is in the interest of the carceral capitalist state and the police to encourage ‘peaceful’, ‘non-violent’, non-antagonistic protests, because such protests do not in the least threaten white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. In fact, such forms of protest effectively narrow the scope of revolutionary change; they redirect energy and consciousness toward the illusion that politicians and the carceral capitalist state––which is only to say the servants of capital––can bring about the kind of change we not only demand but so direly need, if life is to prevail over and against the forces of death, destruction, and domination. Part of the task of any radically anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist project, then, is to expose a social, political, and economic order that simultaneously relies on spectacular and less overt forms of violence and repression to sustain itself. In so doing, we expose the violence which forms the basis of the relations between the oppressor and the oppressed, the exploiter and the exploited and show these same relations to be defining features of the world as it exists, not the exception but the rule. The fear created by the carceral capitalist state, in tandem with the attempt to moralistically construe some protesters as ‘bad’ or to decry looting and the destruction of private property, for instance, serves to conceal the fear of the status quo itself in the face of its crumbling legitimacy. What is more, the disregard for private property shows clearly that those engaged in struggle have begun to contest the fetishistic conception of the state and of the law itself as neutral forces that stand above, in a non-partisan manner, social conflicts (in truth, of course, the state functions as a vehicle for managing the affairs of the ruling class and enforcing the racist, imperialist, and heteropatriarchal structures which sustain capitalism). The hypocrisy of this society emerges clearly as ‘looters’ and ‘rioters’ are condemned and imprisoned while the capitalist imperialists who, with the aid of the state, loot, violently expropriate, and exploit BIPOC in the U.S. and the world over carry on with business-as-usual. 

The absurd bails and trumped up charges against protesters and radical activists (and also those who just happened to be there, for it matters little whether the accused are actually ‘guilty’ or not) also produce a climate of fear and insecurity by way of example. Drawing on existing patterns of economic insecurity and precarity, the carceral capitalist state posts unpayable bails, knowing well that the incarcerated will have inordinate difficulties paying. Moreover, the criminalization of radicals serves as a deterrent, since, as we know, felonies in this society are grounds for denying people housing, economic aid, education, employment—in short, for inducing precarity and making people disposable. The strategies of repression and containment employed by the carceral capitalist state not only create a context of fear, then, but effectively exploit existing social and economic inequities in order to prevent the very prospect of insurrection.

Fear: The fear of losing an eye or a limb, the fear of losing one’s life, the fear of being relegated to the inhuman conditions of jails and prisons, the fear of losing one’s employment, the fear of being surveilled and repressed by the state, the fear, as BIPOC, of being indiscriminately murdered and harassed, the fear of isolation, the fear of pigs clad in riot gear, the fear of getting onto the streets due to one’s legal status, the fear of fascist violence and reprisals, the fear of losing the false comforts which this society affords, the fear of losing loved ones––all of these, and to different degrees, structure and limit the range of possibilities for radical actions on a subjective and an objective level. The only way to combat these forms of despair, fear, insecurity, and alienation is the universal weapon of solidarity between comrades, the revolutionary act of coming together to work relentlessly and even mercilessly toward the realization of a common goal: a world of freedom over fear and oppression, joy over despair, life over death, creativity over conformity, needs over the profit-motive, mutual aid over the brutality of naked self-interest and competition, genuine sociality over alienation. Such a world is indeed grounded in love: Not the abstract love characteristic of the bullshit liberal celebrations of ‘pluralism’, which merely masks the glaring contradictions and inequities of this society, but love which recognizes the necessity of dismantling everything that stands in the way of making freedom a concrete reality for the oppressed and the exploited. It is precisely this kind of love that must be mobilized against fear.

III.

While direct or indirect state violence can take spectacular and inconspicuous forms in order to force radicals or possible radicals into the shadows where out of fear direct action becomes almost impossible, this fear that prevents action, produces division in struggle, and neutralizes the revolutionary force of the future towards which we struggle, is not acutely felt by only the radicals, isolated and maligned from the larger social base without which structural disruption and upheaval cannot occur. This fear is also the enforcement of the grey, everyday veils and shrouds that foreclose, postpone, or subsume a possibility of revolutionary change before any action is committed. This fear is internalized as indifference, complacency, alienation, apathy, the inertia of going along, staying in line, the callous lethargy of hurtling towards ruin while erasing and evading responsibility so as to cement this course as unavoidable, if not necessary. Oftentimes this fear is not inflected as fear, oftentimes it remains inarticulate, repressed. Oftentimes it’s inexpressible and unexpressed. Yet fear it remains. This fear is seen in the embodied affect of overpowering bewilderment when someone faced with a revelation of the status quo’s violence (and the exorbitant force with which the state will enforce such violence) expresses a cruel willingness to justify it. This fear is seen in the blind and cruel denunciation of those who struggle for a better world, a denunciation that slips from “it is impossible” to “even if it is possible, it is undesirable” to “even if it is desirable, it is wrong“. This fear that enforces the boundaries of this world, policing any possibility for otherwise, this fear that prevents the world from becoming differently is ultimately internalized as a fear of the world becoming differently. So thoroughly have they succumbed. 

Yet, these same insensitive and indifferent automata who have the relative privilege and mobility to coast the course to ruin without risking their lives, bodies, or souls in the fight against domination in all of its forms, these resigned and resentful skeletons of human beings are also policed and enforced by this fear, though it is outwardly displaced upon the radical actors who challenge and struggle against structures of state violence. They cannot let themselves feel and express this fear because that would be admitting that their lives, too, are wrong, that their psyches are tortured and tangled into warped shells of human beings, that they, too, could prosper and flourish in a world not structured by racist, sexist, classist relations of domination. This, they cannot willingly do (and if they do we shall promptly accept them without too much fuss), for their very identities, their very being is structured upon this fear and its twisted displacement. But, who will appear upon their doorstep to evict them were they not able suddenly to pay rent? Who will appear outside of their workplace were they to organize a union or strike for better conditions (let alone power over determining the very conditions of their labor)? Always the same pigs… That this now remains only a possibility and not the worldwide actuality of the experience of millions of mostly poor Black, Indigenous people of color is only a testament to how deformed their experiences are, how inarticulate remains their fear, and how the object of their fear slips vacuously from state, to radical, to state. Yet, as radicals, the fear the state inspires in us through its repression and suppression of dissent and dissidence is not ours alone. It is only we, however, who have yet articulated this fear and its object and, in so doing, can overcome it.

IV.

There exists a cruel and almost unfathomable discrepancy between the events that occurred since the start of this rebellion, the counter-revolutionary state reaction, and the portrayal of the rebellion by the liberal, progressive counter-insurgency of the state reaction. The liberal, progressive counter-insurgency seeks to deny that a nationwide, multi-racial, violent revolt actually took place at all, swiftly erasing from consciousness that this world could be otherwise and that for days to months it was. They seek to forget and they seek, neatly sewing up this tear in time, to forget that they forgot. Fearful of their own impotence and of a power they would love nothing more than to redirect under their weakness, they lash out, castrated, with a cruelly vacuous calm stare that suggests “There is nothing to see here. Move along, move along.” But meanwhile, the state continues to respond with brute force and impunity to this rebellion like it is the possibility of revolution that it concretely is. How are we to understand this discrepancy, how are we to get to the roots of such a historical fabrication? As the parasitic palliative to state violence, the liberal, progressive wing of counter-insurgency desires to maintain the legitimacy of its reformist mechanisms of enclosing social change within the limits of the carceral capitalistic state, that is, they desire the nullification of all social change or else the subsumption or cooptation of social change within such market remedies, advertising campaigns, and other cosmetic quick fixes as will get people back to work with a smile. 

But what we witnessed and participated in during the rebellion was and is not a protest with a permit, not a neat and orderly march with a list of demands to be promptly ignored, not a symbolic display of colorful powerlessness (though, while certainly we witnessed each, they strictly speaking have no real relation to the rebellion until they spill from their constraints into disorder). What we witnessed, instead, was the storming and burning of a police precinct, mass occupations of public and private property, destruction of corporate and gentrifactory buildings, the looting and expropriation of millions of dollars of goods, trash fires, smashed ATMs, etc., etc., etc.. And not only destructive rebellion: we witnessed also the constructive rebellion of creative networks of mutual aid encompassing everything from street battle with the police (street medics, shields, lasers, water, food, etc.) to larger social needs (rental, medical, legal assistance, education materials, coalition building) more often than not emphasizing the interconnection of struggles, e.g. against ICE and DHS, against settler-colonialism, against houselessness, against poverty, etc.. The liberal, progressive counter-insurgency fears, like the measly bourgeoisie that they are, that they will become obsolete, or even worse, be chased from their mansions. For they are also the enemy.

The former images of social change (peaceful demonstrations, marches, rallies, etc.), insofar as they accede legitimacy to mechanisms of state authority either to grant or to deny their demands, both postpone that which one demands as nonexistent and implicate the change they seek into the reproduction of the status quo, thus nullifying such change before it can even be sought. This rhetoric of revolt pulled over the rack and ruin of counter-insurgency come home to roost is unceasingly valuable as a mechanism to redirect anger and rage away from their real objecys. But there is also a sense of demand, as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney have discussed, that does not ask in order to receive something that is not yet existent but founds and finds itself within something already existent that exceeds what is existent. This is the riot: the riotous and cacophonous disorder and disordering moment of demonstrating the illegitimacy of structuring institutions of domination while overcoming them in a rhythm of ungovernability. The shared criminality and solidarity of the rebellion that not only challenged state violence and rendered it momentarily illegitimate but also enacted a community in the cracks capable of overcoming such violence is anathemic to the ideals of the liberal, progressive wing of the counter-insurgency, which is why they seek to forget it just as the state to which they are parasitically attached seeks violently to crush it. They do not want us to experience the fearlessness of the fire, for in it they shall be consumed.

V.

While all state violence is cruelly disproportionate to the perceived threat of the object of violence––even the language of proportionality or rationality of violence to justify levels or uses of force is itself disproportionate to those upon whom this violence is inflicted––there is another sense in which the overall scale of the violence used by the state, the national guard, federal protective services, department of homeland security, the surveillance state, and pigs everywhere is proportionate, merited, justified (at least in the eyes of those who wield it). That is, the threat of the rebellion is more dangerous than we think it is and the state is more fearful of us than we might immediately think. Therefore, we must not underestimate ourselves and the fear we inspire in the state. But the foremost threat of the rebellion is not its violence, it is not and will not in the present be its use of force––upon state or capitalist property, upon fascists, upon the infrastructure of capital. Rather, this more forceful threat is what kind of violence is used and how this violence infringes upon the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence. The violence of the rebellion differs in one fundamental way from the violence reigned down upon it by the reaction. While state violence is always justified by the proportionality of violent means towards the ‘justice’ or ‘legitimacy’ of its ends, the violence of revolt or rebellion revokes the very analytical framework of proportionality––of means and ends––for it reveals state violence to be always illegitimate, to be always and in the last instance a fascistic and extra-judicial overreaching of legality and justice to secure the very bounds of legality and justice. 

Circular? Let us see. When thousands of people march, for instance, upon a state capitol building or a police precinct in a symbolic display of power and ​in whom exactly power resides ​​​​​​(when the revolution arises, we will be marching upon such buildings, not symbolically, but to overtake them) and are met by lines of riot pigs decked out in full military weaponry, the pigs have two options, they can either renounce their power and recognize their illegitimacy or they can respond with brute force and demonstrate their illegitimacy. The former they will never do while the latter is a concretely necessary outcome. The movement from ‘lawful’ to ‘unlawful’ assembly by which they justify their brute force is ultimately arbitrary; in fact, all assemblies are ‘unlawful’ so long as they are founded upon a recognition of the illegitimacy of the pigs. But this recognition of illegitimacy––which the pigs will demonstrate time and again––in the arbitrary declaration of the ‘unlawful’ assembly, extends to the whole of state violence: it is always arbitrary. The decision of ‘who’ gets to be a criminal, shaped as it is in classist, racist, and sexist histories, and upon whom violence is justified to be inflicted, is always arbitrary. It is decided in a moment (and in the sedimented history that crystallizes in such a moment): as soon as a pig says stop resisting arrest, even if you were not and even if you were it does not matter, you are now a criminal upon whom the use of violence up to murder is justified. As soon as a pig on the LRAD says this is an unlawful assembly, you must leave immediately blah blah blah, it does not matter who you are or what you were doing, you are now a criminal upon whom the use of violence up to murder is justified.

This retroactive justification of violence, positing the justification before the crime and so naturalizing it, is ultimately revealed to be, not a proportionate use of force justified by the justice or legality of the ends, but rather an arbitrary and momentary decision to step outside of justice in order to uphold it. The violence of revolt or rebellion in a way invites such brutal repression so as to reveal the disproportionality of violence and to revoke it as illegitimate or ultimately to render the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence itself an illegitimate distinction. Such violence challenges the power of the state to use violence to make and to enforce its legality, its justice, and its legitimacy, for it shatters the aforementioned distinction that upholds the state’s legitimacy of its monopoly on violence. But the state cannot tolerate such violence and responds to it out of a blind fear, for it is existentially threatened. Ultimately, the state falls into our trap: by failing to distinguish between citizen and radical, by failing to distinguish between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ violence, all of its violence becomes illegitimate to ever larger numbers of people. The thrown water bottle that invites a flash grenade, the looted Macy’s that invites martial law, the burned Starbucks that invites curfews, etc., have no other ends (well, except the loot !) than to demonstrate the illegitimate distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence, and to begin to enact the destruction of the systems of domination of this world. Instead of justifying, the mythic violence of revolt and rebellion enacts the legitimacy of our future towards which we struggle.  

The state can no longer justify, if it ever could, the arbitrary murders of Black men, women, children, trans and gender-non-conforming people. For, in a brick, in a stone, thrown towards glass, thrown far, thrown wide, through smoke, through gas, through ash––in its glistening ascent and wishful drive and urge, behind, impelling its force, is the future.

VI.

The carceral capitalist state is both stronger and weaker than it appears––stronger, because it has the monstrously militarized pigs, the murderous armed forces, and a powerful propaganda machine at its disposal, but weaker, because the power of the people, of concerted, collective, and popular struggle, becomes an unstoppable force once the struggle truly escalates. Such a struggle has no fear of its fear, but is impelled by the knowledge that not fighting, not struggling, entails a fate worse than death. Worse than death is a life lived alone, apart, aside, afar. Worse than death is a life thwarted from flourishing. Worse than death is a life lived until the final recognition, ever too late, that it didn’t have to be this way. Against separation we have such love as is stronger than fear. Against separation we have solidarity. Solidarity is the fear-killer. Solidarity creates, through struggle, now what we need, a community of those who have nothing in common with this world, that is who have nothing, that is who have nothing to lose but their chains.

And as we engage the beginnings of this struggle, each pig you taunt on the street at whom you yell “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” will continue to lash out in fear and in rage because you will not step in line. You won’t and you will continue not to step in line. You will break the line. You will shatter the borders. You will set fire to the prisons. You will join the rebellion. You will join the revolt. After all, it is your duty to the dead. (For not even the dead will be safe if the oppressors continue to be victorious. And they have not ceased to be victorious.) And after all, it is your duty to the exploited everywhere. (For not even the future redemptive of such exploitation will be safe if the oppressors continue to be victorious. And they have not ceased to be victorious.) They shall be victorious no longer.

And as we continue to escalate the struggle, it must remain grounded in its origins and in the wake of centuries of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence in which we after all live and survive. For the past of pain is not a past, it is not past. It repeats again and again and again and again. It haunts. But when bourgeois historians rewrite the past to justify their present’s dominion over it, they do not erase the past. It survives in the articulation of rage against the present. And it is our duty to the past and to its millions of dead to make it a past, to make it pass, to let it pass away, to let it rest, and to honor it by shaping a world to redeem its pain.

“When our turn comes, we will make no excuses for the terror”

–– Marxist graffiti on a Minneapolis Target

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