Radicals and Anarchists: The ‘New’ Crisis of Hegemony

Have our fears finally aligned with our ideals or do they just continue to inform them?  The paradigm shift from fear to stability has seen a return to old conventions that have merely adopted new forms.   Our endless struggles to overthrow the very systems we reaffirm everyday continue to shape our fears, contentions, and divisions.  We have moved into an age where old fears are rekindled to construct and take up arms against newly imagined enemies; an era where our enemies and allies are not dissimilar. We have now arrived in era where to think is in itself an enemy to the state; this thinking forces us to question ourselves, and that questioning gives way to more questions, and these questions hold the capacity to rupture; to splinter the seams of a hegemony that cannot name its enemy.  We have arrived in the age of the disobedient idea….

Whitaker (1989) contends that counter-subversion of Communists has been a key component to maintaining national security within Canadian borders for four decades (p. 197). His contention is easily supported by a qualitative historical analysis of a 1952 RCMP directive which was developed to screen public servants for Communists defined Communism as “a person who is a member of the Communist party, or who is by his words shows himself to believe in marxism-leninism, or any other ideology which advocates the overthrow of the government by force, should not be permitted to enter the public service” (Whitaker 1989: 197). This anti-communist directive remained a primary governing principal until 1986 (Whitaker 1989: 197). Directives such as this were often justified based on Communism’s direct ideological opposition towards Capitalist economic, social, and political structures which they were committed to violent revolution to undermine (Whitaker 1989: 194).

The old fears surrounding the subversive political left have been recycled and have resurfaced in the public discourse surrounding Toronto’s Occupy movement. This movement has come to represent the struggle to redistribute the wealth between the exceedingly wealthy one percent and the lower/middle class ninety nine percent in Capitalist societies. Critics of Occupy Toronto have framed the protest as a national security threat due to its ‘antithetical’ position towards Capitalism where its dissidents have been framed as ‘radicals’ and ‘anarchists’ who are opposed to Capitalism and its economic structure. Contrary to this belief, the movement is not opposed to capitalism per se but to a very specific relationship between capitalism and democracy where capitalism subverts and undermines democracy through various economic processes. Many key demands of the Occupy protest can be met through legislative reform, not violent revolution, without disrupting capitalism and its economic relations (Ali 2011). However, this would require political leaders to realize that most of the Occupy protestors and its dissidents do not wish to undermine the Capitalist system and are therefore no more of a risk to national security then were the communists.

This labeling process has broader implications in that the Occupy protest has the potential to rupture the hegemonic discourse and undermine Capitalism. Foucault’s concept of Governmentality will be utilized to demonstrate the states response to the ideological tensions between the Canadian state and Occupy Toronto. The concept of Governmentality is concerned with how governments and institutions guide and shape the conduct of its subjects towards particular objectives such as order, civility, and productivity (Rose 2000: 223). Although during the Occupy Toronto protests there was little in the way of coercive violence used by state security forces towards the protestors there was, however, an extensive media campaign which waged an ideological war on those who opposed the Capitalist way of life. In this way, those who opposed the Capitalist order were positioned as ‘radicals’ and ‘anarchists’ and as a result were named a national security threat thus being excluded from the hegemonic ideal of a citizen.

Those who are excluded from society are often referred to as the ‘other.’ The concept of the Other gives priority to Said’s conceptual framework of Orientalism, which highlights the differences between the East and West through the lens of an occident.  The occident makes clear distinctions between the two regions of the world, improperly giving value to the West as the dominant participant in the relationship. In the context of this blog, the Other is identified in groups of people whom society excludes based on specific characteristics that do not comply with the larger moral context of the community. Furthermore, the Other illuminates the role that differences plays in creating national identities and how those identities are used to reaffirm existing boundaries. In this paper, we see how such a process as dehumanizing and empowering for both the “inferior” and the dominant group (Said 1978).

In this way, the Occupy protestors defined as ‘radicals’ and ‘anarchists’ are placed in the periphery of society due to their perceived ‘non-compliance’ with traditional capitalist values such as the acquisition of wealth and property, individualism, and commodification. The process of othering not only works to exclude full citizenship rights to those protestors deemed as national security threats it also serves to define national identities precisely by defining who is not a citizen. Perhaps something can be learned from Hall’s (1978) analysis of the ‘mugging panic’ which gripped Britain in 1972-3 (p. 181). To explain the genesis of this particular crisis Hall (1978) contends that Britain was experiencing a ‘crisis of hegemony’ which is defined as “a moment of profound rupture in the political and economic life of a society…” (p. 216). As we can see, the Occupy movement developed as a response to a hegemonic crisis due to the near collapse of global economies and other political issue.

Perhaps as Hall et al. questioned in order to understand the true origins of the Occupy movement we should begin to look at the economic and political structures of our society as opposed to classifying groups as ‘radicals’ and ‘anarchists’ for political purposes. Doing so only serves to divide our society further during this troubled time.

References

Ali, Hayat. 2011. “Capitalism, Democarcy and the Occupy Wall Street Movement” The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 18, 2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-hayat/occupy-wall-street-capitalism_b_1119247.html)

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N. Clarke, and Brian Roberts. 1978. “Crime, Law, and the State.” Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan.

Rose, Nikolas. 2000. “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology 40: 321-339.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York, NY: Vintage.

Whitaker, Reg. 1989. “Left-Wing Dissent and the State: Canada in the Cold War Era.” Pp.191-210 in Dissent and the State, edited by C.E.S. Franks. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

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One comment

  1. I like how you highlighted that the Occupy movement is “not opposed to capitalism per se but to a very specific relationship between capitalism and democracy where capitalism subverts and undermines democracy through various economic processes.” I believe this particular statement hits the issue right at its heart. The critical responses to the Occupy movement and other protests which are similarly attempting to expose the detriments of capitalism and globalization such as those surrounding APEC and the WTO are way too often focused upon that one particular fact: “these people are opposed to capitalism”. It is unfortunate that this ignorant perspective popularly delegitimizes these struggles. Of course these movements are opposed to components of capitalism; but, they are only opposed to them because over the last few decades, arguably since the eruption of neoliberalism, capitalist goals have become more important than democratic values. I don’t know how much more obvious it could become that governments are more interested in keeping large corporations happy rather than the “99%” of their population. As you rightly pointed out, many key demands of the Occupy protest can be met through legislative reform without disrupting capitalism and its economic relations and this is what so many people seem to forget. Occupy protestors, anti-globalization protestors and the like should not be classified as “radicals” or “anarchists”, they should be classified as spirited citizens who are wise enough to speak up for the rest of us because at the rate that things are going, the poor are just going to continue getting poorer.

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