Monday, February 7, 2011

The Power of Constitutional Insurgency

Beyond Quixotic devotion to a Marxist political party, beyond pointlessly standing around in groups of varying size impotently "demanding" reforms under the watchful eyes of the police, beyond social democrats who imagine they can deliver a more humane form of capitalism, beyond isolated anarchist communities removing their miniscule amount of effective demand from the capitalist system and electing to live in genteel poverty, there is the idea of "constitutional insurgency."

The free speech fights of the IWW, the Suffragists, and Margaret Sanger's fight to speak freely about birth control can also be interpreted as constitutional insurgencies. The constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech justified their action, even though the legally constituted authorities might throw them in jail for it.

The civil rights movement, too, can be interpreted as a constitutional insurgency. The movement was contesting for the equal rights that, it held, were guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, even though they were denied by the legally constituted authorities.

Constitutional insurgencies do not fit neatly into either the idea of a revolutionary overthrow of the government or of reforms conducted within the constitutional framework as currently interpreted. In practice, social movements have long enacted a middle way between the constitutional discontinuity of revolution on the one hand and reform that fails to challenge the legitimacy of dominant constitutional structures on the other. The concept of "constitutional insurgency" explains how this can be.
This has always been the logic behind my "Workers as Citizens" idea. People already believe (although more and more in the abstract and with numerous idiotic qualifications due to their delusions about the "war on terror") in human rights. In the right to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. There is also a justified desire to maintain our present political order and to not destroy it through violent revolution.

Our current political system needs a radical transformation. A revolutionary alteration of power relations. But in the present political reality, it is too much of a struggle to attempt to instill new ideas into a population saturated with a liberal ideology and a culture of consumerism. We have to base our arguments on the ideas that already exist, and find the subversive power of these principles.

Make no mistake about it: Our elites are well aware of the dangerous potential of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and political equality. That's why they work so hard to suppress them and to distort our understanding of them.


Simon said...

hi Thwap... the problem with Canada is that relatively speaking we're wallowing in wealth, and most people don't want to change ANYTHING.

Even though we do have to change things because some people are drowning in poverty as the piggies stuff their faces, or bow down before Big Oil.

And then there's this:

If they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers.

Thomas Pynchon/Gravity's Rainbow

My guess, in gloomy February, is until the first situation changes, the second won't either.

And after I thought of that one, all I could do was pull the covers over my head, and dream of SPRING... :)

thwap said...

Montreal Simon,

Actually, we're drowning in debt, but we're wealthy enough as a society that the day of reckoning isn't immediately evident.

I was more addressing that post to actual leftists. I really think that we're completely bankrupt of new ideas to combat our total lack of effectiveness.

So many people believe in voting Liberal, to have their cake and eat it too, while the more radical types seriously believe that standing in the cold shouting at people who don't listen is the way to go.