January 16, 2013

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Federal justice and Aaron Swartz’s death - Salon.com Writing in Rolling Stone last May, Rick Perlstein highlighted a disturbing pattern in which federal authorities devote disproportionately more attention to targeting activists, anarchists and Muslims than they do other groups such as white supremacist militias. “The State is singling out ideological enemies,” wrote Perlstein, noting how FBI sting operations regularly focused on entrapping activists and anarchists (like the eight Cleveland anarchists last year who were “unable to terrorize their way out of a paper bag” but were guided into a bomb plot by an undercover agent) rather than racist far-right militias deemed currently to be the greatest homegrown terror threat. Swartz, as I’ve noted, was no anarchist. But his brand of activism — including the sharing of academic articles — fell within the purview of behaviors deemed threatening to the government. Critics of the Massachusetts U.S. attorney who have stressed that Swartz’s alleged crimes had no victims forget that the government has a strong history in doling out harsh punishments when property — intellectual or material — is involved. In all their years of activism, particularly concentrated in the 1990s, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front never injured one human or animal and took pains to ensure this was the case. Nonetheless, acts of property damage alone led then-FBI director Robert Mueller in 2006 to call these environmental activists one of the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities.” The recent revelation of extensive FBI surveillance of Occupy activity aligns with this pattern. A petition on the White...
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Michels: the rusty iron law of oligarchy This post is a reading of Robert Michels' discussion of the iron law of oligarchy. Two questions underlie the reading: what is his critique of the party and what is the relation of his idea of the crowd to this critique? At this point, I only sketch some of the components of the latter idea rather than provide much of an analysis. Robert Michels' Political Parties (1911) is the classic critique of not just the revolutionary party (or the 'modern party as a fighting organization') but the party form in general. His basic claim is well known. Parties tend to oligarchy -- it's an iron law. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that Michels' argument applies to democracy (or any kind of mass or collective governance) overall: democracy, of any kind, tends to oligarchy. What might work for a small group can't be carried out by masses directly, so they have to divide the tasks, delegate, specialize, report, and assign. Because leadership is technically indispensable, democracy leads to oligarchy. The problem for socialists is that socialism, too, tends to oligarchy (Michels was a member of the SPD and then the PSI; Lenin refers to him as 'the garrulous Michels'). Even those parties one might most expect to remain in tune with and accountable to the workers, even those organizations animated by ideals of democratic participation, even those championing the cause of the proletariat ultimately take on a whole slew of oligarchical characteristics. It's a sad but true fact of modern political...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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