Rob Hunter

The Civil Rights Movement’s Forgotten Radicals

I have a new essay up at Jacobin on continuities of radicalism between the Civil Rights Movement and today’s struggles against racism:

However devoutly liberals may wish for it, democracy cannot be depoliticized. Political change can only be pursued and maintained by political commitment and engagement. The sacralization of the Civil Rights Movement’s achievements through constitutional jurisprudence is the entombment, not the revivification, of the struggle for racial justice and equality.

As always, consider subscribing or donating; they do good work at Jacobin.

H-node and the Trap of Anticonsumerism

h-node, the FSF’s repository of free software-compatible hardware, recently updated its guidelines to include Debian among its list approved GNU/Linux distributions. This is a welcome move for those who – myself included – prefer to use Debian because of its stability, security, and above all the large community of developers, hackers, and users who maintain it.

Debian still isn’t on the FSF’s list of approved distros, though, because of its inclusive policies toward non-free bits of software (such as video drivers).

I have sympathies with the tendency in hacker circles to prefer running only free software, but I have no qualms about using Debian despite its inclusion (outside of its main repository) of non-free software. In a political economy predicated on the accumulation and concentration of capital, individual consumption choices – including choices to abstain from buying certain kinds of hardware or using certain kinds of closed source software – do not redound to meaningful political actions. An ascetic approach to hacking does nothing to confront or challenge capital’s control over computing or computing’s usefulness to the project of centralizing and obscuring the mechanisms of power.

There’s a certain element of anticonsumerism implicit in the wholesale rejection of closed-source software, but as Ellen Willis observed almost fifty years ago, “there is nothing inherently wrong with consumption…The locus of oppression resides in the production function” and not in consumption. The problem with the uneven distribution of power in computing and software development today lies in the fact that production decisions are made based on profits, not in the fact that individual users are confronted with an array of consumption choices that includes very few options that are fully free software-compatible.

I’m glad that Debian is cooperating with FSF on h-node, but I doubt that I will use the site to guide my next hardware purchase. Coding, debugging, and donating time, money, and equipment – these remain far better ways to support software freedom than embracing an absolutist anticonsumerist ethos.

Abolish the States

Abolish the States,” my polemic against federalism and “states’ rights,” is up at Jacobin. I’ve written before about how federalism frustrates freedom rather than promoting it. Federalism – the fragmentation of political authority and the preference for subsidiarity over national political equality – inhibits the consolidation of centralized political institutions and thwarts mass movements seeking comprehensive political change.

As a sort of colloquy on the topic, here are some choice quotes on federalism. Note that they’re all from what would properly be called a progressive bourgeois perspective rather than a radically democratic one, but I don’t think that diminishes their force:

They were defending their freedom to neutralize the king; they were defending their freedom to keep the newly built towns subservient to their country areas; they were defending most strongly their freedom to keep their peasants in a state of perpetual serfdom as opposed to the liberties which were being grudgingly won in the western parts of Europe; and they were doing everything reactionary within their power to preserve the advantages they had against the legitimate aspirations of the growing gentry. The Golden Freedom which the magnates defended with every bit of chicanery and power they commanded was the freedom of the few to oppress the many, the freedom of a few grasping magnates to prevent a strong king from arising.

They have him in his prison house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him. One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him, and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key; the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different and distant places; and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced to make the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.

If one approves of the goals and values of the privileged minority, one should approve of federalism. Thus, if in the United States one approves of Southern white racists, then one should approve of American federalism. If, on the other hand, one disapproves of the values of the privileged minority, one should disapprove of federalism. Thus, if in the United States one disapproves of racism, one should disapprove of federalism.

As always, if you like what they’re doing at Jacobin, I urge you to subscribe.

Waiting for SCOTUS

I have an essay in the latest issue of Jacobin on liberals’ preference for crafting policy through judicial review – rather than pursuing political power through collective action. Liberals have not only abandoned mass politics by embracing the Court, but they have also turned their backs on the radical implications of the (partial and incomplete) successes of mass movements and the expansion of democracy in American political history. It’s a fundamentally antidemocratic posture. Even more pathetically, it tends to fail even on its own terms.

The article isn’t paywalled, but they do fine work at Jacobin and you should consider subscribing if you can afford it.