Seize-Smash-Bash: Resisting the State Beyond the Law

Near the end of the chapter “Administrating Gender” in Normal Life, Dean Spade writes that, “We must think deeply and critically about how law reforms can be part of dismantling violent regimes of administering life and death and forgo them when they cannot.” On the whole, Spade’s book is a meditation on the first part of this question, an interrogation of the potential benefits of working within the existing legal system (though not within hegemonic legal discourse) to improve the material conditions of trans existence. What I am interested in, however, is the latter part of Spade’s formulation: resistance outside the bounds of the law.

In conventional thought, we often separate the political and the economic, and thus the state from the economy. We too easily discuss radical political change as if it would not require simultaneous alteration of the economy, and vice versa. In contrast, leftists have long recognized that the state is a tool of repression controlled by the ruling economic class (as well as the dominant racial and gendered group). In short, the state has always been the bastion of rich white cis-men.

I believe that Spade recognizes this fact, based on his insistence that anti-capitalism is one of the core planks of his argument. What he fails to admit is that until the state is controlled by historically oppressed groups, legal reform of any sort will remain a form of triage, limiting but not abolishing the harms of the capitalist state.

This is where insurrectionary resistance enters the picture. While we read “Towards an Insurrectionary Transfeminism” for class, I do not believe we fully worked through its implications. Insurrection is not the supposed “change” of a Democratic technocrat, nor is it the “revolution” of a libertarian populist. Insurrection is a committed struggle against the state and against capital, with the ultimate aim of destroying both. While the authors themselves admit that “we do not have the answers that will render society inoperable, that will end the social reproduction of this world,” a queer anti-capitalist tendency has already manifested in the American left.

The most famous example of this is the Bash Back! network. Bash Back! was a collection of queer anarchist groups from across the US who shared the common objective of combating the interlocking forces of capital and gendered oppression. The network was also distinguished by respect for the diversity of tactics which exist outside the law, including confrontation with the police and the eponymous retributive violence against bigots.

While Bash Back! is largely defunct now, I suspect that similar anti-capitalist groups are the real future for resistance against the transphobic state. The intersecting oppressions of queer people, people of color, women, and the poor are all integral to the functioning of the capitalist state, and it is through insurrection, not piecemeal legal reform, that we will all be liberated.

-Aidan Crane


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