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Military asymmetry, overwhelming force and genocide

Military asymmetry, overwhelming force and genocide

I want to ascertain what is the relative importance of the armed struggle to the successful accomplishment of freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. It’s coming up for mid-April now and there are negotiations going on in Cairo.  When I hear what Hamas are proposing as the bottom line: a stop to all military attacks, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, guarantee of free movement through the Gaza Territory so the population can return to where they used to live, immediate aid, resources necessary for people to start their lives and their work again. I agree, I think yes! They’ve got the right idea.  And they are out there laying down their lives to achieve it. Who else is holding out for the interests of Palestinians around the table in Cairo?

It is noticeable how so many accounts of what is happening and so many declarations of solidarity seem to omit armed struggle.  There was a stage in the movement of support for the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) when the main slogan of the anti-war protests changed.  The demand ‘For Peace in Vietnam’ gave way to ‘Victory to the Viet Cong!’.  Will there be a similar moment in the pro-Palestinian movement?

The ruling elites have pre-empted this transition and have tried to suppress public support for the armed resistance. In the UK there is a completely absurd and unjustifiable ban on declaring support for the Islamic Resistance Movement. It is illusory to imagine that the Israelis will give up Zionism and its eschatological ambitions to dominate and appropriate more and more territory just because they suddenly see reason and realise that what they are doing is unfair or illegal.  Their project has been intensely violent and there is no sign that they will be persuaded to act in accord with either international law or with strategic moderation.  There seems to be a delusion that if more and more people world-wide pressurise Israel or their own governments through the use of peaceful demonstrations, judicial proceedings, resolutions in prestigious institutions then only because of this somehow the Israelis will see the error of their ways. Also it often seems here in the West that if a particularly sharp piece of analysis is delivered, a judicial pronouncement made or even a cutting piece of satire is communicated that somehow a victory has been won. The truth is that the Israelis can’t stop themselves.  That’s the whole point about genocides.  I have argued elsewhere that I believe they are compelled by forces beyond their control to continue their aggression.    

The 2021 attack on Gaza was of an entirely different scale and intensity than the preceding ones in 2008-9, 2012, 2014, 2018.  The targets were of a sort that hadn’t been bombed in previous ‘wars’. The choice of targets was unpredictable. The attack was triggered by events in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem where there had been house dispossessions, ongoing theft of property from Palestinians.  Hamas fired rockets into Israel and then the bombardment happened. It looked like there may be a ground invasion but it didn’t materialise.  I believe that the Israeli army were outmanoeuvred in their attempted ground invasion.  They may have realised that Hamas was better prepared than they thought.  There was a ceasefire and a truce.  I recall that a Hamas spokesperson described the military context as being asymmetrical.  This was the first time I had heard this kind of language from Hamas.  When I saw the press conference given by Yahya Sinwar at the end of these hostilities it occurred to me very strongly that Hamas was prepared for an escalation to a much fuller engagement and confrontation with Israel.  Hamas must have seen the 2021 attack as a dress rehearsal for the attack they precipitated with their Al Aqsa Flood operation on October 7th 2023.  They must have reached the point when they were ready to engage in a confrontation with Israel and to move forward their armed liberation struggle.  They provoked a ground invasion.  Their attack was used by the Israelis as a pretext for mass killing.  The genocide escalated to a more intensive phase.

The judgement by the International Court of Justice of the ‘plausibility’ of genocide, the more recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories Middle East are significant tools that serve to expose and isolate Israel.  However they have been blatantly ignored by the only powers ‘on the ground’ that can stop the genocide. This would involve force majeure applied to stop the Israeli armed attacks and to take command over the points of entry to Gaza so that the ‘complete’ siege could be broken and access given to the population to food, water, medical services and all other goods required for its well-being. There is a danger that these pronouncements might habituate us to a less integral understanding of genocide, limiting it to a legal definition or they may create the illusion that Israel is itself capable of stopping the genocide and that this can be achieved through moral pressure. It can also distract attention away from the genocide that is happening on the West Bank, at a different level of intensity, and can lead people to misconstrue the fact that the ‘out’ group is not only the Palestinians who live in Gaza but the Palestinian people as a whole.  It can mistakenly equate genocide to mass murder and thus limit understanding of the whole process of genocide, how it develops and of what its core processes consist.  It is also true that the actions of these judicial and public international bodies can be seen as a part of the resistance of the Palestinian people and the widespread nature of their struggle for freedom and justice. An overemphasis of their importance is linked to an underestimation of the armed struggle being conducted by the resistance. 

The crucial powers on the ground that are actively resisting the genocide because they are confronting the armed capability of Israel, are the axis of resistance, Hamas and the other Palestinian fighting groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Ansarallah in Yemen and the Popular Mobilisation Force in Iraq.  Having said this, it is important to emphasise the division between the war and the genocide. Like any war of liberation the military component requires a broad alliance of forces, military, civilian and cultural.  In fact all the resources of the social movements who are supporting this liberation struggle throughout the world are necessarily aligning around the armed resistance.  In an intifada everybody can do something and nobody is excluded.  The armed struggle cannot prevail on its own.  It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of liberation.

This current Al Aqsa Flood ‘war’ is unlike the other Gaza/Israel ‘wars’, the first of which was the one in the winter of 2008/9.  This latest was initiated by the resistance movement.  It will be a protracted struggle.  The negotiations of the sort that are happening in Egypt or Qatar will continue but will bring no end to the confrontation.  These negotiations are another front in the resistance movement’s strategy.  There is no victory that is simply and only a military victory but there is no victory without a military defeat of the Zionist regime.  This observation sets the liberation struggle within the historical context of other anti-colonial armed struggles and social movements.  For example, it would be inaccurate to believe that the Apartheid regime in South Africa fell solely because the ‘international community’ was successful in bringing moral and political, and even judicial pressure, to bear.  The defeat of the South African Army in Angola to which Cuba made a crucial armed contribution was a determining factor.  For more about the war in Angola click here. The fight of colonial people against imperialism has always been through armed struggle.  This was the case in 1776 when the colonists in America fought against the British crown.  Certainly the struggle of the Jewish people against the British Mandate in the 1940s was armed and was designated as terrorist.  This is the case even though, in both instances, the fight was conducted by groups that were asserting their right to oppress the indigenous people of the land on which they proposed to found their ‘nation’.  Even in the post-1945 war period the list illustrates the nature of historical movement:  China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Kenya, Yemen….I’m sure that everybody reading this will be able to add to this list.  In all instances the armed groups that have opposed imperialism have always been designated as terrorists. The Palestinian struggle for liberation will succeed because history is on their side.  

All instances of settler colonialism are genocidal. The aim of the settler group is always to efface or ‘disappear’ the indigenous population, to reduce it to submission. In Palestine these two processes – genocide and the liberation struggle – are interconnected in a specific way.  It was not the case in other liberation struggles that the insurrection of the colonised people coincided with an escalation of genocide.  However the coloniser has always conducted its wars in a genocidal manner. Israel’s conflation of war and genocide and the disguise of genocide as war is potentially highly damaging for them from a military and political point of view.  

I want to try to understand the broad terms of this war.  This is too often left to military experts. Because the current military struggle is a ‘mere continuation of policy by other means’ (1) it is possible to describe the dynamics of the military engagement by taking account of the aims and objectives of the combatant groups and the context in which they operate. I want to link the internal dynamics of the ‘groups’ which are disposed against each other with how they are set within, and determined by, global politics.  The former is to do with the immediate historic and experiential movements and processes that have formed them. The latter is how they are shards of large-scale historical movements like, in this instance, the break up of the hegemony of the West and the emergence of a multipolar international ‘order’.  

What is determining the character of the military struggle? What is the nature of the asymmetry? How is this connected to an underestimation of the importance of the armed struggle itself? Israel is attempting to address this asymmetry by negating it, by goading Iran into a wider armed confrontation.  Accompanying this is a hope that the US will join this wider regional war.  But why have the Israelis failed politically and militarily in the opening phase of this war? Does the axis of resistance retain ‘first mover’ advantage?  Is it just that? The Israelis took up the opportunity to press home the advantage of size with alacrity.  The talk of complete siege and total eradication and victory was so quickly unleashed that it was as if they were waiting for it. The axis of resistance was prepared and have been planning this campaign for 15 years.  Readiness is all but even the senses of readiness in the opposing sides were different.  The side that determines the timing determines the space.  It must be obvious that the two sides are not conducting the same war.  This is not simply a confrontation between two sides but between two kinds of warfare.  This takes us further into the issues surrounding the asymmetrical character of the war.

What I have to say is not based on technological knowledge of weaponry.  Although my immediate family was military, I grew up developing a deep anti-war ethic.  My father was a Royal Air Force trained pilot who during the 1939-45 war was a flying instructor.  My mother was an ambulance driver with the ARP in Leicester and then member of the Motorised Transport Corps.  Their activities were animated by the impending invasion and occupation of Britain by Germany.  I think the impact of the bombing campaign on British cities in the early 1940s and the sense of what an occupation would mean were present to me as a child though I was born after the conflict had ended. See Lest We Forget  The two most influential movements in my youth were anti-Apartheid and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament but I believe I retained a deep interest in what happens during wars.  In general I am against war but so what.  

If I look at the forces on the ground fighting the genocide I would put an emphasis on the interrelationship between the different forms of struggle both inside Palestinian society and around the world with the armed resistance struggle at the centre. 

Am I just being hopeful? The military forms adopted in any armed confrontation embody the intentions and the energies of the combatants and the populations in which they are rooted.  It would be normal to picture the military conflict in technological or mechanical terms. It is not difficult to see that the Israelis have conventional military superiority.  Sometimes this is expressed in terms of the cost of the military equipment that they are able to deploy.  If the cost-based quantitative description was taken as the main indication of outcome then there could hardly be any doubt that Israel would prevail.  But the asymmetrical character of the war means that each side is fighting a different war. Because the military balance is asymmetrical the way to assess the significance of military forms and forces needs to be multidimensional. The commonplace is that the asymmetrically ‘weaker’ side does not have to win, it only has not to lose, whereas the ‘stronger’ must have complete victory, the predictable victory. The terms of the battle cannot be understood in purely quantitative terms.  The sides are not homologous.  This is true at a moral and political level.  The stronger side can pretend it has time on its side and that its strength will eventually prevail but this is an illusion.  The weaker side if it can avoid over-exposure to direct armed confrontation and can engage in ‘passive defence’ it can eventually exhaust the stronger.  Because the stronger side is stronger, the potential for it to become weaker is greater and vice versa.  This is to do with expectation and with morale.

In the public discourse in the West there is a constant underestimation of armed struggle.  This aspect of the dominant narrative still assumes an Israeli ‘victory’ but little understanding is articulated as to what this victory might involve. The relative strength of the armed resistance is consistently denied and yet there is a paralysing almost pathological fear of it.  It is almost as if the ruling elites, at least in the UK, are ahead of the game, have tried to ban public support for Hamas.  They may know more keenly than the ‘governed’ what the relative significance of military conflict is.  

This attempt to suppress and anaesthetise open support for the resistance is a part of a programmatic strategy of the oppressor, a concerted effort to break the vital contact between the armed insurrectionary group and the population that they emerge from. Just as the principle of non-hierarchical connection between different parts of the resistance is at the centre of the intifada’s participatory principle – everybody can do something – the oppressor will seek to break the connection and divide off one aspect of resistance from others. The danger of the division between the armed resistance and its population, especially in circumstances where the oppressor deploys collective punishment, is brilliantly exemplified by the events in the Vilna ghetto during the German occupation of Lithuania in the 1939-45 war.  This has been analysed by Daniel Feierstein and Stephen Sadow in The Dilemma of Wittenberg: Reflections on Tactics and Ethics. (2) 

Another aspect of the asymmetry is the relationship between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor.  Paulo Freire, the Brazilian born revolutionary cultural activist writes:

“Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognise others as persons — not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognised….It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiates terror, but the violent, who with their power creates the concrete situation which begets the “rejects of life.” It is not the tyrannised who initiate despotism, but the tyrants”  (3)

A similar view of the distinction in terms of precedence, in other words in terms of the dynamism between attack and defence, between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor is expressed by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth. (4) This distinction may not be easy to accept.  Violence is violence.  It is true that violence breeds violence and marks the perpetrator whether an oppressor or an oppressed.  Also military victory can corrupt the victor.  Continuing military forms of organisation and mentalities into civilian administration can hold back vital movements of participation and democracy in the post liberation society.  National liberation struggles have been ‘bought off’ by the coloniser and the energies diverted into post-colonial state structures.  The consequences of violence are multiple and intergenerational.

However violence cannot be simply reduced to physical acts and mechanical actions.  Because it takes place in a context of meaning and significance with the participation of real human beings who are created by their will and circumstances, it is always an enactment, a symbolic act.  The relationship of defence to attack in the fighting groups is inextricably linked to this context.  The Palestinians’ strategy of ‘passive defence’ is described in a blog piece appearing in Palestine Chronicle: Secret of Palestinian Resistance – Why is Gaza Able to Fight for Years to Come. The Israelis’ insistence that the ‘international community’ must support them in their self-defence and their intense campaign to make this idea the dominant one voiced by their supporters and even by those who are against them is understandable.  Even though this plea of self defence holds no weight in international law since no such appeal can be made by the occupier in relation to the action of a population resisting occupation, the Israelis must claim this position of the aggrieved.  Every attack must relate to defence.  However the narrative persistently reiterated by the Israeli state propaganda machine can also obscure strategic and tactical clarity.  This puts them in a problematic and confused position. The article from the Palestine Chronicle referred to above opens with a quotation from a senior Israeli military analyst cited by Al Jazeera:

“In the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, we found the forest, but we did not find the trees, but when we entered the Gaza Strip, we did not find the forest or the trees”. (5)

The military objectives and the genocidal objectives can contradict and stymie each other.  In the current situation (April 11th 2024) the latter have obscured the former.  This may also be because of, and at the same time a reason for, Israel’s military failures.

What kind of group is constituted by the Israelis as they carry out the war and simultaneously perpetrate the genocide?  They are highly armed and have an illusion of invincibility and indeed have a strategic need to create deterrence.  This has already been ‘punctured’ not only by the Al Aqsa Flood operation but before that in the 2006 campaign in Southern Lebanon. However, animated by genocidal energies, they believe they are on the increase, that they are in a win-win situation.  It is significant that a prominent motive behind their project is theft.  The appropriation of land and resources is a key factor. They have the feeling of people who are getting something for free.  Indeed it seems as if they are.  They constantly proclaim their victory. It cannot just be victory, it must be total.

In the morphology of human groups described by anthropologist Elias Canetti in his book CROWDS & POWER (6) he describes human crowd behaviour as being based on key dynamic urgencies.  Group behaviour as a human crowd is analysed through the determination of elemental energetic relationships.  He describes pack behaviour as being ‘crowd crystals’. There are four basic ‘pack’ forms: the hunting pack, the war pack, the lamentation pack and the increase pack.  Each form can transition into another or a pack can be a combination of these elemental structures.  The Israelis are an ’increase pack’.  This is a group who energise themselves in the belief that they are gaining material benefits. They are a voracious horde. Infectious feelings of massive consumption overtake the relationship in the group.  It is primordial human behaviour and the ‘increase pack’ easily tips over into killing, either animals or other human beings. Increase is connected to fantasies of sexual potency. There are also narratives of sexual rampage which appear in the social media output of the Israeli Occupation Army but also in their propaganda about the October 7th attack. The increase pack in this instance is encased in military hardware and is wounded by the myth of its past deprivation and/or victimisation.  The fight instincts of the group are very closely connected to flight.  They are an example of an existential panic.  They have to be on the attack.  Group coherence depends on individual gratification and therefore the group is volatile and there is a strong tendency towards fragmentation.

You can see examples of ‘increase pack’ behaviour in the early morning scenes at the doors of retail locations at the commencement of the winter sales.  Not so often seen now digital purchasing has become dominant, it would be only slightly inaccurate to call the behaviour of the Israelis ‘bargain-hunting’.  The typical crowd behaviour induced by patriarchal commodity production (or capitalism), of which settler colonialism is a special case, is slow-release increase pack behaviour.

The evidential basis upon which to make observations about what is going on is unstable. One example of a tendency towards fragmentation was given in a video produced by Hamas. This  was the ‘flight’ behaviour amongst a group of Israelis when one of their number was shot by a sniper.  There was no sign of an attempt to help their wounded comrade.  There is a possibility that the kind of pack of which the Israelis consist easily disintegrates and becomes individualised.  In other examples, videos produced by the Israelis themselves show Israeli soldiers making displays of Palestinian women’s underwear in the houses they have occupied.  They have video’d themselves ‘triumphantly’ parading themselves with these objects of clothing. Another example was given in the behaviour of the Israelis in the shooting of two unarmed Palestinians on the beach near Gaza City and the ‘clearing’ and ‘burying’ of the bodies using a bull-dozer. This was an example of fractured, panicked behaviour.  For the Al Jazeera report on this incident click here. Was this an attempt to cover up what they knew was a crime?  How effective could this ‘cover up’ possibly be?  It is difficult to draw conclusions from these fragments.  They are like glimpses, anecdotal evidence, of more general behaviour.

The Israelis have set themselves up in a paradox and this may give rise to miasma. Since the attack on October 7th the Israelis have obsessively asserted their right to self defence.  They have portrayed themselves as the victims of a murderous attack.  In doing so they must describe the Palestinian resistance as an overwhelming oppressive force that they ‘believe’ will destroy them. In their ideology, especially as it was formulated and operationalised during the 2006 Lebanon campaign in the Beirut suburb of Dahiya they conceived a military principle, the Dahiya doctrine, whereby the Palestinian resistance is operationally indistinguishable from the population. The accompanying fantasy is that all Gazans, in fact all Palestinians, are Hamas terrorists. They portray them as a swarm. This means that the occupation army soldiers are programmatically and deliberately unable to distinguish between the combatants and the population.  This means that they do not know, or are practically unable to identify, who their enemy is.  What they must do as an enactment of this fantasy is, at the encounter with any Palestinian male of a certain age, is to demand that the man takes his clothes off.  This is programmatic but the meanings that abide are atavistic and internally, psychically self-destructive.

This is a matter of elementary intelligence that goes beyond the quantitative accumulation of information.  There is also another almost unspoken knowledge secreted in the very heart of the Israeli operation.  In the emergence of the Israeli state that was synchronous with the displacement of the Palestinian population in 1948, ‘terrorist’ activity was seminal and central to its project.  The comparison is easily drawn between the practices of the German National Socialist government’s armed forces in the extermination of the Jewish population in Europe and the activities of the Israeli Occupation Army in Palestine.  The history and dynamics of the struggle in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Jewish militants – who of course the German authorities stigmatised as terrorists – is reminiscent of the circumstances in Rafah in April of 2024.  These are easy similarities to draw.  What is more significant is the talismanic power of the success of the terrorist tactics of the Jewish groups, the Stern Gang and Irgun, who organised, facilitated the Israeli state-creation process and whose members became the first political leaders of the Israeli state.  It is very difficult for the Israelis to admit the similarity of their own terrorist organisation with that of the Palestinian resistance, especially if they believe these early strategies were successful for them.  These historic morsels must stalk their minds like vengeful ghosts.  The mythic world is full of terrifying reversals. Out hunting one day Actaeon happens on a beautiful lake in which his eyes light upon Artemis, the goddess of hunting and the moon, bathing naked with her female companions.  He is spotted by her and she immediately turns him into a stag, the very beast he was hunting.  He dies being torn to pieces by his own hounds crying out his own name only heard now as shrieks of pain. (7)

However, even this does not even come near to what needs to be said to give an understanding of the current conflict.  Even the Israelis know that their main enemy is not Hamas though it is psychologically easier to have this single focus.  They are facing an axis of resistance. Enumerating the different fronts may be helpful.  The Gaza front, the North Israel front, the Red Sea front, the Iraqi front, the West Bank front, the internal (of Israel) front (this consists of the struggle against the Palestinian population who have Israeli citizenship and also the Israeli opposition to the way the war is being conducted), the diplomatic front (including the actions taken at the United Nations and the alliances between nation-state and populations in the Global South and the BRICS), the international judicial front (this is hardly distinct from the diplomatic front).  All these fronts some of which can hardly be called fronts and might better be called sites of struggle are interconnecting and impacting on each other creating complex patterns of influence and movement.  The early assertions of commitment by the Western ‘powers’ that they gave ‘backing’ to Israel have given way to more ambivalent statements.  Popular support in the West has swayed towards the Palestinians.  Other populations and even nation-states have been less ambiguous and a register of this are the votes for ceasefire at the UN. 

If the violence of the oppressed is different in character this is because their struggle is primarily defensive.  So even the offensive initiated by Hamas on October 7th and the implicit invitation that it made to engage in armed conflict was ‘attack in order to defend’. Of course this is not to say that the oppressed, the occupied, never attacks but it does so in a different context of significance.  However much the Zionist ideologues point to the sacred books to prove that the land of Palestine is rightfully theirs and they are simply defending their right to the land, it is clear for all to see that they are attacking the Palestinian population and taking their land.  The Palestinians are defending their land and their existence on it.  This is an actual material fact, apart from divine judgement and myth-making.  This lets us into an understanding about the character of the Palestinian as a group. According to the morphology of human groups in Canetti’s CROWDS & POWER the Israelis are an ‘increase pack’ and the Palestinians are ‘lamenting pack’.  Just as the Israelis are not simply an increase pack.  This basic energetic group relation permeates their constitution as a ‘war pack’ so the Palestinians constitute themselves in the resistance organisation as a ‘war pack’ that derives its energetic structure from the ‘lamentation pack’.  This will mean that the two groups as military forces have different attack/defence dynamics.  The asymmetry is not simply quantitative.

A lamentation pack is formed around the dead.  It is held together by grief and mourning.  The lamentation pack at its most extreme will throw itself on the body of the dead loved one.  It is not ready even for revenge but revenge can emerge out of it as the pack develops. This foregoing description characterises the war as one in which quantitative inequality in terms of armaments and resources are countervailed by the different defence-attack structures of the different ‘sides’.  

On April 10th, on Eid Al Fitr close to Beach Camp near Gaza City, the Israelis attacked and killed the three sons and four grandchildren of Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh.  He started his public statement about this incident by pointing out that his family “stayed with our people in Gaza and did not leave the Strip.” He went on to say “All our people and all the families of Gaza residents have paid a heavy price with the blood of their children, and I am one of them,” He added that at least 60 members of his family have been killed in the ongoing genocidal war. Then: “The occupation believes that by targeting the sons of leaders, it will break the resolve of our people. We say to the occupation that this blood will only make us more steadfast in our principles and attachment to our land.”  Apart from the grace and poise of this statement, it showed a remarkable ability to turn and transform the situation, to transform loss, to overturn weakness.  It is free of ego and rage.  I believe this is a good example of how the Palestinian resistance are embraced by the structure of a lamenting pack.  The movement within the pack as it receives elemental blows is one of collective gathering, of a refusal to disintegrate and individualise.

Through all the evidence of destruction you can search for the elementary movements of repair.  These are biological and organic tendencies.  They are sensed and observed intimately and internally in human beings, probably most clearly through intersubjectivity with other human beings. This is a form of witnessing.  It is no casual association that roots the word, shahid, for those who have been killed in the struggle with the act of witnessing.  This may help us to look more deeply at what participation in the resistance involves.  From a spiritual or psychological point of view, the act of resistance can be taken for an aspect of mental health.  In this respect the work of Dr Samah Jabr, Head of the Mental Health Unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, is pertinent.  She notes how internally (spiritually/psychologically) destructive the occupation can be.  She describes a state of polarisation that emerges as a consequence of the internalisation of oppression and points out:

“According to my observations and impressions of Palestinian people who participate in mature activism and planned acts of resistance to the occupation, that is, not the impulsive accidental actions of adolescents and children. I notice the following : such people are usually self confident, sincere, altruistic, and brave.They possess the intelligence and the sensitivity to feel the pain caused by oppression.” (8)

It is instructive to learn about the ethics and strategies advocated by Shaikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, after whom Hamas’ armed wing is named.  Al-Qassam and his core group were hunted down and he was killed by the British in 1935.  This event was a significant trigger in the first uprising against colonialism by the Palestinian people in 1936-1939.  A good description of this is given in THE REVOLUTION OF 1939-1939 IN PALESTINE by Ghassan Kanafani (9).

The objectives of the axis of resistance have been clearly stated.  They are aiming at the attritional exhaustion of Israel and the eventual – no time limitation – defeat of the zionist project.  For the Palestinian people and their immediate regional allies, particularly Hezbollah who have unresolved issues arising from past Israeli aggression, there can now be no peace until the zionist entity is finally defeated.  Each step taken by the Israelis makes the chances of any other resolution more and more impossible.  All its actions drive recruitment to the resistance.  Support for the resistance must grow although the deprivations and terror tactics of the Israelis over isolated populations may break resistance locally and temporarily.  Each attack, for example, on Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon or further afield, each killing, will energise the lamentation and invigorate the war pack. 

What exact part military action plays in the complex set of relations outlined above cannot be precisely measured.  It is a major way in which the alignment of forces will be changed.  Ultimately there will be a series of momentous events when military action will cede its major role and various forms of agreements will have to be made through negotiation.  This is a long way off.

Always the media and public discourse focuses on armed struggle in a confusing way. Or it totally ignores it. In the West it emphasises the crucial importance of the quantities of armament involved or required. But what determines the action if the quantity of military hardware doesn’t? The consequences of the Israel’s split motives should be considered carefully in this respect.  The fact that support for Israel is leaching away, even amongst staunch allies, is due to this splitting and the confusion it gives rise to.  It has never been clear whether Israel is actually conducting a military action according to its stated aims: the military and political defeat of Hamas and the return of the hostages.  This is increasingly posing a considerable problem for Israel.  They have been warned by the closest ally, the US, but no action on the ground has been taken to back up these warnings so the confusion of the US’s aims adds to the predicament.  This is the synergy of complicity. What is being held before the world’s eyes is the Israelis’ ability to inflict massive death and deprivation on a vulnerable population in Gaza.  The ineffectiveness of their actions in terms of the defeat of Hamas is ostentatious.  For the main part, the action appears genocidal and not military. This contradiction is vividly enacted in the conflict within the Israeli Cabinet. This ineffectiveness is fracturing the certainty with which its closest allies are able to support it.  So there is a corrosive process – no comfort to the people of Gaza – as this genocidal objective subsumes the military objectives. The more evident genocidal rather than military the action becomes, the more the fracturing of cohesion within Israel’s international alliances accelerates, and the more internal splitting occurs in Israel. The impacts of the genocidal elements, i.e. the general exhaustion, decrease and disablement of the population, may cause temporary slowing down of recruitment to the armed resistance but this is a short term impact.  The war will find its end through the impacts of a combination of objective conditions, as in the military defeat of Israel, and of subjective conditions, as in the splitting within Israel and its effective loss of coherence.

As the work of the genocidal strategies on the population of Gaza take their toll and the Israelis hover on the brink of a ground invasion of Rafah the framework of the war is changing.  The events in Gaza may be deliberately being used as a distraction from what is happening on other fronts and vice versa.  The invasion of Gaza has already served to distract attention from what is happening on the West Bank.  The resistance on the West Bank was less prepared for the events of October 7th. Netanyahu’s initial description of the war as taking place on four fronts shows that the Israelis were able to seize the opportunity given by the Hamas attack on October 7th to launch offensives in a number of different directions. The four fronts enumerated by Netanyahu at the commencement of this war were: Gaza, West Bank, Northern border and internal. This demonstrated an underestimation of the complexity of the situation. But Israel was prepared in ways that make their immediate response to the Al Aqsa Flood attack look inconsistent. They were hell bent on genocide. In 2022 the Israeli state had already reorganised how they were operating in the West Bank. They even renamed it as the state of Judea and Samaria. Immediate command was given to Ben Gvir, Israeli Minister of Security, to use armed settler attacks on West Bank communities using national guard/border force militias backed by the Israeli Occupation Army.  This is where they believed their genocidal displacement of the Palestinians would begin.  They were leaving Gaza until later. The West Bank communities were unprepared for the intensity of the assault, the brutal destruction of infrastructure and the mass imprisonment.  The resistance may have taken a set back but it is beginning to exert itself and the West Bank will continue to be a battle ground in which the resistance will be conducting a defensive battle.  This is volatile and unpredictable. 

One feature of the development of this escalation has been the constant attempts of the Israelis to embroil the US in a wider war.  The latest attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus (01/04/2024) is the latest ploy in this entrapment game.  It looks like the Israelis having lost one war and are looking for another one to lose.  The world awaits Iran’s response.

On a personal note, my primary working experience has been as a theatre practitioner and this activity gives no elevated or authoritative view of human events.  It is primarily concerned with making the invisible, visible.  As an instrument of human observation it pales in comparison to the microscope and the telescope, as for the hadron collider it is particulate. In the face of science, the penetrating comprehensive knowledge produced by probability and statistics, it is primordial. The field of experimental exploration it lays out withers in the face of a spreadsheet.  It is regrettably only capable of special forms of wisdom.

My concern in writing this is to look at the situation in terms that do not ‘edit’ out the armed struggle but relate it to the other forms of resistance and the other non-military fronts. The various fronts and actions that have a bearing on the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people are numerous.  That there is no peace without justice is proclaimed repeatedly.  There is no such thing as an isolated military victory for the liberation forces but neither is there any possibility of a free Palestine without a military defeat of the occupation army.  

Notes and References:

(1)  Clausewitz, Carl von, On War (Vom Kriege – published 1832) Penguin Classics 1982

(2)  Daniel Feierstein and Stephen Sadow: The Wittenberg Dilemma: Reflections on Tactics and Ethics Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies University of Nebraska Press Volume 20, Number 2, Winter 2002

(3)  Paulo Freire,  Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Penguin Modern Classics 2017

(4)  Frantz Fanon,  The Wretched of the Earth  (First published 1961) Grove Press 2021 (see in particular the Chapter: Concerning Violence.)

(5) https://www.palestinechronicle.com/secret-of-palestinian-resistance-why-is-gaza-able-to-fight-for-years-to-come-analysis/

(6)  Elias Canetti,  Crowds and Power  – New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1984

(7) Ovid, Metamorphosis – Penguin Classics

(8) Samah Jabr Derriere Les Fronts  – Editions Premiers Matin de Novembre 2018

(9)  Ghassan Kanafani, The Revolution of 1936-1939 in Palestine – 1804 Books 2023

Our Genocide and its consequences

Our Genocide and its consequences

How does a human group assume the right to kill thousands and thousands of human beings, indeed the number of potential deaths seems, in the underlying mentalities of the perpetrators, to be without end?  What kind of right is being summoned?  The killing perpetrated by the Israeli state is being supported by the ruling classes of the ‘West’. The basis for this support is ostensibly the claim of self defence but it is obvious that this is not substantial.  The actions of the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank are the exertion of repressive power over a population from whom the perpetrators are stealing land.  How can this be justified?  What is the underlying principle of this action?  Before whom do these people need to explain and find approval?  The participation in this massive crime must have consequences other than just material gain for the perpetrators.  Are they really driven by the need for security and the maintenance of a ‘way of life’?  The governing authorities in the UK are defining opposition to the action of mass slaughter as extremism.  As the events unfold they will be shown to be morally disgraceful.  They will be seen to be without true authority and they will be demeaned and defeated.  Their participation in mass slaughter marks the decline of their rule.  The justification for their holding the power of life and death over the subjected people in their domain will disintegrate.  Their use of force – the power they exert over the bodies of their subjects, with police powers, powers of imprisonment, military force over life, violence against what is private, will be rendered inoperable.  The fundamental power of the state is grounded in regalian power (1)  – the power of the sovereign authority to enter property, to take charge of human bodies, alive or dead, and dispose of them as it sees fit, but it can only do so if it is embedded in moral right, shrouded in divine mystery and lived out as a basic assumption. This regalian power – the power over life and death – derives from that of the sovereign, rule of the monarch.  The other structures of the state are built around this function in order to both disguise and protect it, to give it authority and to sanctify it. Our state is built on this assumption of power.  This becomes more difficult to see because of the delegation and the organisation of relations and spaces that ritualise and mystify these fundamental processes.  It is this abuse of state power which underlies the genocide. The genocide in Palestine has rendered our current state – UK but this applies also to the nation-states of the West – constitution discredited and morally negative because it has openly pledged its support to actions that are incompatible with its own stated beliefs in justice. It is only a matter of time before the moral consequences of this will appear before our eyes.  Our current state is dead, it requires us to lay it to rest.

Consequences for the West

What are the consequences for the political entities of the West (2), those that are complicit with the Israeli state in its genocide? Growing authoritarianism and eventual disintegration are my quick answers. Their participation and complicity is suicidal.  It is a self-imposed disaster from which they will never recover. Where do we start in order to understand the processes involved in this collusion?  Why have the governments of the West programmatically failed to take action to prevent Israel’s genocide?  Why have they brought upon themselves global isolation?  Why have they so ostentatiously contravened the basic principles that they have declared to underly their dominance:  humanism, human rights, international law and the recently vaunted rule-based order?  Of course, at this late stage, they are taking remedial action.  They are distancing themselves from the Israeli state and trying to mitigate the reputational and political damage. It is too late.  They will be dragged down with the Zionist entity. If they were individuals their actions would appear to be compulsive and irrational. Why are they racing with such alacrity towards their doom?

The ‘West’?

I am using the word West as short-hand.  What do I mean by this?  This is not to do with the compass direction.  It is a geographically dispersed phenomenon deriving originally from European imperialism. The foundations of the industrial imperialism that has been a powerful and dominating movement on earth for the past 300 years were laid on the Western seaboard of the Eurasian continent.  Another way of describing what in common parlance is called the West is the G7.  It is defined by modernity and by being economically ‘advanced’. So the West can be seen to include Japan and it can include Australia and New Zealand. The sign of European imperialism is the white supremacism that is not comprehensive but is underlying. I do not believe it is a culturally coherent entity and homogeneous and I resist defining it any further than the group of nation-states which has, up until the current crisis and since the wars of the twentieth century, been led by the United States of America.

War on Terror

The latest stage in the complicity between Israel and the West in the genocide in Palestine was initiated by the declaration of the War on Terror in 2001 (3). This strengthened the collusion between Israel and Western imperialism.  In turn it may have increased the political coherence of all components of this alliance. The exceptional nature of this relationship meant that immunity continued to be granted to Israel for its egregious breaking of international law and contravention of United Nations Resolutions. This was the sign of problems to come.

After the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the US president, G W Bush announced a new ‘coalition’ to the world: whoever you were, you were either ‘for or against’ the US and the coalition that was forming around it.  If you were against, you were on the side of ‘terror’. 

This powerful message, the declaration of global war, was intended to dynamise relations between nation-states and relations of coherence within them.  The borders of nation-states could only be guaranteed by the coalition if the composition of the population within them were moving in the direction of alliance with the coalition. If the ‘nation-state’ regime was moving in another direction, the coalition arrogated to itself the right to invade or interfere.  All human beings were called on to defy their nation-states (if they had one) if that state was on the side of ‘terrorism’.  Loyalty to any nation-state was subordinate to loyalty to the anti-terrorist (anti-Axis of Evil) coalition.  This meant that the edicts of the coalition of global superpowers had force over individuals.  This was a new form of allegiance that trumped nation-state-derived identities. It was as if all human and social organisms and organisations were, more or less, pervaded by a kind of atomic capsule, a ‘for or against’ agent, a polarising micro-entity that determined the key orientation of the body in which it lodged.  This was a new kind of subjection. Since the spread of this catalytic spoor was global, emitted by the world’s most powerful political-military entity, it was as if everybody in the world would eventually have to decide which side they were on.  Global fear was summoned and operationalised.  

This was an attempt to reform subjectivity on a global scale.  It was not necessarily completely successful.  It cracked national identities, shattering composite bodies into fragments and tied these fragments to new global determinants.  These processes were energised by electronic social media, financialisation and were embedded in notions of modernity and civilisation. 

After the Cold War

The adoption of the policy of which this ‘idea’ was an instrument was the effect of the export and dispersal of Israeli foreign policy to the West in the post-‘Cold War’ period. To some extent this was triggered by the second ‘intifada’ in Palestine in 2000. To make this policy turn effective, the ‘neo-conservatives’ had gained influential strategic positions in the US state administration and government.  A well-resourced communications strategy operationalised through multiple commercial and financial links between Israel and the West, mainly in the US, was put in place. The period between the First Gulf War/Desert Storm in 1991 and the attack on 11th September 2001 saw the preparations for this initiative.  This was effective because of the ideological vacuum caused by the success of the West in the Cold War. The West no longer had an imminent threat through which it could attain political coherence.  It needed to supplement  the ‘free market ideology’ that it had connected to anti-communism and anti-big state/collectivism. A new ideological boost to the vitality, individualism, democracy and freedom of capitalism was required.  After 1989 socialism and communism could no longer be presented as an imminent danger. There was a need for a new, more convincing ‘enemy’.  The adoption of the ‘war on terror’ policy strategy was drilled deeper and secured into core civilisational values.  It connected up to secularism, modernity and the notion of economic advancement. It was also a regression to primal forms of identity connected to spirituality and rationality that lay at the basis of the idea of christendom and European racial superiority.

Our ‘way of life’.

‘Our’ way of life’ had prevailed with the dismantling of Soviet communism. At that point a blind eye was turned towards China. The generation of a set of values, beliefs and assumptions that could be formulated or spun as ‘a way of life’ could have more grip if it could be considered to be special and exclusive. It was an exclusionary political creation. It must be capable of making the people who were the beneficiaries of it feel special and it must excite envy in those that were excluded. Something could only be ‘ours’ if it was not ‘theirs’. I have written about this exclusionary mechanism elsewhere. (4) Thus the pre-occupation with borders. It is in the nature of the ‘nation-state’ form of social organisation that this tension is required to hold it together, to give it cohesion. It is connected to the myth that the nation-state needed to be ideologically and ethnically uniform. The structures of sovereignty and integrity in the development of the ‘nation-state’ were, and are, energised by envy and desire.  These emotional processes operate at an individual and collective level.  They are interactive, shared and are propelled by mimetic ‘movements’. This is enacted by the modern nation-state in being based in and on the interlinked principles of private property and individual freedom. These are the fundamental principles of its organisation. Social relations embodied and habituated in institutions are co-created simultaneously with subjectivities.  These are the interactions between how people behave, how social spaces are realised and transformed by them, how they are lived, and how individuals see themselves, attain identities, recognise each other and thus mutually create each other.

Society-making and mimesis

What are the functional requirements of the institutions that are constructed to make mass murder possible and acceptable? In order to unpick this and understand it better, go back to the origins of these forms of power and see how they have played out as institutions and practices. They have been shaped by specific needs of the ruling group.  The assertion of the right to take human life and the institutionalisation and organisation of the practices that surround the operationalisation of this right, must be accompanied by ideological and spiritual justification.  You must be technically able to do it and you must be able spiritually to justify it.  The justification must be coherent and ritualised.  How do political structures enable these processes?

The operation of any form of rule or of any society-making process is the ignition of desire through mimesis.  We want what the other wants; we want, what is desirable not simply what we desire. (5) We are engaged in material and sensory appropriation simultaneously with symbolic articulation. There is no kudos in property or ownership, no value, if the envy of the other is not ignited. Since this describes a particular micro instance as well as a general condition, it is evidence of the organic, fractal character of human social organisation.  The totality of the human population – maybe those who have died and those not yet born – are engaged, consciously or not, in society-making. These mimetic structures operate in individual interactions and also they bind and insinuate themselves into the body of the society and the structures of the state. The nation-state structure is not unique from this point of view. Its historical development has made it an effective instrument of rule. The creation of a viable ‘other’ is essential for the maintenance of the cohesion and coherence of the nation-state. Inclusion, even security, can only be realised on the basis of exclusion, on the maintenance of borders. The significant development of this political form, the nation-state, took place in the Western part of the Eurasian continent. It was a long development that was seeded in the organisational dynamics of the human groups that migrated into the European territory and succeeded the Roman Empire as it declined. (6) These populations both superseded and inherited the land and structures – institutional and architectural – of the Roman Empire.  They conquered and occupied the land territorially as they inhabited and were incorporated into the remains of the Empire. This organisational dynamic was based on Christian ideology and the invention of a particular form of kingship.  The creation of a sovereign with absolute right over all life in a particular territory was powered by the semi-divine figure of Christ. As well as crystallising patriarchal power it sacralised the brute power of possession.  De facto power, facts on the ground, were complemented by de jure divine intercession. The idea that God has authorised expropriation through military force has always appealed to big gang leaders and warlords.  A central symbolic practice amongst the early holders of ‘divine’ power in the European territories was that of ‘christo-mimesis’, the deliberate imitation by monarchs of the ‘Christ the King’ figure.  (7) This was elaborated processionally and iconographically.  The iconography is there to see, though it may now have less mesmeric charm. So the political solution to the problem of territorialising sovereignty and establishing domains of authority and right was discovered and established.  If the formation of the state arises from a definition of kingship that constructs a ‘body’ or ‘figure’ that has both human and divine aspects, this enables it to  authorise ‘regalian’ (power of life and death, power to break down the division between public and private) powers.  These are forms of control based on access to bodies and spaces which can countermand private property and individual freedom.  In other words in the later development of the nation-state as it adapted itself to the capitalist system of rule it embodied and assured private property and individual freedom. This happened through a strange double structural movement which appears at first sight contradictory.  The state and the groups that control it assume powers of life and death over bodies and spaces both as a right of contravention, and an enforcement of the sanctity, of private property and individual freedom. 

This whole complex evolutionary process of the nation-state produced the forms still current in the modern capitalist nation-state.  The core energies function unchanged.  In this respect the crucial development of patriarchy, capitalism or patriarchal commodity production, in its secularised form appears as Western modernity, ‘our’ way of life.   Because of the exclusionary nature of these components the processes of conformity and belonging that hold the entity together are almost secretly connected to power over life and death. One can understand why the most astute contemporary analyst of genocide asserted that ‘genocide is endemic to modernity’.  (8) (cf Daniel Feierstein GENOCIDE AS SOCIAL PRACTICE)

Exclusion and patriarchy

The forms of organisation on which the modern nation-state are built are rooted in archaic patriarchy and are essentially exclusionary.  This aspect of group organisation was organically linked to securing of territory through expansionism. This laid the basis for European imperialism, especially and primarily in the maritime nation-states of the Western seaboard of Europe.  The seed of empire is planted in the soil of the nation state. The exclusionary energies that were summoned by the military basis of rule were not just a vital source of coherence, they were essential.  As the developmental accumulative process of mercantile and maritime domination received further power through industrialisation, the nadir of this movement of the ‘West’, was embodied in the USA.  As this imperialist project became linked to modernity and civilisational pretensions, its racist and genocidal core permeated it and energised it. These processes became the basic assumptions of its operation. This is what made settler colonialism a key formational process in its political development.  The imprint of the Norman invasion of England (1066) and the formation of a predatory ruling elite further integrated this tendency.  The first coherent practice of settler colonialism was of Wales by the English ‘crown’ culminating in the later part of the 13th century. (9) These ideologies of expansionism and exclusion were disavowed and hidden in the postcolonial (post 1945) process where the overt domination of the empire was replaced by economic structures that created client states and submission to resource exploitation. This was effected through the proliferation of nation-states. The basic assumption is the ingestion and proliferation of the values of modernity, rationality, and civilisational bias. The signs of this global process can be seen in the history of indigenous people all over the world but particularly in the North of the American continent and in the slave trade.  However Its generative foundations were in European antisemitism and the ‘Crusades’. These foundations were laid in the ‘nation-state’ forming period of the centuries that followed the transformation of the structures of imperial Rome.

Western Imperialism and Israel

The formation of the ‘nation-state’ of Israel, its attempt at ethnic homogeneity and its rooting in a sacred divine mission, is characteristically European. It is in this respect that Israel was formed out of the West, an amalgam of guilt, anti-semitism, political opportunism and imperial assumption. It engaged at its birth in land expropriation, sacralised by divine intercession. It reenacted generative European historical processes on the shores of the Levant.  It was and still is the ‘modern’ project par excellence.  The Israeli colonists are ‘the West’s’ colonists.  This is one strong ligament, a kind of tentacle of complicity that binds the populations of the West, to the genocide in Palestine.

The crystallisation of the ‘War on Terror’ deriving directly from the dramatic situation of this latest (perhaps last) ‘Western’ colonial adventure gave a political and technological resource to the West. It offered a pertinent and adaptable narrative, based around the ‘figure’ of the muslim-islamic, migrant, terrorist.  It gave a simultaneous coherence to home policy and foreign policy. Even creating internal bordering by a policy of ‘hostile environment’ against migrant communities. It was capable of implying connections in a confusion of fear that offered the basis for policy positions on migration, islamism, extremism and political disaffection.  It played on popular racism. The West was offered a model of an imminent danger to its ‘way of life’ to which it could ascribe envy. The political alchemy of anti-migrant, anti-terrorist, anti-muslim sentiments were given a rich and high-sounding nourishment in the pronouncements of the theories of the ‘clash of civilisations’ and the ‘end of history’ (10).

The ‘War on Terror’ has been a political instrument that has secured the complicity of the West in the genocide being carried out in Palestine. Adherence to the alliance with Israel is presented as a matter of loyalty to the home state and of submission to resistance to extremism. The Western states’ reliance on this gambit is a sign of their deterioration. This genocide originates in the West. It is the outcome of the West’s decline.

Genocide and perpetrator group imperatives  

The nature of genocide as a process of social organisation can be obscured by legal and judicial definitions.  The legal definition is different from the practice-based social science description (8). That is looking at the genocide as a series of interconnected practices that develop as a way of re-organising society. If genocide is viewed as a means of social re-organisation then it becomes clear that the impulses behind this process are impelled by the perpetrator group’s needs. The genocide process is also entangled with military processes. The escalatory movements of genocidal processes are determined by risks and dangers of incoherence in the perpetrator group. This might be felt as a deep fear of splitting and loss on a mass scale. As the danger of splitting or division or incoherence in the group becomes more acute, the genocide escalates and moves on to a more overt stage of its development.  Genocide can lie dormant or only relatively active and the antagonisms between the perpetrator group (in) and the victim group (out) can be suppressed or kept at a containable level.  At the earliest stage of its development it takes the form of the stigmatisation of the ‘out-group’. The escalation of the genocide can be ascribed to the actions of the victim group and the attribution of blame is a significant feature of this process. However it is always driven and determined by the ‘needs’ of the perpetrator group.  Very often the genocidal process is deeply linked to expropriation and theft by the perpetrator group. Mass killing is a late stage in the process but it might only be at this point that the destruction and effacement of the victim group becomes evident.

The society that is being re-organised by the genocide is defined by it.  The genocide gives the society its coherence in the face of its decline, defeat or struggle for survival. In the case of the genocide in Palestine, the direct perpetrator group is the Israeli zionist state but the society that it is being re-organised by it is the society, or societies, in which this process is rooted and from which it seeks and receives its sustenance.   The range and scale of the relationships of complicity, the feigned ignorance, the justifications, the ‘turning to look the other way’ as much as the more overt support – supplying arms and media backing – are composite aspects of the process.  The genocide is effective and active as a re-organisational practice in all these social entities.

Complicity in genocide

The statement that ‘the genocide in Palestine is the West’s genocide’ at first seems to contradict what appears to be happening. Tracing back how exclusionary processes and the core importance of settler colonialism have operated in the European nation-state’s history can help to reveal why this might not be so difficult to believe.

All genocidal projects are suicidal, essentially self destructive, since if the only basis for cohesion of the perpetrator group (‘in’ group) is the destruction of the other (‘out’ group), the final success of the project will be its ultimate defeat.  The disappearance of the ‘out’ group will deprive the ‘in’ group of its means of cohesion. It is auto-cannibalistic and compulsive.  The perpetrator group cannot by, and in, itself stop the process.  It is a slave of the process that promotes its domination. As the genocidal process reaches more and more intense stages of its realisation, it is only military defeat or collapse that can stop it.  The action of the genocide is the enactment of the ‘for or against’ mechanism taken to a general and final intensity.  

The question routinely asked by the operatives of the Western media at the outset of the escalated genocide:  Do you condemn Hamas?  is an attempt to test the loyalty of the interviewee. The significance of this ‘test’ question with its inquisitorial tenor relies on the conflation of ‘Hamas’ into ‘terrorist’ and ‘Palestinian’.  But it is the same question: ‘are you for or against?’  This question could be rephrased as: ‘Are you or are you not complicit with the genocide?’

In order to see more clearly what the impacts and consequences of the escalation of the genocide of Palestinians it is necessary to look at the fabric of the political organisation in which the killing is embedded.  The consequences for the Palestinian people in Gaza and for those living on the West Bank, who are subject to genocide at a different stage of its development, are clearer than the political consequences for the complicit political entities in the ‘West’.  It is a proxy genocide.

Social division is intrinsic to genocide. In the ‘West’, as in Israel, the grip of the political elites on popular sentiment is loosened. Desperate measures are adopted. The state apparatus is mobilised and police powers are sharpened and refocused. The ruling elites, operating through the state and through the adjoined public relations networks of corporate capitalism, are pressurising all institutions, especially sectors who work for media and cultural sectors to conform to its messaging. This is happening particularly in sectors such as education and the arts that have state funding. The strictures on public expression of solidarity with Palestinians are tightening.  In the retail sector employees have been called into line. The control of the public face of the commodity exchange process is being tightened through silencing, victimisation, cancelling.  They are being called to order despite the hypocrisy of the ostentatious partisan displays that the elites adopted and encouraged for Ukraine.  In policy terms, descriptions of actions taken by the police force internally against signs of overt support for the resistance in Palestine quickly link into foreign policy actions taken by the state.  The creation of a new normalcy is an urgent task.  An indication of their outlook is the name of the alliance that the US have put together against Ansarallah in Yemen: ’Prosperity Guardian’. This should give more than a clue about the underlying values they are attempting to defend. Their success is not certain.

The nation-state crisis

The genocidal crisis may accurately be described as a crisis of the nation-state.  The solution the ‘international community’ are constantly trying to impose on the Palestinians is the formation of its own ‘nation-state’.  State formation is obsessively proposed along with a ‘revitalised’ and subordinate ‘governing authority’. The creation of ‘postcolonial nation-states’ in the post 1939-45 war period has been the main instrument of neo-imperialist hegemony. At the same time, on a global scale, we are witnessing the disintegration of the relationship between populations and governing structures. This gap is significant. In Dabashi’s book THE EMPEROR IS NAKED (11) he describes this as a break-down of the relationship between ‘nations’ and ‘states’.  The gap that has opened up between the governors and the governed is of a variable scale in each instance.  Possibly it is most intense in the Arab states.  How much of a danger does this represent for the regimes complicit in the genocide? The West may realise too late what their support of Israel might lead to.  There is a risk that the failure and isolation of Israel will drag them down with it.  They are at this late stage (late March 2024) asking for restraint and making feeble efforts to appear to be countering the Israelis’ worst excesses.  The size and vigour of the pro-Palestinian movement has destabilised political life.  It is endangering the continuation of Biden’s presidency. In the UK the election victory of George Galloway in Rochdale sent shock waves through the political establishment.  The ruling elites were relying on a supine Labour Party to take over government and this is now no longer assured.  In a disastrous move the Tory government is reaching for more repressive measures with new definitions of ‘extremism’ and attempts to malign the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.  Their reliance on ‘war on terror’ rhetoric will be ineffective.  The basis of the consensus on which they rely is crumbling and their support is hardening only in the sectors associated with the far right.  It is predictable that, as in the 2019 election period, they will connive with the intelligence community to stage events designed to show the imminent threat of terrorism. Gunpowder plots have always played a part of the organisation of the popular masses. These are not guaranteed to work. In this respect the political rhetoric of the West and Israel are in tune. However, the discrediting of these regimes in the eyes of the global and domestic populations could prove to be irreversible.  The depth of the crisis is unclear but it may not be just a superficial public relations problem.

I have described genocide according to the observations set out in Daniel Feierstein’s book, GENOCIDE AS SOCIAL PRACTICE where, in accord with the originating work of Raphael Lemkin, he looks beyond legal definitions and explores the process of genocide, its genealogy and its phased development.  He says the effacement of the ‘out-group’ is driven by the social reorganisational needs of the ‘in-group’.  He gives a taxonomy of genocidal processes and talks specifically about the significance of what he describes as ‘reorganising genocides’.  Since his view is a comprehensive one, examining the widespread consequences and implications of these processes he asks wide-ranging questions.  For example:

‘What happens, then, to a society that remains silent while people are beaten in the streets and disappear?  What happens to a society in which some denounce their neighbours and others steal their jobs or businesses, their homes or other assets? All these forms of ‘moral participation’ in genocide must inevitably lead to a blurring of moral distinctions, an inability to distinguish between right and wrong, fair and unfair.  This is true not only for those who live in a time of genocide , but for subsequent generations as well’  (p127 Feierstein, Genocide as Social Practice)

The scope and scale of this question suggests that the moral consequences and the deterioration of functional and operative ideas of truth and justice can have a devastating and long-lasting effect on social structures and on human relations.  Credibility and trust can irremediably degenerate.  This can go deeper than a danger to the political effectiveness of the ruling elites.  They will be seen to have transgressed and betrayed key principles on which their ‘regalian’ powers rely.

Roots of genocide

The genocidal processes lie deep in the social structures of the perpetrator group.  In the ‘West’ the preparation for this genocide can be seen, as I suggest above, from the beginning of the ‘war on terror’.  This was an attempt to shape the mentalities and consensual submission of the populations of the West.  In the UK it built on the genocidal processes already initiated during the Thatcher regime where the working class and its trade union organisation were stigmatised as ‘the enemy within’.  This was accompanied by a mediatised public relations campaign that is described in CHAVS by Owen Jones (12).  What Feierstein points out is that the genocidal drive is prior to the precise determination of the victim/out-group. So for example, the National Socialist regime in Germany sought out the victim group over a period of years: the mentally ill, communists, gypsies as well as the jewish communities, on whom the last stage of the process focused.  Similarly in Argentina, during the military dictatorship (1976-1983), the definition of ‘subversive’ took time to develop and was engineered to include indigenous people and working class activists and communists.  These ‘fascistic’ processes vary from place to place and the historical circumstances determine their currency.  With sufficient destabilisation, deprivation and fear the scapegoating of ‘extremists’ in the UK may or may not prove to be the salvation of the ruling elites.

What can make this political strategy potentially effective? The construction of the ‘islamic terrorist’ was made possible by the historical circumstances: the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the war in Afghanistan, the development of radical political islam by Al Qaeda and others, the dispersal of the mujahideen army from Afghanistan, the encouragement of islam as an ideology of resistance replacing socialist/marxist organisation/values. But it also had deep resonance with other more historical determinants.  These determinants ‘rhymed’ with the early movements of European identity-formation.  The organisational processes that created the Crusades were based on the need for European early ‘nation-state’ formation, affirming their definition as ‘Christian’.  The function of the Crusades as early genocidal movements was to ‘conform’ and give coherence to ‘Christian Europe’ and to clear out other remaining ideologies from the European territories.  This process carried on through the period from the first Crusade in 1100 to the expulsion of the Jews and the ‘Reconquista’ in Spain in the 1490s.  This was accompanied, for example in France by the eradication of the Cathars and the use of the Inquisition.  The inquisition later transferred its activities from the European homeland to the colonies. 

The basic ground-work for the development of the ‘war on terror’ already existed in the social ‘soil’ of Europe and, by association, of Western Imperialism.  It was as if the ‘war on terror’ revived ancient and deeply rooted fears and antagonisms.  The spoors of this xenophobia were already there in the air and earth.  The other factor that made this construct potent was the later development of secularisation in the nation-state transformations post-English, American and French revolutions (1640, 1776 and 1789).  The demystification of kingship – the constitutionalisation of the monarchy and the mitigation of divine right in the Protestant revolution in England were pushed further in the secularisation of the French state in the revolutionary period and as it moved towards its current form in 1870, the establishment of the Third Republic. The separation of the Church and the State or a reorganisation of the relationship between them is significant in disguising the political theology of the states as they emerged from revolutionary processes of the late 18th century. This is especially important in the characterisation of terrorism’s association with islam, stigmatised as a kind of religious fanaticism. 

Splitting and divisions

The xenophobic racist ‘war on terror’ political strategy even when its iterated in its current form of ‘war on extremism’ is divisive.  The job of government is to ensure that the divisions created in the course of corralling the population are manageable and the ‘out-group’ is capable of being isolated and stigmatised.  However the growth of the pro-Palestinian movement may have popular consent.  It could be a unique convergence of popular sentiment and action. (13) The government, the political elites, the powers that be, may well fail.  Looking at the UK state and considering the impact of the solidarity movement is instructive. For example, the cracks that have already appeared in the ‘union’ are repeated in the distribution of support for Palestinians.  In this respect, the contrast between England and Ireland (of course not or only partly a part of the UK state) is marked and Scotland and Wales may share this bias.  It is indicative of the legacy of the institutions of the Roman Empire mentioned earlier that the borders of England are those established by Rome and were adopted by the migration from Europe in the post-Imperial period and were reconfirmed by the Norman invasion. The foundations of this state are now unstable.  Characteristically, endangered regimes regress and attempt to revive the mythic roots of their coming into being. Whereas exclusionary processes may be invigorating at an early stage of state formation and regime consolidation, in a terminal crisis, they may make the predicament worse. Divide and rule can backfire.

The processes of disintegration and division are emerging in Israel.  It has conducted the military violence against Gaza without visible success and has accomplished none of its declared objectives.  Its army has lost its way.  It has programmatically and intentionally failed to identify the military enemy and its actions are becoming more and more degraded and ostentatiously genocidal.  There could be a suspicion that they never sought Hamas’ military defeat since an undefeated Hamas is a pretext for the main genocidal purpose. It is failing without even having faced its most powerful enemy on its northern border.  Divisions within the population and its governing institutions are becoming more inflamed and intense.  Its actions will have led to mass recruitment for the Palestinian armed resistance and support for this resistance amongst the population. Exhausted by the pressure of the attritional attacks by the axis of resistance, blighted by the increasing isolation due to global disgust, beset with military failure, weakened by the deterioration of its international alliances, forestalled by economic damage, the break-up of the zionist entity is impending. All of these significant circumstances could lead to the emergence of a break-away more right-wing statelet, highly armed and based on the settler community.  The main rump of the entity may compromise on the more overtly genocidal – displacement and mass killing – actions and attempt to ameliorate the relationship with the West.  There is a territorial basis for this splitting, the ‘liberal’ camp being based in Tel Aviv and the right-wing more openly fascist domain being centred around Jerusalem. These divisions were tearing at the fabric of this society before October 7th. Neither of these sectors or constituencies will be pro-Palestinian but the ‘Tel Aviv liberals’ will be working more assiduously for the two-state solution and the formation of a ‘revitalised’ Palestinian Authority.  All of these processes are at an early stage of development.  

The disintegration of the zionist state will be reflected in the internal divisions within the key states of ‘the West’- the Anglo-American core, the UK and the USA.  The components will be ideologically similar.  This is because the basic fabric of the regimes – it might be more accurate to call it ‘the regime’ – is constitutionally similar.  They are patriarchal, white supremacist regimes. The genocidal process will fail to provide cohesion in all these faulty assemblages. The current UK government’s blandishments about extremism will be ineffective.  Of course the fascistic tendency that this policy ploy emanates from may gain ground in the short term and even become dominant just as might the right-wing settler statelet in Palestine.   It will be this process of disintegration and global isolation – look at the voting patterns at the UN to get some idea of this – that will lay the basis for the democratic revolution that the dismantling of the state structures of the West urgently need. Democratic transformation is synchronous with the disassembling and opening up of the state structures. For the UK it requires intense democratic engagement, a diversification and localisation of democratic forms, more direct democratic participation in public affairs, a de-monarchalisation of the state, a de-hierarchisation of public institutions, an abolition of inherited privileges, making public administration and political structures and processes transparent, an abolition of secrecy.  Clearing away the duplicitous contraptions and rituals and influence of the royal court and all the corrupt quasi-aristocratic ‘orders’ will have to happen at the same time as the growth of public participation in social life and the vital functions of learning and healing that properly lie at its core.    The failure of the ‘nation-state’ model of human organisation is imminent.  The idea that our society needs a mystical ideological or religious coherence and the myth of the state being ethnically monolithic will be surpassed.  The racist tenets of imperialism are meeting their deserved fate on the shores of the levant.  They are exposed as sheer violence. The liberation of our societies from this imperial yoke are inextricably linked with the Palestinians’ struggle for justice and freedom. 

 

References and Notes:

(1)  For a good historical description of regalian powers and how this power was retained by the ruling elites in the transition from the trilateral to the bilateral state.  See Thomas Picketty’s CAPITAL & IDEOLOGY (Harvard University Press 2020)

(2)  I am not referring to the ‘West’ as if it is a cultural homogeneous entity, a kind of ‘civilisation’ in  the way that Oswald Spengler describes it in The Decline of the West  (Alfred A. Knopf 1926).  I mean as a historical set of alliances a factor of political organisation.

(3)  President George W. Bush, in an address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001 said, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

(4)  Exclusion Processes by Jonathan Chadwick blog article

(5)  Rene Girard Violence and the Scared (The Athlone Press 1988)

(6)  Guy Halsall Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West 376-568 (Cambridge University Press 2007)

(7)  Erwin H. Kantorowicz  The King’s Two Bodies, A Study In Medieval Political Theology (Princeton University Press 1997)

(8)  Daniel Feierstein Genocide as Social Practice, Reorganising Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas. (Rutgers University Press 2014)

(9)  The first ‘Prince of Wales’ (later Edward II) was born in Caernarvon Castle in 1284.  The title was stolen from the Welsh.  The Welsh King David III was executed in 1283 by order of Edward I of England, father of the above, after his conquest of Wales.  In 1290 the English state undertook the first wholesale expulsion of a Jewish population in 1290.  Edward I was a crusader.  His first born Joan of Acre was named after the city in which she was born.

(10) Samuel P. Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster 1996) republished as a paperback in 2002.

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press 1992)

(11)  Hamad Dabashi, The Emperor is Naked: On the Inevitable Demise of the Nation-State (Zed Books 2020)

(12)  Owen Jones, Chavs, the Demonisation of the Working Class  (Verso 2011)

(13)  Richard Seymour, The pro-Palestinian movement has exposed the cynicism of the political elites.  Where will that energy go next?  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/mar/19/palestine-movement-politics-gaza-war-protest (viewed online 27/03/24)

 

Lest we forget.

Lest we forget

My mother was an ambulance driver and my father was a flying instructor during the Second World War.  My uncle was a fireman during the intense bombing of London, the Blitz.  My grandfather served in the British Army in Northern France during the First World War.

I am against the effort made by the UK government to create division between those who, on Remembrance Sunday, wish to honour the dead, killed in action in armed conflicts and wars and those who support the Palestinians’ resistance to occupation and for justice. The government have tried to confuse people. Remembrance Sunday has never been referred to as Remembrance weekend.  11 am on the 11th month etc. is well before the March for Palestine starts. You can do both if you want.

I am calling out to those who identify as English or British to wake up to what is happening in the Middle East.  I believe the events there have deep consequences for us.

My mother and father – and my uncle – were fighting to prevent an occupation by the German armed forces during the 1939-45 war.  The Palestinians have had their land occupied for 75 years. I appeal to people who haven’t experienced this in their own lives, to give it some deep thought.  What would you do if you were in this situation?

My mother drove ambulances for the ARP (Air Raid Patrol) in Leicester and, for example, when the worst bombing raid by the German Air Force laid waste Coventry on 14 November 1940, my mother immediately volunteered to drive an ambulance across to help people.  She told me that she knew Coventry ‘like the back of her hand’.  I loved my mother’s hands and I always saw them on a steering wheel or painting – something she took up later in her life.  When she arrived in Coventry  on the morning of the 15th November, she could see no recognisable landmark building.  The City had been flattened.  She was responsible for transporting the bodies of the dead who had been drowned in the air raid shelters, due to the destruction of the water mains supply, to the football stadium for identification.

Many of the people who my father trained to fly would have been dead by the end of the month following the commencement of their active service.  Some would have joined Fighter Command and therefore they would have fought during the Battle of Britain and other battles.  Some would have flown with Bomber Command and would have flown sorties over what was then enemy territory.  Some would have taken part in the bombing of German cities like Dresden towards the end of the war.

When my mother, stepped down from the cab of her ambulance, and looked around at the landscape of Coventry and failed to know where she was, she must have seen something similar to the bombed landscape of Gaza.  She had left school at 14 to become a trainee hairdresser. She hated this work as she felt that her youth was taken from her and she was nothing more than a slave, so when the war happened she became a driver and she later joined the Motorised Transport Corps.  She was posted to an airfield in the Midlands where my father was a Flying Instructor.  In 1940 she was 27 years old.

She told me that in the event of an invasion: ‘We would never have surrendered!’

My feeling is, that my mother and father would have been a part of the resistance to the occupation of the island of Britain by the German Armed Forces had it taken place but I can’t be sure.  I believe they would have been predisposed to think of resistance as armed resistance.

When I watch the TV footage of the medical and emergency services in Gaza struggling with the consequences of the Israeli bombardment I identify strongly with them.  They are my people. I see them as working people like my antecedents.

My parents and my uncle and many other members of my family were resisting occupation.  I have never thought of them as terrorists.

Resistance to occupation is a human right.  Self Defence cannot be admitted as a plea, in actions taken against an occupied people.

I appeal to your sense of justice and I appeal to you to join the March for Palestine on Saturday at 12 noon in London if you can.

 

 

Deception and Delusion

Our society – UK April 2023 – is governed through processes of deception. This could be attributable to recent large-scale growth of information management enabled by advances in technology – mainly improvements in the efficiency of microprocessors. (see CHIP WAR by Chris Miller) Attempts to shore up power through deception and empty demonstrations of control are features of any regime where a group holds power and manages the submission of other groups. The centralised and convoluted ways in which the information is authorised and collected may be furthering a tendency towards delusional behaviours and mentalities that are incident to the decline in the regime’s – the West’s – stability.  This tendency has intensified over the last 20 years but especially during the pandemic. During a period of decline such as the West is suffering now there is an enhanced need for deception in order to resist the consequences of this decline.  This enhanced need is leading to delusional behaviours.  The need for deception is so great that key sectors of the ruling apparatus become delusional. They actually find themselves given to believe in the deception they are perpetrating.

Two tendencies – overproduction of information and collapse of profitability (not necessarily all profits in all sectors) are linked to each other in complex ways. The fall in profitability or productivity (not the same thing but related) is to do with the tendency for technological innovation to have an impact not on production but on distribution. (See Smart Machines and Service Work by Jason E Smith).  Division within the manager-worker relations of production becomes more marked and the owners of the systems are more distant from the operatives.  This is manifest in terms of income, wealth and living conditions as well as in physical terms. This occurs in production as well as in social relations and can make the ‘masters’ delusional. There is a peculiar alchemy of dysfunctional impotence and illusions of omniscience and omnipotence. The latter is particularly the case with the increased capacity for surveillance that has occurred. ( see Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance CapitalismThis is why I am arguing that our political system, based as it is on deception, is liable to being deformed by delusion.

With our free media, democracy and the openness that our social life assures, we believe our society – the society of the West – is able to understand the truth and base our way of life and system of values on it.  This belief is false and it is the basis of the great delusion. A turning point moment in this respect happened 20 years ago when a military invasion of Iraq was undertaken on the basis of lies.  The lies were obvious.  Public relations outfits were hired to sell the policy to the public. Because the attack and mass killing happened, people thought that the lies must be the truth otherwise the launching of the attack and the unleashing of so much violence would be evil.  People believed they were not evil and therefore they believed that lies were the truth. When the ruling elites of the West, undertook the strategy of the ‘War on Terror’ it marked a new stage in the deliberate and programmatic use of deception.  

Is this delusional tendency dangerous to the regimes?  Will it form a negative feedback loop and lead to it all blowing up in their face? Can it possibly do the regimes of the West any harm, for example, to attempt to deceive the public about who carried out the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic? (See Seymour Hersch’s How America took out the Nordstream PipelineWill it be a problem that people who cluster around the US regime believe that the US was not guilty of this action?  We are used to the social media and information management strategies that call any questioning of the authenticity of the West’s official media-approved version of reality ‘conspiracy theory’ and construct other stories of an even more incredible character to associate with these and thus degrade them.  Any information about any event within the conspectus of government is subject to what is called ‘spin’.  However it is because of the huge material resources that are implemented in support of approved ‘information’ that it gains support and belief.  As I have said, one of the biggest ‘information’ events from this point of view was the ‘spin’ campaign around the attack or ‘war’ on Iraq in 2003 when few were persuaded of the maintenance of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ by Iraq but, since the massive movement of resources that the invasion involved, took place, people accepted this story almost in hindsight even though no such weapons were discovered.  It is almost as if the collateral (and perhaps central) objective of the whole enterprise was to gain the submission, not just of the Iraqi population, but of the populations of the countries that joined in with the invasion.  Can a ruling group maintain its rule and continue to lie?  Surely information must be managed in such away that the functionaries of the regime don’t become delusional.  But isn’t this a danger? These delusional behaviours are characterised by the increase in securitisation and the isolation of the ruling group in what can appear to be a preparation for flight.  Their destination of choice resembles a bunker, even if this terminal space looks luxurious, a tax haven or gated securitised community. 

As our regime – the West – with its democracy coating monarchical presidential structures – comes to an end, a part of the strategy to sustain it is increasingly and deliberately to practice deception.  The very brief period that the USA will have been the ‘leader’ of the West started to come to an end with its defeat in Vietnam in 1975.  After that it vastly increased its destructive potential – a major part in this was played by information technology (see Chip War by Chris Miller ) and brought this to bear in First Gulf War in 1991. Its domination of the battlefield was unquestioned but its military goals were unclear.  It was engaging in a display of power as if for publicity or propaganda purposes.  It could not, at this stage of the inauguration of the New World Order, appear to be a conquering army even though it had overwhelming force. It was rather an army of liberation. Its empire from the outset had to be disguised as a freedom project. It could not easily adopt the model of the old European imperialism its destiny was to replace. It needed to proclaim its liberal credentials counterposed to the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union. In its replacement of the older European Empires, it had to appear to be de-colonial or anti-colonial.  A delusion, or at least a deception, was built into its basic project: the empire that brought freedom.

The adoption by the ‘West’ of the ‘war on terror’ strategy as a unifying foreign policy platform really flowered in the second Gulf War.  The invasion of Iraq saw a crystallisation of the imposition of power over the truth. This demonstrated by the introduction of use of widespread torture.  This was not intelligence-gathering. It was primarily an instrument of terror, an enforcer of the ‘lie as truth’.  Many of the torture techniques were designed to destroy the internal structures of resistance, to break the will and sensibility of the ‘tortured’, to gain their fundamental submission. This disintegration of the resistant character was aimed at permeating the social sphere. If someone is holding a gun to your head and telling you that the red colour you are looking at is green, you may begin to see it as green.  Problems proliferate when the person holding the gun starts to see the red colour as green. Torture became an extreme form of salesmanship.

The celebrated quotation from Karl Rove is pertinent and summed up the post- communist new rule. It is said that Rove was talking to a group of journalists or academics who had asserted overly simple ideas about truth: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The strategies that have characterised the recent decades of declining US power saw a reversal of rational idealist decision-making processes. People argue for a course of action, gain consent to it and then carried it out. This was replaced by the creation of ‘facts on the ground’ a la Rove.  One remarkable example of this is the Israeli government’s colonisation of occupied Palestinian land.  In fact the degree to which the shaping rhetoric of Western foreign policy has been determined by Israeli policy in the ‘war on terror’ period is also remarkable. This of course will have been assiduously denied and consigned to  the bin marked ‘conspiracy theories’.  This will have been to some extent effected through the weaponisation of the accusation of anti-semitism. An extraordinary strategic by-product of this has been the use of anti-semitism to defeat the left in the Labour Party in the UK.  Or maybe it was not a by-product but the singular way in which the neoliberal establishment could continue to deepen its struggle against socialism. The declaration by the Israeli state, after the withdrawal of its colonies and armed forces from within the perimeter of the Gaza Strip in 2006, that it was no longer in occupation of the Gaza Strip was followed by the announcement that Gaza was ‘hostile territory’.  This meant that Israel completely controlled the space of Gaza through material flows, its currency, surveillance, power over its borders, and military control of the air, land and sea but denied occupation and designated the Gaza space as an enemy state.  Do they really believe they are no in occupation? Because foreign policy and domestic policy are contiguous, the implications of the ‘war on terror’ seep into ‘internal security’. The UK government decided to further the stigmatisation of immigrants through harassment calling its policy the creation of a ‘hostile environment’.  The idea that a government should create a hostile environment inside its own territory is a remarkable policy innovation. It extends the work of the Thatcher government in defining aspects of trade union and working class organisation as the ‘enemy within’. 

The processes of deception mean a greater closeness between the ‘intelligence community’, the media and the academy.  These institutions in their interrelatedness appear archaic in their submission to absolute power. (See Tucker Carlson and John Pilger) They can seem, in their doctrinal conformity, to belong to an earlier political epoch, an arcane priesthood, where a unified established religion, christianity was created within the emerging nation-states of the West and used as a combinatory ideology.  The reason why Israel acted as a kind of model for this most recent period of policy development was because it offered a telling and typical story of struggle against fundamentalist islam.  This was presented at a transitional moment for the West. Having accomplished the downfall of the Soviet regime and the apparent defeat of real existing socialism a new ‘enemy’ needed to be found.  The defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan had been effected through the financing and arming of islamic opposition, the warlords amongst whom the Taliban were the most prominent. The dispersal of the foreign fighters and their return to their respective countries offered the pretext to talk up the danger of islamism and this played into the ‘war on terror’ story. For this brief period of domination – before Ukraine was enlisted as the frontline state in the West’s war against the rest of the world – when fundamentalist islam was constructed as the main enemy and Middle East oil was a key commodity – this synergy between Israel and the West was crucial. It is not surprising that as the West turns its attention to more significant real opponents, Russia and China, the Israeli state project is seen to suffer ruptures and internal divisions.  Fissures consequently will occur between it and its main supporter, the USA. Meanwhile with the brokerage of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia begin a process of rapprochement.  And in the foreground is the emergence of the new togetherness of China and Russia bringing together the largest industrial base with the largest source of key raw materials, a powerful combination.  This is especially significant because the receding ice due to global warming has freed up the route to the East via the Arctic thus cutting out the need for transport through Suez i.e. through the routes controlled by the West. An unforeseen consequence of global warming. Although the heyday of Israeli influence is now over we are still left with the legacy of the war strategies they generated and of course Palestinians are in an even more vulnerable position, faced by a vicious genocidal project which is no longer disguising itself as a peace process.

You can’t measure delusions. There is no way of estimating how delusional a given regime or connected series of political spaces might be.  Nor whether it makes the political and intellectual elites and their cadre vulnerable.  Certainly they have been loyally supported by the modern secularised version of the Lords Spiritual, the media and the academy. How is it that the liberal intelligentsia of the West have been such a push over?  Is liberalism such a powerful and convincing ideology?  Have they been fooled into believing that secularisation and democratisation have brought an end in their milieu to the underlying function of established religion in offering support and justification for the aspirations of the expansionist delerium of the military-oriented leading section of the elites? They are the functionaries of that religion. The liberal intelligentsia have been at the core of the generation of delusion.  Journalists programmatically went along with the stories about antisemitism in the Labour Party and failed as an institution to investigate what was going on. They didn’t feel they even needed to appear to be impartial so obvious was it that Corbyn was a usurper, a traitor, a coward, a king of shreds and patches. The search for truth – or just simply the other side of the story – was easily staunched.  In this instance and this may reveal a general truth, it is clear that there is an underlying agenda.  I repeat what I said at the beginning that any ruling group that holds sway over other social groups uses deception as a means of gaining submission.  This is patriarchy.  The group that holds power is a concentrated expression of the institutionalised power of men over women.  Capitalism is a further elaboration and dispersal of this structure.  Men’s power is only power over women, the prioritisation of production (economic growth) over reproduction.  Reproduction is reduced to the production of labour power. The capitalist state has to ensure that this is done as cheaply as possible in order to enhance profitability.  However it cant appear to be doing this.  This is where deception is so important. Of course if men take women’s power it is in their interest that women are powerful so long as this power is already becoming submissive.  This is the control of beauty. The character of the state structures themselves are built to deceive.  They are in themselves deceptive.

The modern capitalist state is a vehicle for patriarchal rule but hides, disguises or ceremonialises and it appears to both display/ritualise and defuse this core value structure. It enacts discourses that lead these values to be internalised or introjected as natural.  This is a consequence of patriarchy’s initial move which was to take control of symbolic power, of ritual, of the symbolic order. Control of knowledge, secrecy, ‘information management’ are an essential part of the domination of society by a group within it. I believe, because of this, that the reform of state structures is necessary, that is, the thorough extension of diverse forms of democracy, the prohibition of hereditary power, the abolition of secrecy and the establishment of transparency in government. 

So what follows is a series of essays on why deception is intrinsic to patriarchy and capitalism. It should be treated with suspicion and I am sure it will give rise to mild ridicule.  What underlies my argument is the perception that the change of which we are feeling the tremors is a species change, a change in the sexual organisation of our species which is an adaptation to environmental change.  The depth and extent of the change is measurable against the protracted and complex process that brought patriarchy into being.  It is this deep and wide.  So the decline of the West is just an echo of this more fundamental change.  Since the West is patriarchy taken to its ultimate degree of development, its instability brought about by its predatory character, its exhaustion of resources and its delusional mentalities we will see here the paradigm begin to shift. It might not be a pretty sight.  Its drive is expressed in modernity and its essence is militarist and genocidal.  As the greatest contemporary thinker about genocide, Daniel Feierstein has recognised: Genocide is endemic to modernity.  

Is deception an essential aspect of patriarchy?  Does this current development of an increased intensity and capacity for deception that seems to have escalated during this period of the system’s decline make apparent something that is a basic characteristic? Deception and the consequent delusion that it produces is deeply connected to the whole ideological carapace of patriarchy.  It is germane to it.  Patriarchy could not have developed without an accompanying system of knowledge control.  This is based on secrecy. This is the use of the control of space. This is what secrecy means.  It relies on the partition or barrier between one space and another. Have a look at The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations by GCHQ. Secrecy accompanies the appropriation of ritual and symbolic power.  This human development, a change in our species organisation, characterised the strategies patriarchal males deployed in order to ensure paternity and patrilineal succession.  It is energised by the need to counter women’s power. In giving birth, the central act of species life, gives women initial control over reproduction. This has been systematically taken away from them. This is one of the fundamental efforts of modern science but of course it is seen to be rooted in the primordial ritual of patriarchy, the witch hunt.  Have a look at the appendix where I have attached a spoof report on a men’s meeting 12,000 years ago.

The evolutionary revolution that brought about the development of the modern human species (homo sapiens sapiens) was based on the suppression and management of alpha male individualistic behaviour traits – those associated with sex-for-food exchanges. The work of coalitions of human females in creating the primary social space of reproduction for the protracted vulnerability of big-brained early-birthed creatures involved the containment and distribution of sexual energy. Women controlled who had sex with whom. After approximately 180,000 years of species development conditions changed and the male ‘takeover’ took place – a complex process of long duration. The element of secrecy and the question of deception arose out of men’s collective experience of wresting control from women.  The development of animal husbandry, crop cultivation and sedentism introduced new conditions making possible the domestication of women.  The subjugation and oppression of women was carried out in different cultural settings and environmental circumstances.  The germ of the use of deception by patriarchy and capitalism is seen in how it became a part of masculinist culture to accuse women of being deceitful. Men will have experienced the ritual power of women in their control of sexual distribution, guarding the young women going through their first menstruation.  The location of this rite of passage may well have been in a menstrual hut from which men were excluded.  Certainly strategies of seclusion and ritual were a part of this original human culture. How men mimicked this sacred space and inverted its function is typical of the processes of ‘take over’. Exerting their control over death and installing the artefacts thereof in their men’s houses formed an integral part of the development of hierarchical forms of organisation and the development of an appropriated and guarded sacredness.  Of course the precise truth of what I’m saying is open to question.   Instances of red ochre body paint used by female coalitions, of menarchal huts, of sacred rituals guarding menstruation, of men’s huts, of initial developments of hierarchy are a part of the ethnographic record. Some of these ideas derive from my inexpert understanding of the precepts developed by the Radical Anthropology Group. The variety of developments in different human groups will always provide rich and contradictory evidence.

As human males came to take over social organisation and place production over reproduction as the social priority, they enforced their rule by incorporating features of the pre-existing cultural order.  They could not exercise their will – based on the new priorities that they were moved to adopt – only by violence and brute force.  They had to recognise the power of the kind of internalised organic community that they saw reason to change.  Recognising how powerful the unknown was over them, they saw and experienced how the power of women depended on their knowledge of their sexual availability and the relationship between this availability and reproduction.  They recognised the power of the protection offered to young menarchal females by the coalitional strength and ‘co-ordination’ capacity of women which was integral to women’s control of the distribution of access to sex.

The initial development of the species involved the collective coalitional influence of women in the first movement of the species in creating society. This was held together by the inherent structures that arose in the course of reproduction and child-rearing. This organisation was organic. This is not to say that these functions were the province of women alone.  On the contrary, the society was centred on the assurance of the continuation of the community through the defence and protection of the young.  The young were not at this point looked upon as a source of human labour capable of being exploited. 

Rule cannot be upheld over a long time by violence.  Control is exerted by threat of violence, the sanctification of violence, but mechanical force is ineffective without the control of symbolic power and symbolic power is gained through deception unless it is organic.  Symbolic power is the knowledge of the code, the ability to elaborate what things mean.  In order to disclose what things mean it is presupposed that there is knowledge that is withheld and then released under circumstances of submission.

A major feature of the mimetic incorporation of women’s culture – or the appropriation and masculinisation of human culture – was how men inverted what they experienced as the power of women at the level of symbolic organisation. This inversion of human culture happens at the level of ritual and of poetry and of mythic narrative. Masculinist culture is constantly referring to the original human culture. Deception as a major component of patriarchy arose in the need to hide the sources of their power as successfully as the sources of women’s power had, in their experience, been hidden from them.  The development of these structures (the sanctification of violence through the exercise of ritual power) of patriarchal society brought forms of rule that depended on external forms of control as well as internalised structures of belief, making the exercise of power appear to be a matter of natural force.

All systems of rule, not to say all forms of social organisation, control populations through deception.  If the rule of one section of society is imposed on another – the first example of this was men’s oppression of women – then control of what the population believe to be the case is essential.  What does this control amount to? What are the methods and technologies involved?  Of course it may be true that there are or have been societies that haven’t needed a state because no group, as a group, or section programmatically exerts control over any other group.  If control is exerted then this control is evident in the submission of the oppressed group.  The submission may seem to the oppressed group to be completely internally motivated.  They even might believe themselves to be an integral part of the oppressor group and see their interests as the same.  They may have been convinced that they gain protection from the oppressor group and therefore submit.  Their submission may be habitual and be interiorised through the experiences that form and shape their behaviour and attitudes.  How much easier it is for the oppressor if the oppressed are not aware of their oppression. 

One of the functional aspects of hierarchies is that the people inhabiting the different hierarchised spaces have the power to permit access at different levels.  This means that people are admitted to spaces from which they have previously been excluded or prohibited and thus they gain access to knowledge and perspectives, even secrets, that they were previously ‘not privy’ to.  So if the keeping of secrets is a function of the ordering of the hierarchy and hierarchies are themselves a primary technology of oppression of one group by another then deception is an intrinsic part of all systems of rule.  Only when a society is held together by an organic internalised non-exclusive process of inherent co-ordination, maybe an internalised rhythm or harmony – can a society dispense with secrecy and deception. The movement towards the restructuring of the state through processes of organic democracy is not fanciful.  People all the time have strong social experiences of love and equality.

The idea that the rulers of a given society ‘know’ things that the population cannot or should not know is contrary to the thorough operation of democracy.  What we witness in the modern capitalist state form is that the hierarchy is shielded and protected by democratic elements. These elements are structured, like concessions permitting the oppressed group to participate in its own oppression and are ways of gaining the population’s consent to the rule of power. In the current instance the appearance that all the participants in a given society are equal is significant insofar as this equality hides the inequality that resides underneath or behind it. I repeat, the modern capitalist state form is itself deceptive.  It is based on the separation of the state from civil society. The outer casework appears to grant access but the inner structures are impenetrable and are made inaccessible by the apparent accessibility of the outer casework.  This means that these democratic elements are oppressively deceptive but also offer footholds for the completion of the democratic process. This access can only become an effective lever of change when society has assembled as a democratic force.

Does this make change impossible?  Everything that is made by human beings can be unmade and made anew. Change of the sort that will break our submission to patriarchy must involve the critical mass of the population.  Millions and millions of people will participate. It must involve a qualitatively different democracy than the concessionary representative sort. Is there a point during this radical participatory democratic process that decisively separates the democratic elements that are a part of the defensive oppressive deceptive structure of the state, the concessionary representative sort, from those that move towards the proliferation of democratic forms, transparent government and the abolition of secrecy? It is public democratic power over the material resources of society that is decisive.  Power over finance and the ability to redistribute wealth has to be accompanied by the abolition of state secrecy.  The structure and institutions of the state have to be thoroughly democratised. If these two measures are not carried out in tandem with each other no movement forward of society can take place.  The forms of the modern capitalist state are operationally incapable of resource redistribution.  Any redistribution of this sort will become liable to corruption and exploitation by groups acting in their own interests. The basic frame of the modern capitalist state will remain in place and this will continue to be a deceptive structure which, through its array of institutions, obscures and disguises its real functions.  

The state form of our regime is built to ensure profitability by reducing the cost of producing and reproducing labour power.  The modern capitalist state institutionalises the division between politics and economics, giving the appearance of political equality in order to maintain economic inequality.

Capitalism is a direct adaptation of patriarchy and this can be seen in the transition from the feudal state to the modern capitalist state.  This transition contains continuities and discontinuities. I have described elsewhere how capitalism is a dispersal and interiorisation of patriarchy.  Its development is founded on the continued oppression of women and the extension of the dominance of production over reproduction. According to Roswitha Scholz ‘Value is male’ and capitalism is ‘patriarchal commodity production’.  If the intrinsic tendency of patriarchy – in its insistent pursuit of the domination of production over reproduction – is to find a way of making into commodities all elements in the social space then knowledge too is bound to be subject to this process – commodification.  A sign of this will be the reduction and quantification of knowledge to information, the rendering of knowledge into data

The change in our species, the reorganisation of humanity by patriarchy – a massive complex process – triggered by multiple factors including population growth and environmental change is now, in our own epoch, disentangling itself.  We are having to change as a species in our organisational life and we are having to make an adaptation to similar factors but at a different stage of development and interrelatedness.  Of course it is not accurate to describe the profound underlying species crisis which is having such a profound impact on our political structures as a reversal though this is how it appears.  Our systems are deeply structured on deceptive and delusional processes. An institutional inability to face the truth and operate in accord with it is widespread. 

Is this our system really under stress?  Where does the stress come from? Why are there moves to dispense with the democratic veneer in this period?  Why are there tendencies towards autocracy? In the period when the West – because it was the initiator of the capitalist industrial development and had a kind of first mover advantage – was for a historic period able to moderate its need to keep ‘wage costs’ down in the ‘metropolitan’/imperialist centre, it could protect itself through the super profits from imperialist expansion.  This capacity no longer exists. As well as the over-exploitation of the earth’s natural resources it has reached the limits of this competitive advantage and is in a period of growing impoverishment.  The reason why the UK is the only advanced economy with a minus growth rate is because this domain above all others has now exhausted the advantages it accrued from empire.  Of course there is residual wealth.  Of course there was a hope to return to the days of this competitive advantage in a UK free from the restraints of the EU, taking full advantage of a renewed deregulation of the financial industry.  This however has been forestalled by the pandemic.  The long term decline proceeds.  It is in the UK that all the features of the West’s decline can be seen writ large. 

The socialist or left opposition restricts itself to making what are effectively economic demands.  The suppression of political thinking is general. There is no doubt in my mind that unless there is a programmatic movement to reform and restructure the state institutions by creating massive democratic pressure to do so then problems of redistribution will not and cannot be solved. 

My basic point remains: if a political system depends for its continuance/existence on deception – in other words, that a major part of its ability to apply the instruments of government depends on making people believe that they are not being governed and that the guiding parametres in which they operate are simply natural forces – then as that system moves into its terminal crisis the deception will become delusional.

It could be that the successful demand for the abolition of state secrecy and for transparency in government may create the first cracks in the current order.  Political demands of this sort are sparse.  Economic demands, even if successful, are bound to reproduce current oppression.

Appendix 1:

Here is a report of a meeting that was held 12,000 years ago at a critical moment of the development of our species.  As we know from our studies of biology even at an elementary level the primary feature of a species is the sexual relations that determine its reproduction:

The men were faced with what appeared to be a problem of awesome proportions.  They had reached a point where they understood that the old system of hunting and gathering had started to come to an end.  The changing conditions had led to the herds being further and further away. Also they were victims of their own success.  Human populations had grown substantially and certain species that they hunted were no longer plentiful.  Also they had developed new ways of controlling the herds of animals that provided food and of cultivating the vegetable food sources that they depended on.  The old pattern of life where the monthly movement of hunting and feasting was more difficult to sustain.  The men were faced with resistance from groups of women to the new systems they wanted – and felt they needed – to implement.  They had to assert their power over women as a group.  They had to make the men’s word and the men’s priorities dominant.  They traditionally had their own space, their own hut where women were forbidden.  Now they gathered there to talk about what to do.  They knew some of their number were true visionaries and leaders and would be coming up with some dazzling ideas about what must be done.  It felt to them that they had physical power; they were stronger than the women and when they worked together there was no force that could resist them.  However they still felt the women were powerful.  The women still determined who should have sex with who.  They had amazing ceremonies when they initiated the girls who were becoming women.  Furthermore, the men couldn’t tell when the women were sexually available.  The women had the power to tell them.  It was true that they controlled the flow of blood from the animals that they killed on the hunt but the women controlled the secret flow of blood that designated a woman as ready for sex.  One man had said that just as he owned his goat herd and just as his spear and his weapon were his when he was hunting he should also own his chosen woman.  Unfortunately everybody found this idea so comical that they couldn’t stop laughing, especially the women.  Even the idea that the tools and weapons that he used were a part of him made people laugh, especially when they started looking for his tools in various parts of his body.  The men when they started talking came to the conclusion that the women were keeping secrets from them.  They began to understand, or so they thought that the women’s power was their ability to deceive them.  Women are deceitful, one of them proclaimed.  This struck a chord.  The women had their secrets but with the men nothing was secret.  For example when they were aroused sexually it showed and it was obvious that their penises had power over them or rather women had power over them through their penises.  In fact, some of them said, the women wanted to take their penises away.  This brought little eddies of cautious laughter amongst the group of men.  One of the visionary leaders exclaimed suddenly that they needed secrets and if they didn’t have any then they would have to create them.  They would create secrets by doing what they were doing now, that is by keeping their talk between themselves.  He suggested that they take an oath of secrecy, a secret oath that they would not tell anyone what they had talked about no matter what it was.  They would even keep secret the fact that they didn’t have any secret to keep!  This was such a brilliant idea that strong intakes of breath could be heard and murmurings of approval.  Just as when they fought their battles over territory with other groups of men they would not let it be known how an attack would take place, the same was true of the women.  Somebody protested that the women were not their enemy and quite a lot of the men groaned with impatience.  Of course not but also women were like enemies if they didn’t do what the men required them to do.  Another quietly spoken but influential man told the group that he believed that as well as having secrets they need to make displays of power, ritual celebrations of their power and make these the dominant events and make them time with the seasons, when the crops were gathered or when the herds gave birth to their young.  Some of the men muttered about the idea that this was women’s stuff.  But most of the men began to see, as the conversation continued, that they needed to take over the rituals that the women organised.  None of this was really new and all the ideas and suggestions were things that they had talked about endlessly but the time had come for action.  They knew that similar processes were happening in other neighbouring communities. Then they started talking about stories and how they should take over the stories from the women or only allow them to be told in certain circumstances.  They needed to keep the basic elements of the stories the same but turn them inside out.  Yes they needed to invert them.  Like this, some clown shouted, taking his garment off and turning it inside out. It’s the same garment! They need to keep the women in the stories and show how powerful they could be but seek different outcomes.  One of the older men said that they wondered whether they would come unstuck when they tried to use deception on the women.  They haven’t come unstuck, another blurted.  No, because they don’t even realise they are being deceitful, another opined.  But what happens if we start to believe our own deceit, said the first.  The truth is what we say it is, said the visionary leader and everybody cheered but this was partly because it was getting late and the men were getting tired and restless.  They wanted to have a drink and do some dancing.

Exclusion Processes

Our society – UK late March 2023 – is going through a process of organised exclusion.  The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and the deliberate policy development that make the issue of migrants prominent and which consigns them to scapegoats is the primary indication of this trend which has been most virulently a part of the UK social landscape since 2010 with the formation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. There are good books like Maya Goodfellow’s HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT (1) and Nadine El-Enany’s (B)ORDERING BRITAIN (2) which talk specifically about this manifestation.  I want to think through what are the underlying causes and movements. 

Exclusion refers to a number of interlinked processes happening in different sectors of society.  There are events and behaviours in homes, streets, leisure spaces, retail spaces and workplaces.  There are stories told and interactions staged in the media.  And there are state activities – the formulation and execution of policies – that construct and reconstruct institutions along with the attitudes, values and behaviours they make habitual. 

The movement towards fascism is a widely expressed concern.  The football commentator Gary Lineker hit a nerve recently when he made a comparison between the language used by a current UK government minister and that used by advocates of the National Socialist movement in Germany in the 1930s (3).  Exclusion processes are widespread and multidimensional. As a consequence of recognising the characteristics of these processes I am arguing for a qualitative extension of democracy and reform of state structures.  This should be aimed at removing institutions which embody inherited forms of power and privilege, including the monarchy.  It should entail an abolition of secrecy and the establishment of open, transparent government.  There should be an increase in local forms of participatory and direct democracy.  Any redistribution and democratic allocation of public resources to deal with the gross inequalities and inefficiencies of our society must be accompanied by a qualitative increase in democracy otherwise the intrinsic corruption of the current governmental structures will contaminate and divert these processes. The popular extra-parliamentary movement is focused too narrowly on economic demands (4)  

Societies form themselves through processes of inclusion and exclusion.  They thus renew and reinvigorate themselves, holding people together, giving people the means to recognise each other and enhance their sense of belonging.  For people to be included, other people are excluded who may be considered to be unlike them.  There is no accurate and unarguable way of describing the processes in the different sectors nor the interaction between them.  Also it is extremely difficult to be sure how exclusionary processes increase and get stronger or decrease and get weaker. These tendencies could be caused by how a society is thriving, how productive of life’s necessities it is, of how wealth is created and how it is distributed. If exclusionary movements are getting stronger and more widespread it could be connected to decreasing productivity and increasing wealth inequality.  From an economic point of view, if sections of the population are disposable or surplus to the requirements of the production and distribution processes then it makes sense that exclusionary processes will become more dominant. But many other specific circumstantial factors are in play, especially the overall historical context.  I am arguing for a conscious, public, movement of inclusion.  Our society should be grounded in love and care.  At the moment these fundamental strategies are practiced in smaller family and community circles.  These inclusionary strategies need to be dominant in our public life and spaces.

Ways of dividing people against each other are found in order for low-cost effective governance to be sustained. These may be legislative, executive or policy instruments. For these to be effective they must echo and validate everyday prejudices that arise spontaneously from the reduced circumstances in which people live.  This interaction is fertile and highly dynamic.  If people are suffering, finding it difficult to imagine the future, concerned about their children or their elders, if resources are being withdrawn or depleted, if the environment is deteriorating then finding a cause for this and scapegoating other sections of the population gives those people a way of enacting their grievances.  This is what is happening in the UK and to a more limited extent in the West today.

The characteristics of human social organisation derive from the physiological and psychological peculiarities of our species.  The formation of social groups is consequent on our inability to survive as individuals.  The long period of vulnerability of human infants is a major determinant of our social structures.  Modern human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) are ‘born early’ and face complex issues in assuming adulthood and relative autonomy. (5) The adult human being, as well as the human infant, is dependent in a different but related way.  The question of exclusion from the human group is a matter of life and death. The circumstances of human infants are a clear illustration of this.  The issues that arise are largely dealt with in the immediate family or kindred community. In the course of human development populations have grown and therefore the relationship of larger groups to smaller groups has changed. However some of the structuring principles have remained constant. There is a synergy between original processes of group formation in smaller groups and the strategies of government and rule for larger populations. It is important to recognise the specific qualities of these differing spaces.  There is a tendency in patriarchal society to collapse social spaces into the space of the family. 

For the human infant the issue of inclusion in feeding and food-sharing is existential. These basic situations in which human beings find themselves have a major impact on social formation. For a human being not to be fed or not to have access to food raises simultaneously both the problem of nourishment and of symbolic exclusion.  When hunger occurs and when the prospect of food is signalled separate parts of our brains and neurological circuits are activated.  One part of our organism is responding to the need for nutrition due to homeostatic or energetic impulses, and another part is responding to the prospect of satisfaction that activates oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and adrenalin. (6) For the young human infant feeding, which in most instances is access to the breast, is a matter of being fed and of being loved.  The ‘doubleness’ of this process may be more pronounced in the human animal than in other species because of ‘early’ birth and prolonged period of socialisation.  Human beings encounter predicaments and difficulties that are characterised by attachment-separation. (7) We find it difficult to comprehend the nature of our individuality, dependence, interdependence and independence.  All the issues, tensions and difficulties attendant on these problems have impacts on the way we make societies.  Moreover, these ‘human’ characteristics are the levers used by ruling organisations as they hold together the populations that they intend to govern. 

The ‘doubleness’ of the feeding process means that the human being uses a different optic (set of assessment and evaluation functions) to process its own actions to that which it uses to process the actions of others. (8) In the former instance the impulse is determined by homeostasis and in the latter by engagement in symbolic processes. This division is to do with the way the human brain developed as it became larger in the course of evolution.  The parts of the brain that respond to immediate sensory needs and appetites evolved earlier than those which deal with processes of recognition, engagement with ‘the other’ and symbolic order. 

Individuals suffer damage caused by imbalances in the relationship between feeding and loving.  This is especially the case for those who experience forms of exclusion. Dependences and addictions arise when substances can be found which interact with the chemical responses associated with feeding and loving, solving the pain of separation and giving a temporary fix. Imbalances are easier to spot at an individual level than when these re-channellings of appetites and desires are socially regulated and organised. Commodity production in the period of late capitalism is charged with addictive practices designed to give consumers a sense of belonging (9). This happens through the media and marketing. In the last 50 years production and consumption practices have become imbued with the signalling and imaging that involve the exploitation of these characteristics. 

All of us have in us a vulnerability to exclusion built into our physiology and psychology.  It is a part of our experiences of being infants.  We can see that children have an extreme sense of justice and fairness that is built up as a countervailing capacity to these experiences.  The only partially hidden hierarchies of capitalism are constructed from these processes.  The commodity form constructs demand as a kind of pain of ‘not having’ to which it fetishistically provides the solution.  Everybody is excluded and included because everybody has more or less spending power.  The system so easily plays on, provokes and appeases childhood anxieties.  The lacerations of outraged, demoted, formerly privileged sectors of the population animated by envy and fear of refugees is like sibling rivalry.  They perceive action in favour of the well-being of refugees as preferential treatment. Racism is immediately evoked and permeates these situations.

It is possible to see how these features of modern society have historical roots. At a certain point in the development of the human species a critical number, or the majority, of human groups developed forms of social organisation that depended on one part of the group exercising dominance over the other.  Up to that point – although of course all human groups vary – human groups generally lived and reproduced themselves without externalised forms of control.  This would be a loose description of what Murray Bookchin calls ‘organic’ society. (10) What is envisaged is that life was regulated by an interiorised or interior apprehension of necessity. The human group was held together by the process of reproduction.  It was centred on the rhythmic connection of women’s collective bodies and the intersubjectivity originating in the adult-child relationship.  (11) The process of transformation of human society to one in which male dominance was practiced happened as populations grew and the accumulation of knowledge of plant life and animal life became the basis for a solution to the resource scarcity that population growth posed.  This resource scarcity was exacerbated by environmental changes at the end of the Last Glacial Period at the start of the Holocene epoch (approximately 11,650 years before the present). The other co-ordinate factor was the competition between human groups for resources.  All human groups vary and different thinkers have put different emphases on how uniform and complete was, what is generally referred to as, the neolithic revolution. 

The advent of successful societies organised by male dominance and the spread of this new kind of society to the point where it dominated the species is the movement that human beings are now in a position to move beyond.  We are faced with environmental change.  In this instance it is anthropogenic but this does not affect the intensity of the change. The change in our species must involve a change in the relationship between sexes with all the changes in gender roles that this entails. It involves changes in how we produce and how we reproduce. The development of human production, of the dominance of reproduction by production, has reached a point of crisis.  The key resources of the earth for the current production system have been exhausted and the impact of human activity on our environment means that this production system is not sustainable.  As these resources become scarcer war and competitive production are employed in their allocation and this means that these resources are being even more severely depleted.  The problem is complex with massive destructive negative feedback elements. The challenge is to discover organisational forms of society that can dismantle the practices and mentalities that have become commonplace.  

Complete understanding of the long -term story of the human species and its development may not be necessary to continue the combined processes of dismantling the old and generating the new.  The knowledge, wisdom and practices to do this already exist. The major problem is the defence of the old system by organised violence, violent organisation. The foundations of male dominance lie in the control of space through violence.  This was complemented by the justification of violence through the appropriation of symbolic power.  The brutality and violence of this original human oppression had to be sanctified for it to be organisationally effective. The understanding of the double nature of power is a commonplace. It is in the practices and figures that arise in the development of the combination of brutality and sanctity that the processes of inclusion and exclusion become more visible.  The marking off and separation of territories are an integral part of the development of crop cultivation and animal husbandry, major production developments that accompanied the establishment of patriarchy. The definition, delineation and prohibition of spaces and access for specified people for specified (or sanctified) purposes is the architectural technology that enabled this revolution to take place.  The configuration of sacred spaces according to the cosmos was a core part of this.  The position of the hierarch and the warrior leader in ceremonial spaces meant that power was held through display and processional events. (12) The hierarch’s power depended on this ‘management’ of space (this reaches its apotheosis in the relationship between private property and its sanctification through individual freedom ie capitalism) and it is inextricably linked to the appropriation of symbolic power based on secrecy and deception. Control of the processes of exclusion and inclusion by the dominant group is essential to government although the oscillation between these interconnected activities of inclusion and exclusion cannot be completely controlled.  Because of this volatility it is likely that as the capitalist (patriarchal commodity production) order breaks up, the defensive action will involve the proliferation of processes of exclusion.  This is why I am arguing for increases in participation and inclusion, the abolition of state secrecy, open participatory democratic public administration.

These exclusion processes are extremely fissile.  They are based on fear and confusion because of their violent and arbitrary nature and this makes them mimetically contagious.  It is very difficult to be accurate about how these processes reproduce themselves.  Fear communicates itself immediately through pheromones. It is rooted in homeostatic impulses.  It is mimetically instant.  In a crowd it will fragment the crowd into individuals and it will endanger any coherence as a group.  It is not surprising that these herd responses would have been recognised and practiced in the course of hunting and animal husbandry.  This was the beginning of their instrumentalisation in social organisation.

The weight and gravity of these movements are genocidal. In Daniel Feierstein’s book about Genocide (Genocide as Social Practice) he asserts that genocide is endemic to modernity (13).  I am insisting that the key to modernism is the dominance of production over reproduction. His work points out that genocide is a process that occurs in stages. The second to last stage is mass killing.  The last is symbolic re-enactment. The first stage is stigmatisation of the ‘excluded’ or ‘victim’ group.  The genocidal process is a means of social organisation where the holding together of the identity of a human group depends on the effacement of the identity of another human group.  The oppressor group is energised by the stigmatisation, isolation, exclusion and eventual effacement of the ‘victim’ group. I have described how these forms of dominance are endemic to patriarchy.  It is no surprise that a heightened movement and intensity of these exclusionary processes will be accompanied by changes in the hierarchical formation which is at the core of patriarchy.  The main impact is a regression to the originating military uniformities and centralisation of command that characterise its development.  This intensification of hierarchy often involves the adulation of a saviour leader. There is a demagogic merging of the warrior leader with that of the high priest. It features a top-down structuring of the constitutional space and an almost simultaneous emergence of a bottom-up, apparently spontaneous, grass roots movement that violently enforces control and possession of territory. 

The social processes of inclusion and exclusion are embodied in taboos and totemism. The definition of, and agreement on, what is sacred does not appear to be a matter of conscious choice.  The human need to belong to a group is fulfilled and is played out in making manifest what bonds the group. The necessity of loyalty and the stigma of treason is a matter of life and death.  To be disloyal is to be consigned to a non-space.  The space of non-existence, where nationality is taken away, where you cannot be recognised, where you are illegal or non-human, accompanies the genocidal process.  The creation of this space in fascist and/or genocidal regimes is manifested in the concentration camp, the space into which people disappear. Rule is through fear of being like those who have been ‘othered’ and excluded.  These processes of exclusion are like a contagion and they happen at both the micro and macro level.  Their escalation may not be exceptional and it may be that they are normal or a heightened state of an unchanged system.  However there is a feeling that once they start it is difficult to stop. 

This tendency for the ‘othering’ or ‘exclusion’ to be like a contagion is made evident by the way the victim group can be expanded or exchanged.  The process ‘leaps’ from one group to another.  The connection that underlies this ‘leaping’ is associational.  The likeness of one group to another group is asserted at the expense of accuracy.  In fact underlying connection is preferred to truth.  Migrants become criminals and become terrorists and become rapists and become the homeless and become usurpers and become beggars and become communists and become radicals and become subversives and become extremists and people who do not uphold ‘our’ way of life.

The intensification of the exclusion process presents a new state of affairs that is like a heightened normality.  It enforces an ‘identitarian’ coherence that previously was held through consensus.  At the same time attention is drawn to something irrational under the surface rationality of capitalism.  This in turn can serve to remind us of how capitalism is both an extension and a kind of disguise of patriarchy.  Widespread almost voluntary ordering that is achieved by cultivating money as the measurement of worth for all things and people, enabled the ruling elites to dispense with the more awkward and objectionable subjections of monarchy and feudalism. However the less visible hierarchy of capitalism lived out much more adaptably in the minutiae of peoples’ daily lives requires further affirmations either natural or divine when its excesses become ostentatiously distended.  This process of apparent stabilising and congealing shakes the covers from the core assumed inequalities disguised in normal times by the veil of freedom and democracy.  This is what makes the struggle for a qualitative increase in democracy so vital.

The contagious quality of the exclusion process is activated by simultaneous movements from the bottom up and from the top down.  The increase in the exclusion process – which can also be described as as a proliferation of exclusion processes – activates the hierarchy and changes its dynamic shape.  The concentration or centralisation of power at the top is dynamised by a corresponding intensification of energies at the bottom.  It appears like a reactionary regression and figures appear from what seems like a preceding era.  Comparisons are justifiably drawn with feudalism and autocratic monarchic forms of organisation.  It is as if the hierarchy reveals itself in a more naked form and its core energies become exposed.  In governmental terms the extension of executive power is accompanied by a throwing off of democratic and judicial procedural restraints.  The balance in the cultural emphasis moves away from the rational towards the emotional and instinctive.  It is at once the assumption and creation of an enforced unity of feeling and knowing.  

These processes of exclusion connected as they are to genocide and war – after all the most vivid example of hierarchy is displayed by military structure where the commander hands out commands from a hill overlooking the battle or nowadays from an office or living room far away from the actual bloody violence suffered by the working soldiers – have had catastrophic outcomes leading to suicidal bunkers or humiliating military defeat.  The problem with autocracy has proved to be the question of succession.  The discredited ghost of divine kingship appears in the apparently unavoidable succession of the offspring of the dictator and thus the nasty primogeniture of feudalism haunts the power-brokerage of the modern capitalist state.  However the question remains as to whether the slide into government by the fear production associated with the exclusion process durably alters the constitution of the modern capitalist state.  In most instances it seems as if the disguising garment of democracy and rule of law and apparently acceptable justice is more or less easily resumed after the nightmare journey has reached its murderous and suicidal end.  However every historical circumstance is unprecedented. 

In the last century social organisation in the West (and maybe beyond) has depended more and more on scapegoating and stigmatising an excluded group.  These organisational instruments were developed alongside capitalism and its internationalisation. Western capitalist imperialism is based on the system of slavery and racism.  But in the period since the mid-1970s the use of psychological stimulation and control in marketing and in politics has become more sophisticated.  A common reference for this tendency is the work written by Freud’s grandson Edward Bernays, PROPAGANDA (14).

The features of these movements can be seen in the license given by the Brexit referendum, the processes in the Labour Party which have carried out the expulsion of members on the basis of anti-semitism (a kind of coded accusation for socialist, left and pro-Palestinian views), the constitutional executive powers used by Macron to legislate the increase in the pension age in France, the attempts by the Israeli coalition government led by Netanyahu to suppress the power of the judiciary, the proroguing of the UK Parliament by Boris Johnson, the use of executive orders by Donald Trump, the interaction between sectarian constitution in post-invasion Iraq and the tearing apart of society there by armed sectarian-based groups and, of course the increasing stigmatisation of refugees in the UK, the USA and Europe.

The regimes of the West are in a crisis of credibility and legitimacy.  The modern capitalist state, aka liberal democracy, is an adaptation of the feudal state just as capitalism is of patriarchy.  The evolution of the binary political structures of this social formation mirrors the functions of the warrior leader and the high priest of the original structures of patriarchy. (15) These latter manifested themselves in the extension of the military aristocracy and the religious aristocracy that ceremonially and practically enforced and sanctified the power of the monarchic king. (16) These vestigial forms still underlie the structure of the modern capitalist state like a deep defensive foundation.  It is this ‘double’ social form which is in crisis.  The idea of power as that which is hidden and the idea of knowledge as that which is secret are increasingly seen to be both dangerous and redundant. The impact on the political ‘parade’ of the exclusion processes is that the democratic front is breaking up.  The array of popular options is no longer the binary establishment/opposition polarity.  There is a division in the ruling elites revealed in the ‘triple’ character of this array.  There is a right-wing ‘identitarian’ exclusionary component and a neo-liberal centre-right component and a ‘left’ socialistic component.  This last is more structurally embodied in France.  Here in the UK there is no political structure that embodies this option.  Every effort has been made by the establishment regime to tame, purge and bring to heel the Labour Party in order that it should adopt the space of the neoliberal centre.  At the moment the ‘left’ space is defined by demands for economic redistribution and is a popular social movement at the core of which is trade union organisation.  This component will clarify its political project and articulate a political response to the crisis. I am arguing that it should advocate deep political democratic structural reform.  It should be radically inclusive.

References:

  1. Goodfellow, Maya. (2019) Hostile Environment Verso Books
  2. El-Enany, Nadine. (2020) (B)ordering Britain Manchester University Press
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/what-did-gary-lineker-say-bbc-b2303443.html
  4. As well as the Trade Unions in struggle for better pay and conditions there are ENOUGH IS ENOUGH https://wesayenough.co.uk/ THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY AGAINST AUSTERITY https://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/ alongside many other campaign initiatives. As well as organisations emphasising economic demands there are PEACE & JUSTICE PROJECT https://thecorbynproject.com/  STAND UP TO RACISM https://standuptoracism.org.uk/ STOP THE WAR https://www.stopwar.org.uk/ 
  5. Dinnerstein, D. (1976). The mermaid and the minotaur: Sexual arrangements and human malaise. Harper & Row.
  6. Solms, Martin (2022) The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness Profile, Panksepp,Jaak (2012) The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions 
  7. Mate, Gabor, (2019) When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress Vermilion, London
  8. Mausfeld, Rainer (2015) Why do the Lambs Remain Silent online: https://cognitive-liberty.online/prof-rainer-mausfeld-why-do-the-lambs-remain-silent/
  9. Jappe, Anselm (2017) La Societe Autophage: Capitalisme, démesure et autodestruction La Découverte
  10. (10) Bookchin, Murray (1982) The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy Cheshire Books
  11. (11) Knight, Chris (1995) Blood Relations – Menstruation and the Origins of Culture Yale University Press
  12. (12) Ocalan, Abdullah (2015)  Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization: Volume I – Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings Capitalism, Volume II The Age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings. Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization.  New Compass Press
  13. (13) Feierstein, Daniel (2014) Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas Rutgers University Press
  14. (14)  Bernays, Edward (Republished 2004) Propaganda IG Publishing, Public Relations Snowball
  15. (15) Piketty, Thomas. (2020) Capital and Ideology Harvard University Press
  16. (16) Kantorowitcz, Ernst (1957 republished 2016)  The King’s Two Bodies – a Study in Medieval Political Theology Princeton Classics

Politics is too important to be left to politicians

We are free to do absolutely to do anything except make a society that we want to live in.  To make our society anew we must reform the state and make it democratic.  This is not just a moral question but a practical question. It can only be done with the participation of millions of people.  We have to change the vehicle and not just the driver.  There must be many kinds of democracy not just the ‘representative/parliamentary’ kind.  We must abolish parts of the state that depend on hereditary privilege.  We must create transparency and real freedom of information.  All activities carried out in the name of the people should be open to criticism by the people.  At the moment our rights are restricted to voting for a parliamentary representative, local government and participating in juries in the justice system.  I’m not proposing chaos.  But we need activity and participation.  Otherwise the current elites will ever more tightly control the political processes and these elites are patriarchal and institutionally racist.  And just plain greedy. They assume power through a kind of unquestionable entitlement and will run the country like a colonial plantation given half a chance. They will use every means available to them to divide people up and appeal to sectional interests.  As the economic mal-functioning of our society reaches more critical levels the ruling elites will attempt to impose more stringent restraints on the cost of reproducing labour.  This involves public service cuts and suppression of wages.  The myth is that this will increase investment because of increases in productivity.  Failure to invest is so clear for all to see. We need a state that will take control of investment and this involves controlling the banks and the financial institutions.  This must be done through democratic processes so self-seeking entities cannot take over this process.  Our society is overflowing with the skills and understanding to make this possible.  It is just a question of linking up this intelligence with popular democratic institutions.  This is best done by devolving this work.  In other words, localising decision-making through consultative bodies.  There are good examples of how this can go wrong but generally the lessons of history tell us that over-centralisation and competition between interest groups at a national level are the problem.

The current UK government are setting out to beat the working people into submission.  They are intensifying the divisions between rich and poor.  The confrontation with the NHS workers is emblematic.  When they demanded from the health unions an increase in productivity as a precondition for wage increases they made a declaration of war against the people who do the most valuable work.   They are attempting to introduce legislation to prevent successful strike action by workers in essential industries. This is an attack on society.  The next general election is imminent and the Tories are increasing social conflict.  The ruling elites know that they have the Labour Party in their pocket and will be happy to let a Labour-led government continue the decimation of the collective and communal structures that hold our lives together.  As people look towards the future they must be given an active chance to think through and formulate what that future can be.

This cannot be left another day.  I am making a call to People’s Assembly and Enough is Enough to set up Manifesto Action Groups in every constituency in the UK to engage in formulating a charter of demands of what a new government committed to a better life for people in the UK must commit to.  Politics is far too important to be left to politicians.  The starting point could be the six demands raised by Enough is Enough but the Manifesto Action Groups should reach out to parts of the population who might not be in agreement, who might not feel that it is their business or right to formulate social policy.  It is only in the quality and richness of this kind of activity, of the conversation and debate that can happen amongst people in their localities that a renewal of our social life can take place.  We need to re-make our society.

Please don’t make us go through this again

People in the UK are calling for a general election. Will it be tweedledum versus tweedledee? Again?

Somebody* said that history repeats itself: the first time as a tragedy, the second time as farce. What dramatic forms do further iterations take?  I’m trying not to think about it but the nightmare and the nausea keep returning.  Are we going to have to live through this again?  The naval expression of this alternation of command is called Buggin’s Turn*.  Are we going to have to watch as the deep feelings of solidarity, the aspiration to live better, to make a better society, created by a people on the move against the outlook and policies of the Conservative Party and the political elites who they represent, get sucked up into the rotting bilge of compromise, equivocation, co-option, excuses, bowing and scraping, obsequious mournful apologetics, so-called ‘realism’, submission to ‘finance’ and the laws of the market, horrendous ‘we’d like to but…’, being sensible about climate change and being moderate about inequality?  No, it won’t be a relief to see the back of the Tories if it means that we have a Labour government like the ones we had in 1924, in 1964, 1974, 1997.  Who wants to watch capitulation and slow crushing defeat? Again?

I hope I’m not relying too much on the reader’s knowledge of history.

The only reason the 1945 government was different was because of the massive popular movement holding it to account. However it too just prepared the way for the return of the Tories.  It may have been similar if Corbyn’s Labour project had been successful. But now, there is a strong smell of putrefaction, of self-seeking, and pusillanimity.  Perhaps I should just turn my face away, smell flowers and look at the ocean because there is only one word for it.  It’s so boring. 

I’m not a politician.  I’m an intermittent activist.  I am in no position to create an alternative political choice.  But what about all the people who have been chucked out of the Labour Party for being on the left, all the de-selected candidates, all the activists who have been silenced?  Can’t they give a us break?  Can’t they give us something to fight for politically?  Can’t the People’s Assembly, Enough is Enough, Stop the War, Just Stop Oil and all the other groups who collaborated to organise the march on Saturday 5th November form a united front, a broad political alliance and compose a Manifesto Charter with key policy demands that can make the population of this island look up from the dreadful decline perpetrated over centuries by our political elites?

Of course I’ve got my own wild ideas.  I want to see the state democratised.  I want more power given to local authorities.  I want to see the monarchy and its court taken out of the political institutions.  I want to see the House of Lords abolished.  I want to see transparency and democracy at every level of public and political life.  I think these democratic measures are absolutely essential to create the participatory resilience sufficient to disempower the financial institutions so that people, through democratic structures, can make decisions about the movement of wealth and investment, simply so that they can have control over their own lives and their environment.  Break down the walls of the universities, make them into living centres of knowledge that can directly benefit local communities.  Bring the media into public participatory ownership.  Make the police a public service.  The list goes on.  Try not making corporate structures the model of how we organise everything!

I believe you cannot make economic changes separate from political ones*.  I want to see a change that makes it impossible for the Conservative Party and the current political elites to ever return to power and play this stupid tennis match, this tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, ‘his majesty’s government’, ‘his majesty’s loyal opposition’.  Pass the chunder bucket!

Are we serious? I don’t want to impose my ideas on anyone.  I just want to have a real conversation about what is really going on.  But where is this happening?  I want to exercise the human joy of making the society I live in. The keynote is resounding.  Look at what our production system has done to our earth.  Look at global warming and climate change. The key inspiring movement here in the past period is the young people of the Friday For Future movement and this is because it came from the heart and they really cared and they weren’t seeking public office or advancement!! The model of humanity that our regime is based on, the rational self-interested utility-maximising individual is redundant. Dead. Deceased. Support from white supremacism and male chauvinism has clustered around this absurd creation. Let it fall away. Decay. It’s gross.  It’s boring.  Give us a break! No more bullies!

The connection between our production system and the ‘model of humanity’ described above is systemic. Another way of expressing all this is to say we need a paradigm shift*.  If our social and political system is able to be analysed in the way that other complex systems are analysed then the basic assumptions we have about ourselves hold it together.  We know the system has got inside us. We need a new model of our humanity. To change it we have to change.  We can’t do this only by sitting and thinking things through.  We have to share.  We have to talk.  We have to act. We have to start living the change.

But please let’s not have a tweedle-dum tweedle-dee general election.  Surely we can do better.  Let’s not be uptight about it.  Of course if there is a new political movement that stands candidates the anti-tory vote may be divided but if we can break this cycle of either/or and continue to build a movement for social change then it will be worth it.  But this movement has to be participatory.  It has to activate people.  Please no Buggin’s Turn!

*Karl Marx in the opening of ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’

*Thanks for reminding me of this expression to Goran Therborn in his wonderful global survey essay ‘The World and the Left’ in the recent New Left Review

*The idea that a paradigm is the fundamental cohering element in the analysis of systems comes from the brilliant short essay, written in 2000 by one of the scientists who took part in the groundbreaking Limits to Growth report in 1972, Donella Meadows: Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system.

*See my previous blog THINKING ABOUT THE STATE

Thinking about the state

We now have a government led by Rishi Sunak. When I wrote this blog Liz Truss was Prime Minister of the UK and I was able to describe her policy as ‘ striving to be more profoundly linked to the financial system with no pretension of ‘levelling up’’. Now Sunak is in charge, the commitment to ‘levelling up’ has been reasserted. We might well ask why there has been this very dramatic change of policy and may be fooled into thinking that there has only been a change of personalities. The deep divisions within the Tory Party that have opened up since they failed to gain a majority in the 2010 election has now reached a new stage. Reading what I have to say about the capitalist state being defined by the apparent division between the ‘economic’ space and the ‘political’ space you may remark this latest turn under Sunak, where it is clear that policy intervention into the economy is the order of the day, seems to contradict what I have said. However the definition holds true even though the basic paradigm that the definition alludes to seems to be being modified. I will follow this piece in another blog with observations about what this might mean.

It has become clearer over the past few weeks that what really determines policy in the current system is the financial institutions. On the other hand, a mass popular movement is emerging based on a co-ordinated and united sense of agreement by trades unions whose members have mobilised for action and whose key proponents have launched a public campaign ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to join and interconnect with other resistance organisations such as Stand Up To Racism, Peace and Justice, People’s Assembly, Stop the War.  In addition there are many others that could be considered even more significant, groups that are oriented by the climate crisis, by energy prices, against deportations.  There is now a complex array of resistance organisations that are mobilising and sometimes interconnecting.  Attention will start to move more emphatically towards the political space and this is why it is timely to think about the state.

I set out to write about the state because, in the immediate situation here in the UK, the movement of resistance and for change (the movement of resistance, of course, might not be a movement for change!) will go through a process of what might be described as ‘politicisation’.  In other words, the economic struggle will be moved into the political space; it will engage with and articulate itself within the relations of the state and those relations surrounding the state.  In order to understand this movement and how it might go, it seems to me to be necessary to have a realistic idea of the state.  This means that you have to see these ‘state’ relations as being historically produced and this will bring you to the conclusion that the capitalist state is a specific form of organisation that separates the economic space from the political space.  How this separation takes place and how it has developed can, as far as I can see, only be understood by understanding how this state is a patriarchal state.  In other words it is thoroughly permeated by hierarchical and binary structures.  How this has come about can only be understood by being clear about what patriarchy is, what male dominance is.  This also is an historical phenomenon.  To be able to see how patriarchy gave birth to capitalism is to understand how a ruling structure that mainly imposed its rule from ‘external’ oppression, the use of brute force, albeit justified and sanctified by hierarchy, came to ‘disperse’ itself into the ‘internal’ structures of individuals (their beliefs, values and outlook).  For structures of behaviour and assumptions to become effective in people’s outlooks and feelings about themselves, forms of thought and mentalities had to be generated and shared.  In other words for this ‘dispersal’ to take place it had to inculcate forms of self-rule and conformity.  One aspect of this process was to persuade through argument and practice that the ‘self’ is divided into an ‘economic’ self and a ‘political’ self.  With the advent of capitalism the state structures – the system of rule  – was internalised.  This is the meaning of the freedom of the individual and its connection with the sanctity of private property.  But also it entails forms of thought that divide our reality into ‘spiritless’ matter and ‘immaterial’ spirituality thus influencing deeply how we know the world and ourselves.  The inculcation of mechanistic forms of knowledge is an adjunct of the domination of reproduction by production.

We are more aware of the invasive aspects of the system when we see the way, in its most recent stage of development that accompanied a renewed globalisation of capitalism, the destruction of the ‘self’ has proceeded apace.  It seems contradictory at first that the ‘self’ is destroyed by individualisation.  As the deeper penetration of the capitalist system of rule into the intimate life of the population has advanced, individuals have been persuaded to marketise themselves.  They present themselves as bundles of competences for the labour market and are able to select from a basket of identities in the consumer market. The disappearance of any system, including capitalism, and the presentation of the economy or the market as natural is the outcome of what is called neoliberalism.  However this form of rule is itself invisible as a system.  This has accompanied the subsumption of the state as the marketing department of finance capital. The different nation-states are now pitted against each other in competition to see how they can lower labour costs and attract inward investment from corporate entities.  

The nature of the state and specifically the nature of the capitalist state derives from this history.  Its binary structures and its hierarchies can be deceptive. Becoming embroiled in its operation without changing its structure will end up with the continuation of oppression.  What recent events have shown is that the most powerful element in determining what the capitalist state can and cannot do is the financial market.  Unless the movement for change can break the separation between the economic space and the political space and insist on a transformation of the state that enables democratic control to be exerted over the disposition of capital wealth then movement towards a ‘better’ world will fail.  This means that the sanctity of private property has to be rejected.  Through democratic participatory processes people must be able to dispose social wealth and invest this wealth according to their perceived needs.

The idea that working people can get a better deal within the current system does not take account of the fact that the capitalist state system is organised to reduce the cost of the production of human labour power to the minimum possible level.  This form of production (of human labour power) is called reproduction.  It is mainly carried out by women.  This should alert people to being able to see the connection between capitalism and patriarchy from another angle.

The idea that the effective presentation of demands involves ‘speaking truth to power’ is completely self-defeating. It is another consequence of the myth that this power can be left in tact if the truth becomes the basis for action. The political system and the media are functional in their present form only if they are lying and are able to deceive people.

At the inception of the current UK regime after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the UK imperialist project had already started. The exploitation of the earth’s resources were facilitated by navigation, weaponry and a sense of European racial superiority inculcated by the Crusades 400 years earlier. The restored monarch, Charles II, was a shareholder in the Royal African Company. This was the organisation that conducted the trade in human beings that supplied the slave plantation of the Americas. As this major source of capital wealth flowed back to the imperial homeland it had a double benefit: the wealth itself and the distinction that the system was able to draw between the white ‘free’ labourers and the black slaves. This lowered the price of labour at home. The population racialised as white were offered this ‘supremacy’ as they were thrown off the land and deprived of their indigeneity. This further enforcement of the capitalist system of rule reached a kind of nadir when the black slaves were ‘freed’ and, in order to justify the compensation money paid to the owners, the ‘scientific’ elaboration of racist ideas was advanced. When the slave-owning regimes declared the freedom of the individual they included the freedom to own slaves. After all they were their private property. John Locke the esteemed philosopher so influential in the development of empiricism and a forerunner of the enlightenment, a humanist and major influence on the foundation of the UK state, the writer of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was an administrative officer for the Royal African Company. This should alert people to the connection between racism, patriarchy and capitalism.  It is for this reason that this history is best looked at from the point of view of those people whose direct ancestors experienced this exploitation.  

These thoughts of mine are fumbling towards an understanding of what is at issue in the present situation. They are not original but a jumble and regurgitation of my reading of the thoughts of others.  Please help by emailing your response, objections and corrections. There may be others far wiser than I who are working things out, please put me in touch.

Watch out!  The movement for social justice and against inequality is constantly moving into the political arena.  Because of the nature of the capitalist state this process can be dangerous to the forces of resistance and for change. At the moment, Autumn 2022, the cutting edge is the struggle for better wages and conditions by the trades unions. But there are many other movements of resistance. Particularly those who were galvanised by the youth rebellion against climate change that manifested itself as Friday School strikes. One such movement, Extinction Rebellion has not only proliferated internationally but also has diversified itself into other forms of struggle and protest than those used in its initial actions. The capitalist state, of which the UK state is a version and local variation, developed as a way of sustaining the capitalist system of rule through co-option, channelling social energies directed towards change into the institutional structures of the state and thereby defusing and defeating them.  The examples are many. Here are two.  We saw, at the beginning of the 1970s, a formidable movement of resistance, to the Tories’ anti-trade union legislation (the Industrial Relations Act), to new technology and job insecurity in the dockers fight against containerisation, to the issue of pay increases being eaten away by inflation in the 1972 and 1974 strikes by the National Union of Mineworkers. At the climax of this struggle the Tory government called an election and ask the country to decide: was it the government or the miners who should govern the country? In February 1974 the Labour Party was returned as the largest parliamentary party but could only attain a majority in Parliament through a pact with the Liberal Party (the Lib-Lab pact). They gained a parliamentary majority in October, in the second election of that year. So it looked like the Labour movement had won a political victory. This Labour government failed to substantiate and move forward this massive movement of resistance and by 1979 the Tories won a majority. They were led by Thatcher and had a renewed political agenda. In 1926 the movement of unity amongst working people, through trades unions and communities, culminated in a General Strike, principally in support of the miners. The leadership of the Labour Party and the trades union movement called it off just as it looked as if it might be successful. By 1931 the Labour Party was in a national government which, when it failed, led to a return of the Tory Party. The question of how ‘economic’ struggle gives rise to ‘political’ struggle will dominate in the upcoming period (from the Autumn and Winter of 2022). 

In the current period, political success depends on the participation of millions and millions of people in actively constructing a movement with demands that have been thought through and composed from the bottom up and the top down. Politics is far too important to be left to politicians. At a recent ENOUGH IS ENOUGH live meeting in North London, the organisers divided us into six break-out groups to further discuss the six ENOUGH IS ENOUGH demands. The conversations were vital explorations of the implications of policy. This ‘thinking through’ should be happening in every constituency in the country. Perhaps it is. The danger is that as the movement grows and the Tories disintegrate (by no means certain) the Labour Party will move to the left to scoop up its traditional support and the manifesto will be left to the ‘leadership’ and ‘head office’. The Labour Party, possibly appearing to be leaning to the left, will be returned as the largest party on a wave of anti-tory sentiment but will fail to carry forward the movement for change. The resistance movement will therefore fail to make a better society. Better that there should be 650 manifestos, worked out by people who can popularise their deliberations, checking their formulations at local meetings or with randomly chosen people and use these documents to hold electoral candidates to account, than there is only a handed down list of policies, worked out through marketing and media processes. Anyway the popularly worked out ‘manifesto’ demands, if they followed a commonly agreed format, could be collated nationally and this charter could then be used to strengthen local consensual movements. If not this, then how can a process of politicisation be carried through? How can defensive resistance struggles be turned into mass democratic action?

Political struggle is aimed at changes in the behaviour of the state or its transformation. The capitalist state’s significant feature is the separation of ‘economics’ from ‘politics’. The former is assigned to civil society whereas the latter is conducted in and around the state.  But this relationship is deliberately made confusing.  The state system including civil society is developed from capitalism. But capitalism is a development of patriarchy.

It is difficult to understand how the capitalist state works if its link to patriarchal structures are not brought to light. This also involves a recognition that capitalism is not an economic system but a system of rule. This system of rule derives from the way patriarchal structures are dispersed and internalised as capitalism comes to dominate society.  Capitalism is a dispersal of patriarchy into the micro-cellular structure of society. This means the state structures are only in the last instance enforced by command and brute force. The system is such that we inhabit it and it lives inside us. It constructs itself in our feelings about ourselves that are as deep as our sexuality. It influences the sense of our own power and capability and the way we relate to each other. The system is soul- and self-destroying. The mode of exploitation of women and of nature restructures the inner life of the population.  This is further deepened by the institutionalisation (that is the living out of values and ideas at an unconscious level, at the level of an unquestioned basic assumption) of racism and white supremacism. It is the reconstruction of the human individual as a competitive creature.

Why is the universal suffrage representational system the ‘natural’ form of the capitalist state?

The state is expected to protect people against economic insecurity but it is being weakened by increasing indebtedness. The people who might benefit from protection are the majority of the population whilst those that benefit from the indebtedness are the rich and those connected to, or reliant on, the global financial system.

The constitution of the UK state is centred on the political authority of the monarch in Parliament.  Any movement for change has to begin to undermine the centrality of this institution.

The state is best viewed as a set of relations rather than as an instrument or machine or control room. It is a complex of agreements, of performative acts of avowal and contractual consent, enacted in procedures and rituals.

The illusion that it is a neutral instrument and that it can be used in its present form to change society leads to its continuation as a means of oppression.  The state absorbs, condenses and defuses opposition and resistance. Political parties become instruments of the state by organising themselves according to universal suffrage electoral processes.  They mimic the hierarchies of the state in the choice of candidates to represent them.  These representatives if elected are then incorporated into the state project by the oath of allegiance to the monarch that they make on entering office. However this does not mean that these processes are ineffective as vehicles for change. But they have to be understood.

Characteristic of the modern capitalist state is the separation of the political space, where equality must appear to exist, from the economic space, where it is essential that it doesn’t.

The modern capitalist state is constructed to ensure the persistence of economic inequality by creating a space where political equality can be enacted.  The key function of the capitalist state is to ensure the reproduction of the conditions of production. These include the supply of the cheapest and most docile labour force and the assurance of profit-making so capital wealth can be accumulated and invested. The state must mitigate the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This tendency is endemic to capitalist social and economic organisation. 

Capitalism is the dominance of quantity, as an emblematic coordinate of male power.  The male ‘take over’ was a significant moment in the development of our species (modern humans, Homo Sapiens Sapiens). From the neolithic revolution approximately 12,000 years ago hierarchical and territorialised forms of social organisation took over from a society infused with the rhythm and organicity of human females. The capitalist state is best seen as a form of social organisation developed from these hierarchical forms. It is a set of relations whose energy is produced by the appropriation of women’s power.  Production systematically dominates reproduction.  This manifests itself as the operation of a collective assumption, like a kind of common sense.  The process is continuously operational and resonates in every level and in every cellular component of social organisation. Men take women’s power and that becomes their power and they use it to dominate society.  The state dominates society in the capitalist state by institutionalising the domination of the economy which it makes appear as natural and free.

In the UK it is the power of the financial institutions that is the major obstacle to change. Evidence of the so-called power of the markets is being dramatically demonstrated in the mid-October 2022 when this is being written. The power of finance is incompatible with democracy. It is people who should decide through democratic institutions where investment takes place. It is in the character of money and the emblems that are used to assure value (the monarch’s head) that the perversions of sovereignty are made manifest. The right to produce money in this way was granted to the Bank of England when it was established in 1694 in exchange for the monarch’s right to raise money for war, in that instance it was the Anglo Dutch Coalition against the French.

In the capitalist state the political space as a space of equality is directly and organically linked to the maintenance of the necessary inequality of the economic ‘space’.  This is how and why universal suffrage representative democracy grows organically from the capitalist system. This is effected by the apparent division between the state and civil society and the construction of a democratic link between them.  It makes capitalism appear to be only an economic system rather than a system of rule.  It sustains the myth that the state system could replace one economic system for another and remain in tact. The proliferation and internalisation of patriarchy, the collectivisation of the oppression of women ensures each home is a little kingdom and that the domination of reproduction by production continues at an ever deeper, wider and more effective level.  The internalisation of the patriarchal system in the capitalist system of rule is a foundation for the destruction of the self that late capitalism has perfected. A major factor in this disintegration is the division of the economic aspects of the self from the political aspects. The workforce must present itself as free human beings ready to produce commodities and services utilising the tools and infrastructure privately owned by the boss class.  In this commodity-producing system the workers’ time is a commodity produced through households in reproductive processes undertaken mainly by women. The state must make this reproduction as cheap as possible.

You can see in the development of the universal suffrage system in the UK state how the adult population has been brought gradually into the constitutional project by the extension of suffrage.  First property-owning adult men (1867), then all adult men and some women who had passed beyond the general age of childbirth and who qualified as owners or co-owners of property (1918) and then all adult men and women (finally in 1928)

The state is constantly withdrawing from society, appearing to leave it alone and only safeguarding the freedom of the individual and the sanctity of private property. This leaves the securitisation (Police, army, intelligence services) aspects of the state in tact and eats into the protective, caring (education, health, social care) aspects. The underlying myth is that if the state could diminish itself, the social space would become even freer and people would allow their nature to develop and would prosper.  This myth has become particularly current in the period of universal suffrage democracy in the West where the development of the New Deal and the Welfare State seemed to hamper ‘natural’ profit-making functions.  A heightened process of individualisation is associated with neoliberalism, especially in the most recent period when the media has been dispersed through social networks.  This system has successfully used the study of psychology to break down the ‘self’ and to reconstitute the individual as freely able to promote itself as a bundle of competences and to constitute itself from a basket of available identities. One aspect of the human creature that the system has exploited is the tendency for human beings to judge their own behaviour with a different optic than that which they use to judge the behaviour of others.

The later stages of the process that accompanied the arrival of universal suffrage democracy saw the cementing of the relationship between marketing, the media and electoral processes.  This advanced the disintegration of the self and entailed deeper forms of commodification.  The elements of the state and patriarchal structures were imprinted into the sense individuals had of themselves. 

The power over people’s bodies, over life and death, the right to order bodies to be or not be in certain places at certain times and the right to access the private space of people’s property and persons, constitute the ‘regalian’ power deriving from kingship.  It is mainly this aspect of the state which leads people to think that it is a machine or instrument.

All the processes of agreement, of contract, of institution-building, of rituals, of procedures, of the specification of spaces and the enforcement of sovereignty are tied to, and energised by, the (divine) right to commit violence, ultimately to destroy human bodies.  This is why war is the zenith moment of capitalist state power.

The organisation of killing pulls all other state activities into order. It organises and orders them and gives them their place. The power to define territory and to specify spaces requires and obtains the submission of the population. It defines what activities can take place in the spaces.  Ultimately this is where violence and its sanctification make their deal, come to terms with each other, condone each other, mutually re-enforce each other, become complicit.  This is what centres the state and what lies at its centre.  In the UK it is the monarchical throne in Parliament, the source and centre of ultimate executive power.

The capitalist state form is binary. The outer visible processes, parliament and the government administration, enable the partial ‘veiling’ of the central authority, the power over life and death, of the monarch, the king patriarch.  The ‘veiling’ enables this ‘regalian’ power to be held more securely.  So the state can be described as a series of spaces, organised in relationship to each other, that are formed and related to each other through agreements, contracts, affirmations, rituals, displays, procedures and meetings.  At the centre of this arrangement of ‘relational’ spaces is the core space from which authority emanates.  This means that the monarchical ‘court’ system underpins and underlies the work of government and the ‘democratic’ institutions and is disguised by them.

Men formed and territorialised their power in the course of ‘taking power’ from women.  The oppressive exploitation of women and nature is organised through the creation of sacred spaces more powerful than the space that was dedicated to safeguarding the reproductive movement of the original modern human (Homo Sapiens Sapiens), the menarchal hut, the space of women’s first menstruation. This was ritually guarded by women’s collective ‘power’ in the original modern human groups. Coalitions of human females regulated the lives of the early modern human groups. Men’s spaces needed to be symbolically more powerful than this.  They needed to subsume the reproductive space.

The initial take over of power from women by men is associated with the development of animal husbandry and crop cultivation during the neolithic revolution approximately 12,000 years ago. This was effected by physical force, but it could not be successfully accomplished without processes of justification and sanctification. Women had to be coopted as well as oppressed.  Men had to replace women as the holders of symbolic power.  This might be expressed in a number of ways: men took away women’s magic in order to use it for their own ends and create their own magic.  The key figures in the male hierarchies were the warrior chief and the shaman priest.  These roles could be combined or be played out in mutual justification, sanctification and enforcement.  It was only at the end of the Roman Empire that kingship structures congealed into a functioning political form of rule based on the divine right over certain territories.  The king in holding ‘regalian’ power asserted sovereignty by divine right.  The great gift of Christianity to this proto-imperialist, emergent nation-state building was to construct a figure that was half god and and half human.  The ‘roles’ of warrior chief and shaman were played out in the group organisation that surrounded the figure of the king in what formed itself as a court.  The warrior group developed into the warlords, the noblesse d’epee, and the priesthood developed into the noblesse de robe.  In the UK system the monarch is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the Head of the Church of England.  As the form of the patriarchal state advanced, the organisation of the aristocracy into the lords temporal and the lords spiritual developed into the army and the church.  As the process of secularisation accompanied the democratisation of the state the church’s function of sanctification and justification was separated out and dispersed further into apparently autonomous institutions: the education system, the media and the charity sector.  

Beneath the rational, secular, democratic set of relations that constitute one level of the functioning of the state: the public administration, the justice system, public services, health systems, education systems, there is another underlying and intersecting level: the structures and processes of the monarchic court.  This is the binary system that is so characteristic of patriarchy and was made necessary in the successful ‘take over’ of power and influence from women. At every level and in every aspect of these relational structures the original oscillation between the warrior leader (military commander, leader of the hunt) and the shaman (chief priest, hierarch) resounds.  In the structure of the democratic institutions the alternation between the Tory and the Labour parties replicates this movement.  The enactments and displays capture and train the imagination of the population.  Also what appears to be entirely superficial and decorative, the parades and ceremonies of the state, in fact relate to the sanctification and authorisation of violence that lies at the centre of the system.  This is like a mesmeric dance.  The monarch that sits at the centre of the court as a source of divine authority sanctifying the violence that holds the structure together is hidden by the overlay of democratic structures (local authorities, Mayors, national parliaments, UK parliament) and this is then decorated by the paraphernalia of the royals, mediatised and humanised in a series of romances, rows and scandals and displayed in ornate parades and processions.  The glamour of the decorative layer is a way of convincing the population that they are people just like anybody else, that they have no ‘real’ power. It is this quality of being symbolically essential on which the whole system is based.  They ‘appear’ to be glamorous and powerful so we know that they are not.  But in fact they are.  The real power lies with the democratically elected parliament but in fact it doesn’t. All the members of this completely business-like assembly have sworn an oath of allegiance to the monarch.  This is why the elected members from Sinn Fein in Ireland refuse to take their seats.  Who do these members of parliament serve?  The monarch or the people?  In a dazzling inversion it turns out that the monarch is the people (the soul of the people?).  Thus sovereignty is secured.

What is the nature of power in our society? Male power is like that of the hunter. When a hunter attacks and kills an animal he or she takes the power of the animal.  The hunter’s power is the power of the animal.  The hunter gains life by the death of the animal.  The hunter is powerless without the animal.  The original power of life appears to be women’s power of reproduction.  Men have power only in so far as they take power from women.  In capitalism the vital source of profit is the production of surplus value through the organised exploitation of human labour power.  The reproduction of labour power is the crucial element in the production process. This is even more essential than the accumulation of capital.  The exploitation of reproductive processes by productive processes – this may clarify how capitalism is obsessed by what is called ‘growth’ – must be guarded by the capitalist state.

The structure of the state and all the relations which compose it are ‘held together’ i.e. dynamised/ energised by the space where violence is sanctified, the space of sacrifice, where the issue of the control over life and death is enacted.

An example in the UK state is the organisation known as the Knights of the Garter.  They are the intimates of the sovereign, they can notionally enter the monarch’s bed chamber, the death bed and birth bed.  They are the officials of the funerary and coronation rites.  They are the sanctified warrior leaders.

The constraint that is encountered by democratic forces of change that might initially formulate economic demands, demands for a different allocation of social resources, and then express themselves through the universal suffrage system, is composed of two elements. Firstly, the effective power of Parliament, its access to ‘regalian’ power (power over life and death, monopoly of violence) has to be channelled through the monarch. Secondly, its power over capital wealth (the power to gain access to private spaces and ‘private’ wealth) is held in check by the state’s institutionalisation of the freedom of the individual and the sanctity of private property. This latter is underpinned by the political equality incorporated into the electoral system. These two elements are deeply linked and are secured through the internalisation of the system. This produces individuals that are compliant and who abide by a common sense that they had no part in making and that appears to them as natural in so far as they recognise in this individual freedom the limits of their own mortality.

When our social life reaches its fullest realisation the state will no longer be a set of relations through which people will hold power over other people. The state will no longer be a power separate from, nor above, society.  The question is how to transform the state in order that it can serve real social needs.

Through what seemed like chance events the movement against austerity which was sparked by the student revolt of 2010 brought Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015.  This was accompanied by the large-scale increase in Labour Party membership making the party a vehicle of mass popular activism. This meant that the complex consensual tides of feeling and all the diverse organisations of resistance had a focus, reflected in the main opposition party.  The attack that was launched against this by the ‘establishment’, especially after the ‘near miss’ election of June 2017, was unprecedented in its ferocity, depth and extent.  It was a unique situation where a popular mass movement was impacting on the heart of the UK state.  This story should act as a warning about the movement from economic struggle to political struggle.  The two-party system – government and opposition – is another aspect of the defensive binary structures of the state. The Labour Party is a part of the UK state. 

There is a narrative that only militant action – rank and file action, local direct action – from below, from the bottom up, can possibly create the movement of liberation we need.  There is also a narrative that social change can only happen by engaging in legislative representative parliamentary politics. These two positions are not exclusive of each other.  The ‘bottom-up’ movement can be characterised as ‘economic struggle’ and the ‘top down’ as ‘political struggle’.  But this repeats the separation on which the capitalist state is dependent. The problem with this is that the capitalist state is organised in such a way that these two aspects of social change are kept separate and are reflected in the division between civil society and the state.  The capitalist state is formed by its key functions: to guard the freedom of the individual and to enforce private property.  These two principles (individual freedom and private property) are affirmed as absolutely natural and directly ensure that those that own nothing but their labour power are free to sell it and that those that accumulate private capital wealth are free to invest it. So the political state only intercedes in the ‘economy’ to restore natural rights (freedom of the individual and private property). This binary structuring that pervades the capitalist state has been evolved to disempower movements for social change by re-channelling the energies of which they consist.

We are dealing with a system of rule, capitalism, that cannot simply be characterised as an economic system.  It is a system that is extensive and intensive.  It creates the forms of our society, our social formation, in doing so it penetrates deeply into our souls and our being.  Capitalism is the development of patriarchy.  It is a productively widespread and internalised system of rule and self-rule.  People all over the world are struggling against its impacts.  Ironically they are sometimes doing so by adopting its values and attempting to enrich themselves and are spurred on to do so because it seems natural and a part of their manhood or womanhood and particularly because it offers a means of individual survival.  However also people are communicating and sharing and co-ordinating their actions against the system. They are realising their collective power.  We are caught within the limits of the nation-state but this political form can offer protection and opportunities to consolidate change.  People’s aspirations transcend societies, countries and nation-states and our human lives are linked.  Liberation can not just happen to individuals nor to individual societies.  But it cannot manifest itself other than through these forms of social organisation. 

The movement of change will be simultaneously ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’. The waves of disruption and renewal will be like seismic oscillations that will enable people to shake free of the encumbrances and obstacles, the existing institutions and mentalities.  Human knowledge – the ability to observe, reflect, experiment and transform – and our aspiration to satisfy deep needs are unstoppable.  New mentalities are growing that repair the separation of human beings from the earth and see us as a part of nature.  The need to relate and to repair as an integral part of resistance and change is being recognised.

Capitalism is a dispersal and internalisation of patriarchal structures and advances the domination of quantity and brute force over all other qualities.  One major encouragement is that history moves not so much in a straight line as in a spiral, continuously returning to similar positions at different stages. Homo sapiens sapiens learnt at its very inception, that Alpha Male behaviour had to be, and could be, contained and suppressed. This was to do with the survival of the species. In fact this was the significant and decisive factor in its development. This was due to the deep collective wisdom of human females.  Of course we are not in the same situation but some of the practical lessons can be learnt from reflecting on this deep human history.

Now in the autumn/Winter of 2022 in the UK the movement of resistance and opposition can transform itself effectively into a political movement and alter the balance of forces in the political space, reorganising the institutions and relations of state power. Or it will be re-channelled and co-opted by the state.  

CV-19 Impacts: Regime change? Old and new ways of knowing

This is the sixth and hopefully the last in a series of blog pieces started at the beginning of  2021:

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? Ecological Thinking? Socialist ideas?

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The Human Revolution?

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? Ecological Limits.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? How did we get into the state we’re in.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The Specifics of the UK Regime, for example, the Labour Party.

Human beings invent powers over themselves which they claim they cannot control.  This claim is usually called faith. Why they do so is a matter for the history of religion.  The main strategy of patriarchy in the collective domination of women is to make an appeal to a higher heavenly power that completes the logic of the hierarchies they construct to countervail the powerful dependence they feel on the magic of human reproduction, associated with women’s earthly powers, menstruation and relationship to the moon. This might be woven around their subjective perception of the manifestation of their sexuality that can be attributed to the power of women’s beauty over them.  Their exclusion from what appears to them to be the secret of women’s coming into being correspondingly generates ideas about knowledge that depend on secrecy and disembodiment.  Forms of thought that divide spirit or mind from the body are worked into being.

When the English political elites that emerged out of the English Revolution (1642-1660 CE) decided to restore the monarchy they must have been impressed by their experience in the war years of seeing the rise of a leader (Oliver Cromwell), primarily successful as a military commander, whose son succeeded him as Protector on his death.  Old forms of sovereign rule appeared to persist because of quasi-geological movements of continuity that mysteriously derived from the earth or the heavens above.  Had not Cromwell signed the warrant to execute Charles I?  A king killer becomes king! The men in power wanted a monarch to rule over them that they could control!  Because of the peculiarly theocratic character of the English State, the legacy of the English Reformation (1527 CE) that authorised the monarch as the Head of the Anglican Church, the king they eventually selected in 1688 had to be a Protestant.  This sealed the spiritual security of the state.  Taking the Anglican communion could be used alongside swearing allegiance to the sovereign as the prerequisite for holding public office.  Hours measured in lifetimes were given to working out the articles of faith that went to make the liturgical balancing act embodied in the 39 Articles that formulated the core creed of the Church of England.  This ensured an easy doctrinal confluence with Catholicism while steering clear of the extremities of radical ‘non-conformist’ protestantism.  The words of Charles I’s father, grandfather of the restored monarch, re-echoed: ‘No bishop, no King’ or was it the other way round?

New forms of thought – new ways of knowing the world and of knowing what knowledge is – preceded, and were cultivated and affirmed by, the new regime.  A new version of humanity installed itself, new mentalities developed.  At the break up of a regime corresponding changes occur.  The paradigm shifts, humanity redefines itself.  In my view in the present circumstances it does so by going back to the origins of homo sapiens development in the crucial development of intersubjectivity by collectives of human females that heralded the evolution of our (then) new species.  There is a fluent and complex connection between forms of thought, beliefs about the world and material reality, and political structures.  The English political elites saw the formula of ‘monarch in Parliament’ as the underpinning of what was happening in their world, the emerging capitalism that was imperialist and therefore co-created with racism.  The dehumanisation characteristic of racism was practiced institutionally on women first.  The assignment of degree to physical characteristics was already endemic.  

For capitalism the core content of commodity production is labour power.  Its production depends  on reproduction.  The exploitation of women’s bodies is connected to the exploitation of nature, of environmental resources.  At first sight ‘monarchy in parliament’ doesn’t immediately say: capitalism, imperialism, racism.  However the regime, the system, is a totality. 

Definitions of freedom and humanity that flowed from the work of the key philosopher of the English Restoration, John Locke, were rooted in private property.  Private property as a system is essential for the exchange processes of transforming commodities into money and vice versa.  Freedom is the freedom to own enslaved people.  The main vehicle of collaborative investment at the time of the English Revolution was the joint stock company, incorporated as a legal entity or person.  The Royal African Company was an English mercantile trading company set up by Charles II and City of London traders in 1660 (the year of the restoration of the monarchy) to trade principally on the west coast of Africa.  Main commodity: human beings.  John Locke famous for his writings about human liberty, the ‘father of liberalism’, famous for his Treatises on Government and Essay concerning Human Understanding was an owner of stock in the Royal African Company and worked for it as an administrator.  He was a leading empiricist, making deep assertions about the nature of mind and rationality.  I am using shorthand, trying to summon an exemplary instance.

The coronavirus didn’t cause the Black Lives Matter movement.  It didn’t make us suddenly and collectively conscious of our existence as a species.  It didn’t start the recognition that something is systemically and institutionally failing in our society.  The connection between the recognitions we make between the oppression of women, of people of colour, of consumerism, of climate change, of capitalism isn’t just in our heads.  It is in our bodies and our history.  It’s not true to say that when one thing changes everything changes but there’s a limit to our ability to pick and choose.  The change we are experiencing is environmental.  We have irreversibly (in the millennial medium term) changed the chemical composition of the biosphere.  Change doesn’t arrive from our individual will. 

We need more resilient forms of social organisation.  The current forms and the thinking that underpins them, are inadequate.  Our view of ourselves and of the natural world are changing

Lucretius, born well over two thousand years ago, in his De Rerum Natura, insisted on a connection between conceptions of the natural world and social forms:  

Furthermore, I will show by what force piloting nature steers the courses of the sun and moon, in order to preclude the possibility of our thinking that these bodies freely and spontaneously pursue their perennial courses between heaven and earth out of kindly consideration for the growth of crops and living creatures, or that they roll on by some divine design. For even those who have rightly learned that the gods lead lives free from care may wonder how all things can be carried on, especially the phenomena above their heads in the ethereal regions; and they relapse in the old superstitions and subject themselves to cruel tyrants whom they believe, poor fools, to be omnipotent, in their ignorance of what can be and what cannot, and again by what law each thing has its scope restricted and its deeply implanted boundary stone. Lines 75-90 Book 4 On the Nature of Things

It is a fair warning against institutionalised vanity and the danger of believing that the earth is here for our benefit and why this leads to a submission to hierarchical oppression.  Lucretius’ observation that there is a connection between earthly powers that claim an eternal or divine aspect (the Tyrant) with the the ignorance of a sense of limit is prescient.  Students of the history of philosophy will know that it was at the crucial period of the development of the European nation state based on kingship (from 1100-1300 CE) that the idea of eternity or infinity was re-invented.  The medieval Church proclaimed it an error to maintain that motion had no beginning; that time was eternal.  Look at Kantorowicz’ Chapter VI on Continuity and Corporations in The King’s Two Bodies. A corresponding change to the lexicon of mathematics was the addition of zero to the order of numbers.  This latter was directly attributable to the work of Fibonacci (1170-1250 CE). 

Lucretius was an atomist, a proponent of the ideas of Epicurus (341-270 BCE) who had founded his school in Athens and had revived the atomist theories of Democritus (born 460 BCE).  The idea that everything is composed of irreducible elemental particles became important again at the turn of the twentieth century with the work of Ludwig Boltzmann (who laid the basis for understanding entropy and thus the recognition of the end of the universe), Ernest Rutherford (who provided experimental proof of atomic particles) and Albert Einstein (who initiated an understanding of time as time-space).  The further development of the ideas of relativity by quantum physics (Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg) led to the understanding that particles are simultaneously waves. The discovery of quantums or ‘bundles’ of energy changed what could be known and our way of knowing.  The outcome of this work was that natural philosophy was absorbed by experimental physics.  Carlo Rovelli in his wonderfully lucid work, Reality is not What it Seems, explains why infinity is a concept that has a limited use.  By the way, the special treat in this work is his description of the similarity between the shape of the world given in Dante’s La Commedia Divina and in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (pages 77-90 op.cit.).  Clarifying the unity of time and space as a 3-sphere he could formulate the universe as having a finite volume but no borders.  We are what we are surrounded by. He thus asserts the idea of limits to time and spatial dimension.  

Analysis based on the continuous divisibility of matter stand in the way of our knowing the world.  It is impossible for me to say how commonly agreed this predisposition is in the world of experimental physics.  This is not the point.  Scientists root their work in the ‘knowability’ of the world. Lucretius and the tradition of human thought that he connects with is one example but the best known is Archimedes (he of the overflowing bath and ‘Eureka!’ fame but I really encourage the reader to look at all the other useful things that he came up with!). His work The Sand Reckoner set out to count the number of grains in the universe, driven by the assertion that the material world was knowable.

The creation of forms of knowledge that divide the mind and the body, that break the dynamic of duality of the knower and the known, that attribute life to the knowing subject but death or inertness to objective matter and reduce knowledge to binary information tend towards abstraction. It cannot be a coincidence that the system, capitalism, developed by human beings that has recently become dominant constantly obscures material processes with more elaborate forms of abstraction.  The money system itself is the first step on this trajectory, but the further step is the elaboration of money into forms of credit. This became dominant when the international reserve currency, the dollar, severed its link to the value of gold (1971). This hastened and facilitated the systems of quantification hastened by financialisation, where the aim of transactions that propel material production (ie the consumption of natural resources) is to increase quantities of money. In other words, the role of money in the exchange of commodities may appear to be the production of commodities, expressed by the exchange Commodity-Money-Commodity, but with financialisation this has become inverted so commodities are produced in order to increase money amounts, as in M-C-M.  The only question becomes whether, when I put in my dollar, will I get more than a dollar back. A further step towards abstraction is taken with the digitalisation of these money quantities so that money becomes information. It becomes pure quantity expressed in the the form of a binary code. Infinite growth driven by infinite demand.  This mechanisation (or ‘electronicalisation’) relies on technology that directly derives from quantum physics.  The crucial element is the development of the transistor and then the silicon chip that allows for the miniaturisation of electrical circuits. So much information can be processed that it perfectly creates a system that would have made the mouths of the early hierarchs and patriarchs of the Neolithic Revolution water.  Imagine a system that runs through these extraordinary mineral elements that is so complex that nobody can possibly understand what the outcomes might be.  A tool of which we can become tools.  We have finally managed to elaborate a system that has power over us and that doesn’t appear to be a religion. We go into ululations when a computer beats a human being at chess and put our faith in Artificial Intelligence.  We could be forgiven for imagining that information technology is immaterial  but the carbon footprint of the social network system with its massive data banks, even before the pandemic, was more than the whole of the international civil aviation industry.  Today a critical situation has arisen, especially in automotive production, because of a shortage of silicon chips.  This is connected to the increase in the use, and therefore the production, of electronic devices during the pandemic. Of course there is no shortage of sand out of which silicon is made. Consult Archimedes on this question.

Isaac Newton the great mathematician and physicist, alchemist, rationalist, founder of modern physics and of optics, finished his working life as an employee of the Bank of England engaged in seeking out coin-clippers who reduced the precious metal content of the coins of the realm (they were called sovereigns and crowns!) and put them up for prosecution.  If they were found guilty they were subject to horrendous public torture and death.  Undermining the currency was tantamount to treason, a desecration of the monarch.  The sovereign’s visage was stamped on to the sovereigns and crowns and therefore they were sacred.

There is a kind of congruence between Newton’s ideas about physics and the new English regime founded in 1688 of which he was a contemporary.  His laws of motion and of universal gravity which gave a metric to the relationship between mass and velocity and force, finely articulated in  in differential calculus, was a part of a scientific revolution that would only be superseded by the work of Einstein and others in the comparable revolution of the early 20th century.  It is as if the social revolution that could accompany the latter is protracted and we are in the middle of it and because of this may be unable to comprehend its full dimensions.

Surpassing the current regime, as it disintegrates, requires new ways of knowing.  A woman activist from a people indigenous to the Amazonian rainforest, speaking at a session of the Radical Anthropology Group, told us about her encounter with academic work at a University where she was studying for a Masters degree and how she realised an ‘epistemological rebellion’ was required to counter the thinking that had developed around and through the exploitative, ‘growth’ system that was destroying her people’s homeland.  What on earth does this involve?

How can we use technology, cybernetics, quantum physics, biochemistry and other forms of knowledge that are advancing in our world rather than become the tools and victims of what appears to be a massively complex system consisting of almost incomprehensible quantities and interactions?  Understanding that these goods are the common property of humanity and creating institutional ways of wresting them from private ownership is a good idea.  This probably means that all these networks should be brought into public ownership and control but only if there are governance structures that ensure transparency and freedom of information.  However this requires a cultural shift. 

My way of knowing the world has been shaped by working in theatre and drama for half a century, producing performances, running companies, training actors, directing courses, writing plays.  At the core of drama is a space of transformation.  This is the inner and outer work of the actor: to embody, to transcend the limits of subjectivity, to encounter the other, to make the invisible visible.  For me this connects very strongly to the ‘intersubjectivity’ that I have spoken about as being the invention of collectives of human females at the very origin of our homo sapiens species in the Rift Valley of Africa 200,000 years ago.  I have quoted the work of Sarah Hrdy in this respect.  This is at the deep core of our reproductive capability.  This is common knowledge and yet it is trapped and confined.  It is undervalued.   

We know through interaction. This accords with the wonderful recognitions made by Augusto Boal when he describes theatre in The Rainbow of Desire as being the first human invention because theatre is human beings seeing themselves and seeing themselves seeing.  He attributes the discovery of theatre to a woman, a Chinese woman called Xua Xua, in the preface of Games for Actors and Non-Actors. It is a space where we able do things and watch ourselves doing them at the same time.  He described it as being gnoseological, a way of knowing. He took the deep cue for his work from that of Paulo Freire, who through his literisation projects (teaching people to read) amongst the peasant communities of Brazil and Chile developed his pedagogy, the pedagogy of the oppressed.  In this work he constantly makes the distinction between active knowledge (derived from interaction between the knower and the known) and banking knowledge (the accumulation and reiteration of units of information). It would be generally helpful to understand the difference is between knowledge and information.

In somewhat the same vein, the founding of the Sarugaku (the Japanese Noh Theatre) is said to be the re-emergence of the Goddess of the Sun, who had gone off in a huff to a cave, sealing herself off with a large boulder, thus leaving the world in darkness. The singing and dancing of the performers outside the cave caused her to push the boulder aside bringing light and joy back to the world. It is said that the first crack of light as the cave was opened resembled the movement of a smile across her face. 

There are false divisions in our culture between the kind of knowing we summon when we say we know a person (or a dog!) or a place (or a home!) and that which we summon to know the society we live in or the system we use and inhabit or a mathematical formula.  Our intellectual lives (quite a lot of people even disclaim that they have one) are institutionally divided between the intuitive imaginative (arts) and the ratiocinative and analytical (science).  This is a disabling disaster.  It means that places of learning, especially universities have no organic institutional connection with the society around them.  This is made worse by processes of commercialisation, making universities into businesses.  This is why I have recommended a project where citizen reporters (activists) in every constituency report on all aspects of life at a local level, going out to engage with different sections of the community, breaking open the resources of local ‘places of learning’ or universities, breaking down artificial barriers between different kinds of knowledge.  This activity has to be collated and democratically edited into an accessible database at a ‘national’ level, using information technology with wit and live human passion to build an ongoing big picture of our lives together.  This network could be a live wire.

Going back to what Lucretius said about ‘limit’, I’m reminded of the crucial moment when computer modelling was used to analyse the interaction between social and natural systems and a new step forward was taken in our knowledge of ourselves.  Limits to Growth in 1972.  Look at Donella Meadow’s work!  She led the team that developed the modelling, World3, systems analysis technology that effectively is the same but on a massively extended scale as that which is used for climate change models.  Limits to Growth was the first comprehensive study of processes that predicted exhaustion of natural resources. Look at what she has to say about systemic change

When we say we know about climate change and global warming, the knowledge we have is derived from a truly extraordinarily wide number of sources.  It’s not a simple fact.  It’s not a dogmatic belief.  It’s an understanding derived from interaction, that is from a complex sentience characteristic of human beings because we have developed (although this is always problematic) a capacity to interact with ‘the other’.  Are we going to be able to create a society that roots itself back into this primordial ‘intersubjectivity’? 

Look at the extraordinary work of theoretical physicist and philosopher, Karen Barad, in her exploration, in Meeting the Universe Halfway, of quantum physics and interactive knowledge.  It is true to an extraordinary degree that elemental particles reach towards us and we reach towards them in mutual knowing, defying the erroneous and quite stultifying division which splits off consciousness from matter and renders the environment, the world around us, as less alive than we are and subject to our superior examination and exploitation.  She is a Professor of Feminist Studies.

What is our knowing of the environment?  I refuse to simply immerse myself in a kind of incandescent deism.  As we go about our lives on this earth, what is the truth of our interaction with it, individually, collectively, poetically, scientifically?  This was written by a man 223 years ago from his recollection of looking over a rural landscape in the west of England:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.  Therefore I am still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half create
and what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Is this consciousness thus expressed compatible with the information outputted from a climate change model?  Of course it is.  

We need the epistemological rebellion called for by the woman I mentioned earlier.  The work of the prophetic singer Bob Marley echoes through my mind: ‘Free yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds’  (Redemption Song) and ‘Would you let the system get on top your head again? No, dread, No. The biggest man that you every did see was, was just a baby’.(Coming in From the Cold)  Seen.

Thanks be.  This is the last of six essays I am publishing online in an effort to understand more clearly what the basic underlying story of our times might be.  I’m sick of the sound of my own voice.  What’s so good about writing drama is that somebody says something and then, thank our lucky stars, somebody else says something back; the more contradictory the better!

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The specifics of the UK regime: for example, the Labour Party.

I have said elsewhere in this series of online pieces that the moral collapse of the Labour Party during the leadership of Keir Starmer is a sign of the break-up of the UK regime.  What role has this party played in sustaining the power of the ruling elites?   What is the meaning and import of the splits and divisions in it?

The Labour Party can no longer be the instrument for the suppression of socialism for the UK political elites.  The historical tensions that held it together have torn it apart.  In the aftermath of the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s project, it has reverted to administrative procedures and inner-party machinations to deal with political difference. It has conformed to the role designated for it as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition and in so doing it has succumbed to its function in the two party democracy that re-iterates the ‘trifunctional’ state, the kingship-based form that underlies the ‘monarch in parliament’ constitutional settlement that is the basis of the UK regime.  The popular movement for ecological and socialist change that will be the undoing of the regime must come from elsewhere, from other networks and alliances, dissociated from the institutions of the regime and not supplicant to them.

The early political development of sovereignty and constitutional adaptability that characterise the English and UK state have been both its enduring strength but will play a part in its undoing.  This state exhibits the most fulsome and coherent continuity between feudal and modern forms and also has succeeded in prolonging liberalism in a way that has given unique scope to the predatory and financialised forms of late capitalism

What are the specific contours of the UK state of which the Labour Party is a product? I have described some of the ecological determinants of the British Isles and the broad history of the political constitution of the nation state.   Has the geographical or bioregional situation of the islands of Ireland and of Britain, a relatively short distance from the landmass of the Eurasian continent on one side, and the Atlantic ocean on the other, shaped the social formations that have developed?  For example, from a meteorological point of view the British islands’ weather systems are subject to the alternate influences of the Eurasian continent and the Atlantic ocean. The additional and decisive impact of the Gulf Stream means that the islands are warmer than their northerly latitude would have dictated. These elements may have had an impact on the human populations predispositions, capabilities and temperament. I have described the political and economic impact of England’s position, and particularly that of London, being closer to Eurasian continent and the advantages afforded by the Thames estuary. How far are these physical circumstances determining for the formation of the political regime, of its centralisation and of its adaptability?

The societies that formed in the Western edge of the continent after the break-up of the Roman Empire tended to become nation-states earlier than those further east.  Germany and Italy became integral nation-states only in the later part of the 19th century.  England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland all developed early and pursued that development through imperialism.  Ireland was dominated by England, as were the other nations, Wales and Scotland, that were the non-Roman-occupied regions of Britain.  

The British island provided immediate and clear borders advantageous to nation-state formation.  At an early stage the image of England became elided with Britain as the domain of the whole island. This laid the basis for its imperial ideology. Soon after the Norman invasion of 1066 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the hugely influential pseudo-history The History of the Kings of Britain (1136) that depicted the island’s pre-Roman British/Celtic unity and is a major source for Shakespeare.  The latter gives John of Gaunt the blithe paean that celebrates ‘this scepter’d isle’, referring  to it as ‘This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’, in the play, Richard II (circa 1595). The issue of how kingship was related to the territorialisation of sovereignty was worked through in literature and philosophy with an urgency that was unique. Richard II also most clearly dramatises the ‘king’s two bodies’ described in an earlier piece in this series.  Performance of it was forbidden in the closing years of the 16th century as Elizabeth I’s rule was threatened by insurrectionary social movements because it depicts the dethroning and murder of a king. 

The origins of christianity on the islands were complex.  One mission associated with St Columba (521- 597) and the Celtic Church came from Ireland creating the monastery on the Island of Iona as staging post in an ongoing mission. This was the main source of the gospel in Scotland and northern England.  A major centre of this missionary movement was established at Lindisfarne where Bede (672 – 735) worked. He wrote an ecclesiastical history of England.  The other main christian mission was that of Augustine (died 604) who established the centre in Canterbury.  The Canterbury mission is generally credited with the foundation of the Christian Church in England. There still exist the traces of this division between the northern church and the southern church. An example of this is the power of the Archbishopric of York.  The murder (1170) of Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury therefore the Pope’s main envoy in England, by agents of King Henry II, shows how contested these relationships could be.  The English Reformation (1527) may have been made doctrinally more acceptable by this division between the celtic-rooted church of the North and the Archbishopric of Canterbury. However there is no mistaking the unique and integrating centralising force of this break with the Roman Catholic Church and the unity of the monarchical sovereign power that could boast both Head of the Church and Commander in Chief. This was a remarkable political innovation.

The power and influence of the English monarch’s court was amalgamated and interfused with the early development of parliament, eventually creating the basis for the nobles (landowning feudal lords who also had military capabilities and responsibilities) and the clergy (Bishops and Archbishops) to have their powers in relation to the crown installed in the House of Lords.  The House of Commons restricted membership to those capable of being taxed (non feudal landowners and merchants, the gentry).  The relationship between the two ‘chambers’ offered the opportunity for power to be transferred from one (the Lords) to the other (the Commons) as the state needed to modernise and democratise itself.  This process accomplished itself in the early 20th century with the relegation of the House of Lords (1911) and the final arrival of universal suffrage (1928). However even before the settlement of 1688 when the current UK regime was established, this system was already a highly centralised, adaptable and effective structure for conducting sovereign power.

Understanding the structural tensions and divisions in the Labour Party involves taking account of how political parties formed out of the structures that I have just described.   The groupings of interest that formed the two political parties that dominated UK politics up to the 1920s were shaped by the English Revolution (1642-1660).  The Tories emerged as the party that supported the monarchy and showed a more favourable inclination towards Catholicism though they were supporters of the Church of England.  They supported the Jacobite claim to the throne and the succession of James II, brother of Charles II, who was son of Charles I, executed for treason in 1649.  James was a Catholic and was deposed in favour of the Protestant William of Orange and his Anglican wife, Mary.  The Whigs were the main force behind the constitutional settlement of 1688.  At the beginning of the following century they affirmed their dominant influence as the UK state inaugurated the Hanoverian line of succession onto the English throne. This was the subsequent attempt to find a monarchy that was guaranteed protestant. The Hanoverians were the immigrant German family from whom the current UK monarch is descended. They changed their name from Saxe Coberg Gotha to Windsor during the First World War to avoid confusion.

It was as if the relative powers of the monarch and of parliament in the constitutional settlement of 1688 were enacted in the contest between these two parties .  As the UK state project moved forward, different interests expressed themselves through, and within, these two vehicles of policy formation and execution, the Whigs and the Tories.  At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Tories were more clearly connected to landowning and colonial property interests, while the Whigs or Liberals were more connected to manufacturing and encompassed the reform agenda that arose with emergence of the working class.  This reached a decisive moment in the outcome of the struggle over the Corn Laws.  These laws protected the landowners interests, keeping prices high by imposing tariffs on imports.  The Whigs became the Liberals because of their support for free trade and the abolition of the Corn Laws.  The success of this struggle led to price of staple foods being reduced to the advantage of waged labourers on whom the ongoing manufacturing expansion depended.

It was the Liberals that were replaced by the Labour Party and as this change took place the Tory Party altered its political base to accommodate this. The Labour Party became an intrinsic part of the UK state institutional machinery, an apparent strength. The Liberals’ reforming agenda carried on through the first world war, creating the foundations of a national insurance scheme and the beginnings of a welfare state. it was a Liberal, William Beveridge who elaborated the idea for this welfare state during the second world war. The Labour Party in 1945 put it into operation.  The Labour Party was aptly named since it became the major instrument for the ruling elites’ control over the cost of labour.

I refer once again to the work of Thomas Piketty who, in his explanation of ideology addresses the question of why it is that electorates do not vote according to their direct economic and social interests.  He proposes that the shape of the modern state with its adversarial democratic ‘choice’ between two political parties replicates earlier forms of state power.  His description of how the rule of the monarch was operationalised through a pre-democratic ‘trifunctional’ order wherein the warrior nobles and the clerical nobles collaborated and participated in the work of ruling and government. The third estate was the common people.  I have suggested elsewhere that the ceremonial and ritual roles of these two ruling components enact and display the ‘double’ two-bodied nature of the king.

The warrior noble and clerical noble groups that surround the monarch in the earlier state form were in themselves powerful as owners and controllers of the life around them, but were enlisted as a crucial part of the spectacle of power. They had a symbolic function, especially at a time when public parades and rituals displaying the ruling order were a key way of communicating and affirming power. The display of democracy has a similar symbolic and representational function in an age of print, broadcast and electronic media.  

The Labour Party was a product of the aspirational forces that impelled its foundation.  Its formation was shaped by the constitution into which it had to become effective.  Its function in this respect was prescribed.  The splits and divisions within the Labour Party can only be understood fully by taking account of the binary system of power, coercion that must conceal itself behind consent. They were determined by the field of forces the Party was active in.

The modern state, the secularised state, the democratic state, the property state, that which came into being with the American and French Revolutions, and that which the UK state conformed to through a process different in character if not in function to the preceding ‘trifunctional state.  Consent had to be internalised as freedom.  Rule had no longer to be ritually displayed in order to compel obedience to a sanctified social order of privilege and property but the very production and consumption of property itself became that which was displayed. It enlisted participation; subjects became consumers.  The mall along which the processional fineries of the monarch attended by the lords temporal and spiritual paraded, became the mall along which customers processed gazing with wisdom and wonder through the crystal awnings at the objects their freedom allowed them to believe they might own.  This space was further privatised and individualised in the array offered electronically through the spectacle of endless plenty that could be enjoined by the flickering movement of ocular and digital muscles on the internet. 

The function prescribed for the Labour Party by the ongoing constitutional project of the UK state was above all to modernise.  It is difficult to clarify how this ‘reform’ project layers itself over the primordial movements of the kingship nation state that it was induced to renovate and conserve.  In theatre practice we are used to the idea of underlying action being a subtext for the staged utterances and movements of which the performance consists.  We are practiced at holding and garnering the tension between the visible and the invisible. The process of modernisation was one of secularisation. The original meaning of the word secular described the movement of sacred objects from a sanctified place into an un-sanctified place.  Thus the sacred is maintained through a suppression that resembles concealment. The priorities of the regime are guarded through this process, thus they are internalised into the Labour Party as a tension between its sacred allegiance and its secular modernity.

This may be the reason that repressed religious structures make themselves so agonisingly apparent in the virulence and hocus-pocus of the recent goings-on in the Labour Party.

The question remains: what roles do political parties play in the nation-state structures that derive from kingship or monarchy?  What are they enacting or playing out?  There was an article in the online magazine, ‘unherd’, about nationalism or patriotism ( I’m not interested here in the distinction) in relationship to the death of Captain Tom Moore.  The writer told us that the Captain perfectly embodied two different, if not contrary, aspects of patriotism.  One could be symbolised by the Spitfire (the plane that won The Battle of Britain in the early years of the Second World War in which Moore fought), the other by the rainbow that symbolised the communal appreciation of the National Health Service.  The writer pointed out that the former could be associated with the Tories whereas the latter could be associated with Labour.  If the governing structures can display and play out an oscillation between these two aspects of the nation state, security and care, they can successfully absorb and express the energies of the multitude who inhabit them.  They can keep them politically satisfied. I believe this ‘play’ is the same as the ‘play’ of the warrior nobles and the clerical nobles around the king, articulating, feeding and ritualising the basic assumption of the sovereignty of the monarch, enacting the King’s two bodies, the temporal human and the eternal divine.  Pacification is the aim, passivity is the outcome.

This representational show which is described by political commentators from Bagehot to Miliband has transitioned and developed in the modern era. It is now different from the ‘trifunctional’ state, described by Piketty, in so far as it has to contain the threat of socialism. Piketty describes the state formation that replaced the ‘trifunctional state’ as the ‘Property State’.  The keystone was freedom of the individual as expressed through private property. This move in the direction of equality and participation requires an extra ‘dialogue’ to accompany that between security and care as core functions of the modern state. This is the ‘dialogue’ between stability and change.  Constant appearance of change is that which ensures stability.  This was the peculiar function of the Labour Party. Of course the dialogue cannot be diametrical.  Elements of security, stability and ‘spitfire’ are mixed to different degrees with care, change and ‘NHS’ in both parties.


I can only give a schematic account of the genealogy and functioning of the Labour Party.  It was founded principally through a need for representation in Parliament, and thus for participation in legislation, by the Trades Union movement.  The Trades Union Congress was founded in 1868.  At first there was a collaboration with the Liberal Party, until, for reasons I can’t go into here, this ‘vehicle’ started to go into political decline.  The other major element in the Labour Party’s initial development were the socialist groups that espoused the ideas of Marx and other socialist thinkers of the time.  The tension between these elements gave energy and dynamism to the new party.  Like the trade union movement it recruited and founded itself on individual card-carrying membership and this made it quite unlike the Tories and the Liberals.  It nevertheless absorbed the social mission of the Liberal Party and this became the glue that held the new vehicle together.  Its model of representation was structured by the janus-like function of trades unions.  They engaged with the employers and owners as agents or spokespersons of the claims and interests of the employees, the workers.  The unity of the workers behind them was their power. Looking towards the working people the representatives would be saying:  ‘Leave it to us.  We will get a good deal.’ Looking towards the owning class they would be saying: ‘Unless you give way to our demands we will unleash the power of the workers’.  As their political representatives the Labour Party was effective only in so far as it could win influence on state policy to legalise and protect the rights of collective bargaining. However to maintain the collective unity of their adherents, their members, they had to give expression to the general interests of the working class. The consequent programmatic demands for public ownership and redistribution gave the reforming agenda of the Labour Party a critically important energy.  It could be the receptacle of the socialist aspirations of the working class at the same time as restraining their actualisation.  Its strength rested on its ability to promise an outcome at the same time as assuring the ruling elites that it would never effect it.  Thus it was granted official opposition status. Its historic role was to both deliver and suppress socialism.  Due to this contradiction, because the Labour Party must at least seem to embody the general aspiration for social change, and also due to a rule change that empowered individual members of the party to choose the party leader Jeremy Corbyn was thrust into the Labour leadership. The party became the expression of the massive opposition to austerity and a rebellion against the conditions imposed by the solution to the 2008 crash. The elections of 2017 and 2019 demonstrated that there was a danger that universal suffrage may unleash an irreversible change towards socialism.

On two critically important historic occasions the contradictory function of the Labour leadership reached maximum intensity. The first was the General Strike of 1926 when the Trades Unions Congress capitulated to the Tory government and abandoned the mineworkers around whom significant sections of the working population and their organisations had united.  The second was in the period from 1972 to 1974 when events climaxed in the Tory government under Edward Heath calling an election on the question of whether it was the government or the miners who ruled the country.  The strike by the National Union of Mineworkers in 1974 the resounding victory in the 1972 strike which climaxed in a confrontation at Saltley Gates near Birmingham. The coke depot there was finally closed by engineering workers marching in solidarity from the nearby metropolis. This had followed another climb down by the government when in the struggle around the Industrial Relations Act dockers’ leaders who were resisting containerisation of the London docks were imprisoned in Pentonville Prison. Mass pressure led to their release. The result of the February election of 1974 was indecisive. This led the Labour Party to making a pact with the Liberals.  Those that lived through the days after that election will remember that there were 5 or so days when there was no government. Everything was stalled before eventually a deal was stitched together.  Tanks appeared at Heathrow. A state of emergency descended on the nation.  Ultimately these social movements – the General Strike of 1926 and the threat to government power posed by the Mineworkers Union in 1972 and 1974 – were defeated by the collusion between the Labour leaders and the ruling elites.

As a trivial aside to my description of these events, in 1976 a play called THE NINE DAYS AND SALTLEY GATES, about the general strike of 1926 and the Miners Strike of 1972, co-written by John Hoyland and me and co-directed for FOCO NOVO by Roland Rees and me, made a national tour backed by the National Union of Mineworkers and the Arts Council of Great Britain (as was).  Alarm bells rang and questions were asked in the House of Commons about taxpayers money being misspent on socialist propaganda.  That’s how touchy our rulers were about such things in those days.

If the historic role of the Labour Party for the ruling elites was to guard the constitution by suppressing socialist revolution this was complemented by its role as a moderniser.  In this it reached its apotheosis in the ‘reign’ of Tony Blair who, through impulses and inclinations that await their explanation elsewhere, had to re-balance his ‘clerical’ reform agenda by assuming the role of a ‘warrior’ leader.  His rule brought the UK into even closer political alliance with the EU on the continent where the UK state had first founded and asserted its sovereign form.  Had he succeeded in his desire to get the UK to join the eurozone he may have been able to resist his martial urgings.  His conversion to Roman Catholicism after he left office struck a personal note that resonated back to the English Reformation of 1527.

During the leadership of Keir Starmer the Labour Party has been unable to deal with the legacy of the popular movement that Jeremy Corbyn found himself at the head of without replacing political argument with administrative action and procedures. Jeremy was ousted from the party for a while and has still been excluded from the Parliamentary Party. It is too dangerous for the current leadership to offer an alternative policy to those presented in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019 because it might remind people of what they were.  What is at stake is so problematic that ‘anti-semitism’ has had to be used as a code for those views and adherences which are found to be so egregious.  The danger for the ruling elites of not having an alternative party that can contain and restrain opposition to its rule is that an oppositional popular movement will transcend the available political forms of expression and create new ones that are less easily incorporated into the UK project.

Installed in the Labour Party are the binary tensions of the regime of which it is a creature.  The party is often characterised as a broad church.  It is this inclusiveness that enfolds the splitting that is at its heart. However the move in the direction of socialism under Corbyn’s leadership brought about such a hysterical panic that some larger existential danger was evoked.  Leading figures in the party were shunned and ostracised as if some dreadful contagion had been encountered.  Curses were hurled. Ordinary civility and solidarity was abandoned. Strange judicial confessional processes were entered upon.  Humiliating pubic apologies were sought.  People were slandered and misquoted.  Oddly skewed investigations were carried out, followed by demands for contrition.  It was as if some deep secret bond of loyalty had been transgressed.  The evidence is that the Labour Party under Corbyn presented a challenge to the foundations of the regime.  It is the role of the Labour Party to absorb and channel revolutionary energy rather than enact it. It felt as if the party was being taken away from its proper role of loyal opposition.  All the fundamental primordial defences were invoked, as if the issue was existential, life or death, involving a deep elemental struggle between good and evil.  This could explain why the coded test of anti-semitism (expressed in thought, action, utterance, implication or association) was adequate to the emotional extremities that needed to be deployed. Like an infant dragged from its mother, or like a subsidiary space craft losing contact with the mother ship, the Labour Party was cast into vertiginous dark space. Timorous in engaging with this revolutionary space, the Corbyn leadership were intent on maintaining the illusion of inhabiting a broad church. They agreed to their sworn enemies’ demand to include the policy of a second referendum on EU membership in their manifesto thus hobbling any chance it might have of being elected to government in 2019. The new leadership knows no such restraint. Its collapse is absolute. It is getting down to details, seeking out a new dress code and practicing postural correctness before the union flag, a reassertion of patriotic allegiance so antiseptic it is as if the Party had been infected by an alien creed. 

The Labour Party under the leadership of Keir Starmer is failing to hold together the tension between the elements that brought it into being and that have made it such a crucial instrument for conducting the power of the ruling class.