UC Davis & the high moral ground 1: The whole world is watching

This is what it looks like when the deliberate, routinized acts of authorities concede the high moral ground to us. This is how a whole generation learns about who is listening to the people, and who coldly treats the people like cockroaches needing sprays from a can. Acts of power meant to assert and enforced the norm -- now expose that norm to vast audiences (including internationally). This is what awakening looks like. This is what delegitimization emerges from. This is the platform of consciousness upon which a new revolutionary movement can be built.

One million views and climbing -- at youtube. The video is viral, the mood is viral.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Agreed. Serves as a good example of the tactical orientation, 'Wage struggle on just grounds, to our advantage, and with restraint.'

  • Carl:

    I'm not sure if I would sum up the lesson and example that way. Particularly because the express "with restraint" is (obviously) used in many ways to suppress radicalism (and in particular counter violence at moments when it is justified).

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Context is everything. I heard the phrase explained at a session in China with some party people. Like you, I was dubious about 'with restraint' and asked the party chief we were talking to what it meant. He smiled and said, 'It's not such a good idea to go out on strike the day before payday.'

    I think the second post you put up, the silent treatment given the UC Davis chancellor, is also a good example.

    I suppose there's a good reason it comes last of the three--first take the moral high ground, then pick the weak spots where the most can be gained, then finally use your limited resources wisely, so you come out stronger on the other side of the tactical battle.

  • Context is not everything. Current context is half of it. End goals are the other half of everything.

    And the whole Confucian argument for restraint -- coupled with a cynical hack's argument (in China) about people and their need for paydays is exactly what I think should not govern things.

    Yes people are desperate for money, and the needs of money (and paydays) shape everything about their lives (including the ways they break into struggle). But starting there, with a "smile," is a statement that people are drones, and those of us who dream of struggle just need to remind ourselves of that.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    We're talking in the context of tactics here, not everything under the Sun. And context matters even when discussing final aims.

    So are you arguing for tactics to be unrestrained? Confucians are hardly the only ones who make use of it. If so, make your case. If not, what are we disagreeing about?

    I'll let your comment on the CCP guy pass, but your judgment is rather rushed, to say the least.

  • I was asked what I mean by "high moral ground" and if it is (somehow) an appeal to pacifism. Here is what I wrote in answer:

    The high moral ground is a term i know from the U.S. civil rights movement... where the right and wrong of the questions is made clear... and that clarity becomes a powerful factor in the struggle.

    there was a really gripping sense in the early civil rights movements of being just -- there was no moral ambivolence or equivalence.

    The militants of that movement were sustained by a strong (and highly visible) sense of the moral justice of their cause. and that feeling (and judgement) was conveyed by their work. It was contagious and delegitimizing for the authorities. And it was (of course) underscored and based on the objective corruption and brutality of the jim crow order.

    Seizing and holding the high moral ground is part of the delegitimization of old authority.

    And too often among the communist-ish left there is a round-shouldered ambivalence and reticence that I'm criticizing. People are afraid to speak the name of their own cause. People sometimes don't think that their cause can be explained, or embraced if it is explained.

    And i'm not aware of pacifism being an issue anywhere. thanks to the rodney king tape, the LA rebellion had the high moral ground -- and yet was profoundly violent. justified violence needs to have and seek the high moral ground.

    And this goes for oppressors as well as the oppressed: certainly Bush tried to hold the high moral ground after 911... and it has only been eroded finally in the very recent period)

    i think that sometimes the first to strike a blow loses the high moral ground. Usually in wars that everyone "knows" are about to break out, everyone maneuvers to make the opponent strike first. Mao went to the Chungking negotiations before the second civil war determined to put the onus of war's outbreak on the oppressors (U.S. imperialism and GMD) -- and so the negotiations were a form of tit-for-tat struggle (even though some dogmatists think negotiations, and the maneuvers over onus, are simply flirtation with capitulation).

    Often tactical subtelty has to do with achieving the high moral ground -- helping those watching understand the justice of the rising force, and the injustice of the oppressors. The lies of the mainstream media are designed to stripped oppressed and justified rebels of any moral ground -- to portray them as cruel terrorists, or lazy, or confused, or mislead dupes etc.

    And this is also a method for discussing the controversial acts of black blocks without (precisely) being somehow anti-violent. The black blocks often pay little attention to politics. For them, action is self-expression. And particular forms of action are a matter of principle. So they are often very indifferent to context and the dynamics of public mood, which is fatal in real politics. We should criticize naive or thoughtless tactics from the left, not from the right.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "thanks to the rodney king tape, the LA rebellion had the high moral ground — and yet was profoundly violent."

    I would have to seriously qualify that by saying that the beatings of Reginald Oliver Denny and Fidel Lopez severely undercut such high moral ground. Perhaps Bobby Green and Bennie Newton can be credited with having saved some of it.

  • Guest - equalize

    Mike: I hardily agree with the power of achieving and holding the high moral ground. I think that that is the fundamental battle we are waging in the realm of mass public opinion.

    But, I don't think I concretely understand this:

    "We should criticize naive or thoughtless tactics from the left, not from the right."

    I do understand that black block people do not respond to arguments "from the right" (like from a pacifist or liberal viewpoint). My arguments have been from the viewpoint of the tactical power of the high moral ground and by speaking concretely to the mass line and the importance of engaging the masses in these actions in a context of shared criticism of pacifist ideology. And, I think, that has been fairly effective.

    But, I do not understand how, if it is, that this is "coming from the left". Or, if it is not, what arguments 'from the left' would be.

    A good concrete case if that helps, might be, say, a black blocker who wants to smash a bank window to show outrage at the arrests of a bank sit-in and massive police presence in the context of the current state of the occupy movement.

    Can you please speak more to that?

  • There were ups and downs in how the rebellion was perceived.
    In the early day or two, there was broad majority support (even in bourgeois polls) for the rebellion (including among white people).

    After being rocked back a day or two, the mainstream media opened their cannons (including their relentless exploitation of the Reginald Denny incident and the video of it) -- trying to impose a moral equivalence where there had been clarity.

    And of course, if there is violence by the oppressed it helps politically if it is disciplined and sharply applied -- and when events go afield from that (which is inevitable in many cases) then the oppressors seek to exploit that.

    But my point here is not to make this appear simple: When the rebellion broke out, the same moral clarity and outrage that produced the rebellion, also gave it a high moral ground among people broadly in the U.S. (in ways that many people did not learn about). Then there came a fight over clarity -- with the mainstream media doing what they are paid to do....

  • <blockquote>"But, I do not understand how, if it is, that this is “coming from the left”. Or, if it is not, what arguments ‘from the left’ would be. A good concrete case if that helps, might be, say, a black blocker who wants to smash a bank window to show outrage at the arrests of a bank sit-in and massive police presence in the context of the current state of the occupy movement."</blockquote>

    The problem with Black Block tactics is not that they are violent, but that they are often not considering tactics strategically (from the perspective of preparing large numbers of people for a revolutionary transition).

    And in general, one of the key problems with this seemingly non-strategic thinking is that some people want (however militantly) to build themselves niches and spaces <em>within this society</em> -- and don't have a strategic goal of replacing it. Often people who articulate a revolutionary politics, are in fact aiming no higher than militant fightback, militant political self-expression and creating spaces for radical subcultures. That needs to be criticized "from the left" -- ie. from a more consistently and far-sighted revolutionary strategy (and not from a cautious, electoral, anti-violent politics of respectability and liberalism).

    Once you are engaged in strategically thinking through how to transform society and defeat the oppressors -- once tactics are considered in the context of the necessary strategic alliances and mediations -- then violence (which has been necessary in all movements of liberation) is viewed and approached differently from how Black Blocks approach it. (and here I am using a broad brush obviously, with all the dangers of a broad brush).

    I'm saying that the problem with some Black Block short-sightedness is a lack of a strategic approach (to people, to the state, to a revolution) -- and it is often marked by a sense of overall pessimism about revolution (and a decision to fight, however militantly, for space <em>within</em> the existing society).

    This was certainly true of the militant Black Block politics I interacted with in the squats of Germany (in the 1980s). And any communist criticism of their approaches needed to be from a more consistently left (i.e. revolutionary) stance, not mainly from a social-pacifist rightism. And such criticism, when appropriate, needs to be the friendly "unity and struggle" among allies (or potential alliesO, because often we are talking about revolutionary anarchist forces who are young, militant and sincerely <em>wanting</em> radical change (in ways that are often NOT as true among their liberal or social democratic critics).

    The question of baiting black blocks as police provocateurs is much more complicated. First we should not do it. And second we should recognize that there are in fact sometimes police provocateurs who <em>want</em> to provoke isolated violent acts that might give police, authorities and media hacks instant justifications for their (pre-existing) plans.

    The actions of such provocateurs are, again, part of tactically shifting the "onus" of open conflict onto one's opposing forces). It is naive to think there are no police provocateurs wearing black ski masks -- but it is reactionary to accuse every pissed-off kid smashing a window of being a cop.

  • Guest - equalize

    Thanks Mike, I get it.

    I agree that it is not about violence or not. And, I agree on the provocateur question. My discussions have all been friendly unity-struggle among allies and definitely not from social pacifist rightism. I get along well with the anarchists find most of them to be good, articulate, principled and passionate people.

    I have been frustrated by their common apparent blind-spot toward formulating a strategic viewpoint and have been approaching it from the idea that they were just not thinking clearly. Your statement that they don't fully believe in the possibility of revolution and are seeking a kind of counter-cultural accommodation rings true and is a very helpful insight. It dovetails with their emphasis on individual self-expression and their relative dis-interest in strategic discussions.

    I also think that it helps, with the anarchists and black block people for them to see us standing beside them at mass confrontations and to actively engage in struggles against the unprincipled liberals and ideological pacifists in the mass movement. Solidarity in action lays a groundwork for principled struggle.

  • Guest - Red Bird

    A Dream Deferred

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore—
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over—
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?

    -Langston Hughes

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