The Politics of Abolition

AutorMathiesen, Thomas
PealkiriThe politics of abolition : essays in political action theory / Thomas Mathiesen
IlmunudOslo : Universitetsforlaget, c1974
ViideMathiesen, Thomas 1974. The politics of abolition: essays in political action theory. Scandinavian Studies in Criminology, Volume 4. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

The alternative is 'alternative' in so far as it competes with the old system. An arrangement which does not compete with the old system, an arrangement which is not relevant for the members of the old system as a replacement of the old system, is no alternative. I emphasized that the concept of competition takes, as its point of departure, the subjective standpoint of the satisfied system-member being confronted with an opposition. The political task is that of exposing to such a member the insufficiency of being satisfied with the system. When this is exposed, the opposition competes. This is the case whether the system-members in question are on top or at the bottom of the system. Often those we try to talk to will be at the bottom, because these are considered more mobile for actual political action. (Marhiesen 1974: 14)
This is a relevant dictum for dystopic fiction, since they don't (usually) present to the protagonist a viable (proper) alternative. Members of totalitarian systems are forced to confront the existing system without a considerable alternative.
Love is an unifinished relationship. In its state of being unfinished, love is boundless. We do not know where it will lead us, we do not know where it will stop; in these ways it is without boundaries. It ceases, it finishes, when it is tried out and when its boundaries are clarified and determined - finally drawn. It represents an alternative to 'the existing state of things': to existence in resigned loneliness or in routinized marriage. Resigned loneliness and routinized marriage are not alternatives in relation to each other: contradiction as well as the degree of competition are low, if at all present. (But unfinished loneliness, in which we are en route to something through the loneliness, and in which boundaries are not drawn, may certainly be an alternative to - contradicting and competing with - routinized marriage.) (Mathiesen 1974: 16-17)
This is just beautiful. Not at all what could be expected in an ominous-sounding series called "Scandinavian Studies in Criminology".
'Carrying into effect' consists of two main subtypes: (1) as a non-member of the established system you may try to create an alternative in splendid isolation from the establishment (the hippy society); (2) as a non-member you may try to create the alternative through overthrowing the establishment. Strictly speaking, only the latter type competes with the establishment (if the alternative is isolated, it is outside any relationship with the establishment), but empirically - outside the ideal type - there may also be present an element of competition in the former type. But the competition of the isolated alternative consists of 'persuasion', with the difficulties which this implies (see above). Thus, only the second subtype of 'carrying into effect' - working for the overthrow - implies a genuinely new type of competition. (Mathiesen 1974: 21)
Here he drives his concept of the alternative home. In this sense isolated communities are not proper alternatives; aside from Mathiesen's argument of them not being in any relationship with the establishment, I'd argue toward isolated communities being inclusive.
These were some of the more important features of our thinking while the great silence prevailed. Through emphasis on co-operation, honesty towards the authorities, diplicity in order to appease the authorities, reliance on the authorities' own regulations, and a tendency to refrain from emphasixing the association itself, we were - without being particularly conscious of it - far along the road towards being integrated into or absorbed by the system we were trying to change. (By 'integration' or 'absorption' is meant that an organization changes its course of action in such a way that its activities mainly take place on conditions provided by the opposite party, and according to principles accepted by the opposite party). (Mathiesen 1974: 59)
Here Mathiesen is already immersed in the KROM narrative, but his warning of being absorbed by the authoritative system contains import for all counter-organizations. Later he makes the differentiation between political and humanitarian work, with the latter being more prone to absorption.
Bureaucracy is preoccupied with maintaining a calm environment. The goal of 'calmness''is important because the bureaucracy is frequently exposed to criticism. It is also important as an end in itself. Even friendly initiatives from the bureaucracy towards new counter-organization imply a brief period of unrest, and even if such unrest would scarcely be dangerous to the long-term policy of the bureaucracy, representatives of bureaucratic organizations also try to avoid creating unrest of this kind, because unrest is in itself viewed as an evil. Instead, potential unrest is met by silence. (Mathiesen 1974: 61)
This descriptions seems on par with the experience of current/local squatters movement - no one seems to mind, explicitly, that illegal activity is taking place, as long as the impression of calm can be maintained.
Firstly, political contact between prisoners and an outside organization like KROM disturbs the expurgatory function of imprisonment. In our society, 'productivity' is to a considerable and increasing degree geared to activity in the labour market. At the same time, our social structure probably increasingly creates groups which are 'unproductive' according to this criterion. A social structure which does so must rid itself of its unproductive elements, partly because their presence creates inefficiency in the system of production - it 'throws sand into the machinery' - and partly because the 'unproductive' brutally remind us of the fact that our productive system is not so successful after all. A society may get rid of its 'unproductive' elements in many ways. One way is to criminalize their activities and punish them by imprisoning them. This may be done towards a sub-category of the unproductive. In this perspective, the rulers of the prison system are merely the executives of the expurgatory system of society. KROM, on the other hand, tries to expose the ideological superstructure of the prisons, unmasking the real expurgatory function of the system. Concretely, contrast between KROM and the prisoners implies that the wall between society and the 'unproductive' has been breached, and that the 'unproductive' indirectly come within the field of vision of the society which wants to get rid of them. Against this background, the provoked reaction on the part of people in the prison system, and their allies becomes understandable. (Mathiesen 1974: 77)
There isn't much point in tracing the developments and events recorded in the book, but this lengthy quote briefly sums up the intent of the author.
The fundamental idea behind organization from below, is, of course, that when you stand together and act in a co-ordinated way, your struggle against coercion becomes more effective. In other words, what we are talking about is counter-organization. However, there are several possible diversionary manoeuvres that may be used by those in power when they confront a tendency towards counter-organization among the expelled.
One diversionary manoeuvre may be found in the idea of 'individual treatment'. 'Individual treatment' - handling of the individual through individual rewards and punishments - was earlier (and still is) one of the anwers of the factory owners to tendencies towards organization among the workers. Such individual handling - ruling through division - is of course also part of the strategy employed by the prison governor, the head-doctor, and the supervisor of the old people's home against tendencies towards counter-organization among the prisoners, the sick, and the old. But these wielders of power have something more to add. What is particularly important in connection with the handling of the expelled is that the 'individual treatment' may be elevated to a distinct ideology. The medical-psychoatric treatment ideology, with its stress on individual treatment accords to need, provides an ideological foundation for counteracting any tendency towards counter-organization. Such counteraction may take place on the grounds that the individual needs 'individual treatment' from his own individual point of view. (Mathiesen 1974: 124)
This reminds me of how Winston received 'individual treatment' in Room 101 in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.


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