Promoting the. Decline of the Rising State:

Documents of Resistance and Renewal from the Alternative Community: Buffalo, 1965-76

by Elwin H. Powell (Reprinted from Catalyst,1977)

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Sidney Willhelm is right about the "Rise of State Rule". Capital is receding to a secondary role as the State assumes command of contemporary society. Social control, not production, is the main aim of this statist system. In the 1920s President Coolidge could say, "the business of America is business." Today, the business of America is war.

As an institution, the State has the task of preserving peace by waging war. Confronted by the dual threat of invasion and insurrection, the State deploys military force to ward off external attack, uses police power to suppress rebellion.1 But coercion alone is never enough to maintain order. To be effective the State's violence must be legitimated by value-consensus, naked power turned into authority. Like other institutions the State is an embodiment of an Idea shared by a collectivity of people. "What makes governments (States) exist?" asks Alexander Berkman:

The armies and navies? Yes, but only apparently so. What supports the armies and navies? It is the belief of the people, of the masses that government is necessary; it is the generally accepted idea of the need of government. That is the real and solid foundation of the State. Take that idea or belief away and no government could last another day.2

Why then do people feel a need for government, what function does the State perform? People turn to the State because it provides protection. Historically speaking, the social unit which affords security becomes the political State. For instance, as the Roman empire crumbled (circa 3rd to 6th century A.D.) uprooted people began to cluster around the country houses (villas) of wealthy Romans; there they found a shield from marauding bands of Roman soldiers.' Eventually the villa became the castle, the nucleus of feudal society. Around the 11th century the walled town reappeared as an urban commune, a virtual city-state. A liberated zone, the walled city offered protection from both barons and bandits. From the 14th to 18th century castle and town give way to the territorial State. On the circumference of the territory is a ring of fortresses: beyond the border rages the Hobbesian war of each against all but within this defended space, peace prevails.' Never secure, always anticipating war, each State strives for greater sufficiency by enlarging the area under its control: thus the inevitable clash of arms. The nation-states of the 19th century in pursuit of total security produced the disastrous wars of the 20th century and finally a suicidal military technology which, renders obsolete traditional defense structures, by-passes the protective shell of the state. Paradoxically utmost strength now coincides in the same unit with utmost vulnerability, absolute power with utter impotence . . . nothing short of global rule can satisfy the security interest of any one power . . . each superpower's logical objective is the destruction of the other. But this is not practical since thermonuclear warfare would involve one's own destruction, the means defeat the end. If this is so, then the short term objective of states must surely be mutual accommodation . . . Now that destruction threatens everybody, the common interest of all mankind is in sheer survival.'

By the mid 1950s others sensed what John Herz so well articulates: arms are not protective but self-threatening. With nuclear testing the State poisoned its own people as well as the 'enemy'. The empirical evidence was indisputable and in 1959 Linus Pauling collected signatures of 1500 scientists calling for a ban on the atmospheric testing of thermonuclear bombs. Thus the Peace Movement was born.

The State's effort to suppress the Peace Movement facilitated its growth. Pauling was attacked as a subversive: the FBI announced ominously that it was investigating to determine whether members of the Communist Party had signed or helped circulate Pauling's petition. Petition-signing in the 1950s was dangerous business, enough to cost the security clearance of a research worker - but by 1963 a million people had petitioned for a test-ban. Though harassed by Senator Thomas Dodd's Internal Security Committee, threatened wit1f legal action, smeared as a "Stalinist", purged from the board of the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, Pauling persisted in his one-man crusade to awaken the public to the dangers of the arms race. Along with other Nobel Prize winners Pauling was invited to dine with President and Mrs. Kennedy in 196 1. Before dining with the dignitaries, Pauling picketed the White House, carrying a huge sign calling for a test ban - a shocking breach of social custom in 1961 when proper people did not picket, parade or demonstrate. Passed by the Senate and signed by the President in July 1963, the test-ban treaty was the first official act of cooperation between the American and Russian government since 1945. The treaty symbolized an attenuation of the Cold War, and there are those who believe John Kennedy wrote his death warrant with it.

Gradually people were moving out of their private pigeon-holes into public space, into the streets. A trickle of people opposing war in the 1950s would become a flood in the '60s. As people stood up and said No! to the State an alternative community called the Movement emerged. A support system and a counter-culture, the Movement legitimated defection from the dominant society, the Establishment. Through antiwar protest people discovered each other, developed a new solidarity whence came a new consciousness. Peace demonstrations changed the demonstrators, if not always the decision makers who were watching them. And the demonstrations of the decade are a barometer of a changing socio-political climate. Washington as the prime symbol and locus of State authority drew the monster demonstrations. But even a provincial city like Buffalo, typical of the vast urban hinterland of this country, saw anti-war activity of a magnitude not known for half a century. Consider the simple statistics of Table 1:

TABLE I

Anti-War Demonstrations: 1959-1969

Date; Theme; Number

Buffalo, N.Y.
May, 1959 Test Ban 25'
May, 1965 Stop War, Vietnam 85**
Oct. 15, 1969 Stop War, Vietnam 5,000
Washington, D.C.
April, 1965 SDS, March on the Capitol 2,000 to 4,000
Nov. 15, 1969 Moratorium Day 1,000,000
** My count
* FBI count

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