Abolition requires more than just swapping out people. It requires reshaping the world.

If you’re at all aware of the history of U.S. foreign policy over the last century, any time a left-wing movement achieves some kind of success, you’re faced with the joy of a step in the right direction, mixed with the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before there’s another corporate-backed effort to put a far-right regime in power. It’s annoying, because that reaction feels sort of fatalistic – like no matter how much we do, there’s always a handful of obscenely wealthy extremists who prefer mass murder to anything that even looks like a threat to their power.

That’s the case right now, with the recent victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile’s presidential election. It’s impossible for me to see this welcome move to the left without remembering the events that made it such a big deal. With a nation as powerful, and as committed to capitalism as the U.S., it’s hard not to worry that we’re never going to actually have a shot at a better future without the U.S. itself undergoing revolutionary change. That change itself is constantly being fought by the U.S. government, more or less as part of standard operating procedure. A couple recent examples are the assassination of Michael Reinoehl by U.S. Marshalls (possibly on the orders of then-President Trump), and the imprisonment of Florida anti-fascist Daniel Baker in association with the events of January 6th. What’s interesting about that case is that Baker’s 44 month sentence is for merely suggesting that people on the left should do what Kyle Rittenhouse did in Kenosha, and organize an armed opposition to the fascist mob that was planning to attack the capitol and possibly murder lawmakers.

“Dan’s case speaks volumes about how the state represses the left much differently than it treats the far right,” Brad Thomson, civil rights attorney at the People’s Law Office, who did not represent Baker, told me. “Here, Dan was sentenced to three and a half years for online posts opposing another January 6 incident. But for actual participants from January 6, we’re seeing charges and sentences far below that.” Thomson added that “every case is unique, but the overall message people will get from this is that online speech calling for militant antifascist action will send you to prison for much longer than actually taking militant action with fascists.”

Any effort at ending capitalism on this planet will have to account for U.S. intelligence agencies, even if the U.S. armed forces never get involved. This has led to a lot of people calling – rightly in my opinion, for the abolition of the CIA. The problem is that as with policing, merely replacing the people currently involved in the organization won’t actually solve the problem. Beau of the Fifth Column does a good job of breaking down why:

We’re surrounded by a sort of global mental infrastructure, built over countless generations and maintained far better than any material infrastructure, by those whose power and privilege come from that very infrastructure. Trains and power lines help everybody, but those at the top can get power and transit for themselves, even if the rest of us are stuck without. The infrastructure of hierarchy and competition, on the other hand, only serves those at the top, and they will spend unimaginable sums to maintain and improve that infrastructure, by setting laws, and by spreading propaganda to the masses.

That’s why I no longer buy the idea that gradual or incremental reforms will save us. As things stand, we have to fight almost as hard for little changes as we do for big ones, and the little changes are both inadequate, and easily reversed. As with police abolition, success requires that we remove the justification for groups like the CIA, and for their actions.

There was a saying going around a while back, in some of the climate activist groups I was part of – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together with others. Unfortunately, we need to go far and fast. We need a planet-wide overhaul of our political and economic infrastructure, and of the thought patterns and assumptions that support and perpetuate that infrastructure. Doing all of that at the speed I want to do it isn’t safe. I don’t see how it could be. The closer we get to real change, the more those at the top are going to rely on their oldest and most reliable tool: violence.

They will imprison people for the mere act of advocating armed opposition to militant fascism. They will summarily execute people who actually carry out such opposition. Many of the people who walk the halls of power today were themselves involved in ordering, aiding, or hiding numerous atrocities around the world, and it’s hard to see why they would stop now – it’s worked well for them so far.

The problem is that we’ve run out of safe options. Allowing things to continue as they are today means courting extinction, and at minimum guarantees hundreds of millions of needless deaths. As always, my preferred path forward relies on increasing our resilience and our capacity to take coordinated action, separate from any government systems or political parties. I think that gives us the best shot we’ll ever have at large-scale change with as little violence as possible. I also think it gives us our best shot at withstanding efforts to crush that change long enough to see it through. The biggest ray of hope I can see is that it’s getting harder for the government to hide what it’s doing around the world, and it feels like the U.S. empire is beginning to lose its grip a bit. It’s encouraging to see things like Boric’s win in Chile, and the return to power of the MAS party in Bolivia. Our job, in places like the U.S. and western Europe, is to do our part to keep an eye on what our governments are doing around the world, and to organize so that we can create ever-increasing political costs for the politicians and oligarchs behind this sort of foreign interference.

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