Yesterday President Obama, flanked by former president George W. Bush, spoke at a ceremony commemorating the lives of police officers killed in Dallas last weekend. Cutting through the sanctimonious and pious eulogies and calls for unity is a demand to understand. Yet, understanding the shooting of officers in Dallas is difficult. It’s easy to fall into traps and blind yourself to uneasy truths that, by ignoring them, disguise reality. That reality is the police brutality that has been a part a constant feature of this nation’s history. That brutality has known many forms, from chattel slavery to share cropping, through lynchings and Jim Crow, and now with gentrification and police shootings. The form may be different, but the fact that there is a single group which has borne the brunt of this brutality has remained the same.
While useful for understanding how history itself moves, a dialectical approach can also be helpful in situations such as the present tension between the police and Black Lives Matter movement. When violence is met with violence there comes a loud chorus of voices asking why, calling it terror, or other moralistic phrases. While the sentiment is understandable, it belies the reality. As Newton discovered in the physical world, so too does every social action have an equal and opposite reaction. It is this interaction, between the thing (the thesis) and its naturally created opposite (the antithesis), which comes from the inherent contractions of the thesis, that a synthesis (a new thesis) is created. In this case, police brutality is the thesis, and armed opposition to police power is the antithesis.
Both sides carry contradictions. The abuse of police power only produces a demand for justice, even if that be vigilante, and sows the seeds of discontent, thereby necessitating an increase in force. The antithesis of police abuses of power is the resistance, whether that be Black Lives Matter in general, narrowed down to reciprocal opposition to police power with their weapons of choice, semi-automatic rifles. The antithesis, more easily seen in violent revenge against police, has the effect of demoralizing the larger resistance movement. As one author put it “individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.” It hurts the movement much more than acts of violence on the thesis side could.
The interaction of these groups therefore, produces a synthesis, but that synthesis is not necessarily progressive. Indeed, the contradictions of both may, in fact, be contained in the new synthesis, thereby producing one which carries not just one set of contradictions, but both. In the present time, terror responses to police terror can only produce more of the contradiction. The only hope then would be a new anti-thesis based on non-violent solidarity aimed at the real basis for police oppression, state capitalist power.
But the current response to police brutality in the form of BLM, for all the great consciousness raising they have performed, also has a fatal flaw. Its acceptance of human division based on race, the tactic of their class enemies (the ruling class), forces them to do all of their activity within limited boundaries, where, as much as they would like, the ability for intersectionality to direct the movement towards targeting the apparatuses of control (news, government, major centers of production) is itself hindered. This is not an indictment of BLM, for its value may lie in its message that, like the 99% notion propounded by Occupy, was already a part of the Zetigiest, but was only missing its messengers. For both of these issues, the messengers have appeared, but the means of state control, police violence and a lack of organizational unity has prevented these groups from being able to organize forms of mass resistance. Indeed, even if they were able to create such a movement, that movement so organized would be unable to effectuate lasting change, because it fails to understand the real culprit behind police oppression. Though its form is racial, is cause is economic – it is capitalism.
Therefore, all those who have been energized or radicalized by BLM are new and important members to the large community of activists and revolutionaries. However, only until myriad activists are able to unite their disparate causes under a single banner, against their common class enemies, can these new activists maintain their desire for political change. American history is rife with examples of flare ups in resistance, only to be squashed by the state because there was no unity by which the resistance could be sustained. If we do not learn the lessons from our historic struggles, we are doomed to repeat them, as we are each day.
A single act of individual terrorism only hurts this causes, and pulls more people from the unity that is needed. Therefore, all those who believe in the resistance currently waged, and who want to see it be fully successful, must condemn the attacks against police officers, as we do attacks against unarmed civilians, not because we misunderstand the desire for revenge, but because we know what it produces. All those contemplating a similar form of opposition, individual terrorism, ought to take that energy and commitment and use it for the cause for which those acts could only harm.
The only route for success is to abandon such radicalism in the form of movement building against the ruling class. As the holder of the keys to the mass prison cell of capitalism, to which the police must merely provide the role of street sweeper, failure to direct opposition at that group with produce and inevitable failure of systemic change. While calls for education and reform are understandable and may produce piecemeal results, the very nature of the growing numbers of problems in the United States demands more than reform, it demands a revolution. What form that revolution will take, and against whom, depends on understanding the dialectics of brutality in Dallas, Detroit, Davenport, and D.C.