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. 

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

This is the fourth piece in the most recent series.  The first was a general outline of why, during this pandemic, the UK regime was breaking up.  It advocated bringing ecological thinking together with socialist ideas to facilitate this and called for a movement for environmental and social justice rooted in a localised network of activist citizen reporters building a big, deep and diverse picture of our lives under Covid and after.  The second traced the roots of the human story from the earliest female-oriented human societies through the male ‘take over’ of the neolithic agricultural revolution to the patriarchal nation states under threat in our contemporary world.  The third explores the UK from an ecological and bioregional perspective, pointing out how new forms of resource use need to be adopted.  This fourth piece explores the political structure of the UK regime.  I started writing a blog in May of last year because I couldn’t write plays.  The pieces I wrote from then until September were, like this current series, provoked by the Covid crisis and expressed a yearning for a popular movement against the dreadful Tory government.

It is not surprising that the shock of the pandemic is precipitating a general crisis.  The crisis will end the current UK regime, formed during the revolutionary settlement of 1688, which rules through ‘the monarch in parliament’. We cannot have regime change without ending capitalism.  The fuller participation of people in the organisation of society, making decisions about what is valuable and what we should invest in, is incompatible with capitalism. The regime in the UK disguises itself as a parliamentary democracy.  The monarchy is wrongly supposed to have ‘only’ a symbolic or ceremonial role.  Capitalism is falsely described as ‘just’ an economic system. 

Is what is true of the UK regime also true of other nation-state regimes?   Is the UK regime the original that other states more or less copy?  Nation states are a system and they conform by resembling each other in certain key functions.  They have sovereignty and this forms the basis of their agreement with each other.  The formation of nation states is an aggregative process.  They come into being together.  When did this process begin?  How was it worked out?  The idea that nation-states are generated in the break-up of empires is familiar.  When Germany in 1991 recognised Slovenia, previously a part of Yugoslavia, it precipitated its break up. From 1945, during the decolonisation process that followed the second world war, the European empires were broken up into nation states.  In this process, by and large, the template constitutional form, the model, was provided by the USA.  This had been the first nation state formed as it gained independence from European imperial domination.  Haiti may have been the second though its continued independence was compromised by continued oppression and debt.  I can’t go into a lot of detail here.  You get the picture.  

The nation state is a particular form of human group organisation that first occurred in the Western part of the Eurasian landmass.  Its original components were derived from the break-up of the Roman Empire in the complex process of migration and settlement that happened from 300 years after Jesus Christ was born and continued its development until the present day.  The commonly accepted crucially formative moment was the treaty signed between the European powers in Westphalia in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War.  The 1300 year long movement was propelled by the structural and institutional energies of patriarchy (i.e. it was based on the collective oppression of women) and the development was collateral with that of capitalism.  1649 was the year the English Parliament tried and executed Charles I for treason; 1660 was the restoration of the English monarchy, ending the English Civil War; 1688 saw the constitutional settlement which brought the current UK regime into being; the foundation of the Bank of England was in 1694.

Unsurprisingly, since its components were derived from imperial structures, the nation state was a particle of empire.  Its monetary systems, based on national currencies, accumulating wealth towards ‘the head’ or the capital, thus forming capital, propelled expansion. Sovereignty constantly sought (and seeks) to extend itself. Borders were decided by war. Through its mercantile and then industrial development the European nation states created empires. From 1945 this imperial system transitioned, augmented itself and engaged in further financialisation. This was accompanied by an internationalisation of financial markets, trading principally on differences between currencies. The abandonment in the early 1970s of fixing the value of the dollar to gold was significant in the escalation of these processes known as neoliberalism and globalisation.  It was during this process that nation states appeared to be less influential in the circulation of value and many were dwarfed by multi-national companies. They became effectively competitors, deregulating and holding down wage costs, for inward investment from international corporations, . The period from the mid-1970 to 2008 saw a struggle between democracy and the international financial system that created a succession of modifications of state financial structures. This recent history is described by Wolfgang Streek in Buying Time, The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.  The issue of nation state/government indebtedness is central to the crisis precipitated by the corona virus. The basic components in the recent story are the same as those that were brought into play when a group of bankers set up the Bank of England.  The deal was that the bank was permitted to print money if it would make loans to the ‘King in Parliament’ i.e. the government, to conduct a war against France.  This was the first central bank.

So what is the origin and nature of the UK regime, the nation-state form characterised by Parliamentary Monarchy? In order that our society can be reorganised and renewed in the light of the changes in our environment, signalled by the pandemic and global warming, this institution needs to be replaced.  However this needs to happen from the bottom up.  Productive and creative activity needs to be regenerated through people’s common understanding of what people’s needs are.  A version of what needs to take place is described by foundational economics.  How the perception of people’s vulnerability can be operationalised into an inspirational productive strategy requires participatory democratic bodies close to where people live.  To engage with human vulnerability our society needs to base itself on processes much more akin to those that flowed through the earliest human societies oriented towards reproductive needs and the physiological rhythms of human females. The awareness of education, teaching and caring as social priorities has been critically heightened by the pandemic. For this reorientation to happen the state needs to be radically decentralised.  Its functions need to be dispersed.  Many people will have sensed during the pandemic how crucially important local government is and how close to people’s needs the services it provides are.  The renewal process starts and continues with attention to the most vulnerable, turning human need into productive inspiration.  Dispersion of the state obviously requires the dispersion of investment decisions, of finance and banking.  To de-capitalise is both a geographical and redistributive process.  

In my play The Field events of this sort are described.  The crisis that the play depicts is precipitated by government failure in the face of an ecological challenge precipitating a financial disintegration. A popular ‘localist’ movement follows, with a radical government pushing through reforms.  This encounters a massive movement of resistance not unlike the MAGA movement in the USA, fuelled by male rage.  I wrote the play in 2019 and we made a public online reading of it in April 2020.

Our current social organisation, our state, inhibits participation and therefore destroys resilience. This is decisive in a period that is characterised by ecological changes, like the pandemic. The tendency towards passivity and confusion is to do with the deceptive nature of our political institutions.  The rule of the political elites must be disguised by democratic and participatory structures. People are induced into collaborating in their own oppression.  The problematic of patriarchy is that rule cannot be imposed simply and singly by brute force and terror.  The concealed nature of patriarchal power is that it rests on power over women’s power.  This source of power has to be hidden through making it appear sacred. The secularisation that has accompanied the development of state forms based on kingship preserves the sacred core of this form of power.  Kingship and sovereignty, the divine right to rule a given territory, meets the problem of how those who are ruled can be convinced of this authority.  Kantorowicz sheds light on this.  He calls his work, The King’s Two Bodies, a study of medieval political theology.  The King has a temporal/human body and an eternal/divine body.  This latter manifests the continuity and assumption of power.  The king is dead, long live the king! 

The study of political theology associates Kantorowicz’ work with that of his contemporary, Carl Schmitt who wrote about politics in the context of the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s and who invented the idea of the state of exception.  This is a moment when democratic and judicial processes are suspended.  This suspension is undertaken apparently to protect the very processes that have been suspended.  The justification is the identification of an egregious threat to the underlying stability of the state.  What it calls into play is the basic assumption of power by the King or the ruling group.  They, as it were, stand behind the constitutional structures.  The power that is assumed is the power over life and death.  

In Piketty’s book, Capital and Ideology, he describes the reorganisation of state power in the French Revolution that started in 1789 as being a renegotiation of the relationship between ‘regalian’ power (the assumption of power over life and death) and the power of the individual over his or her (private) property.  The state retains the ‘regalian’ power as long as it protects the freedom of the individual as embodied in private property. The state of exception suspends these latter rights in order to protect them and utilises state violence to do so.  The analysis that Piketty gives, which relies on the work of Blaufarb in his book, The Great Demarcation, where the transition from the trifunctional state to the property state is described. This also throws light on how these same political components were combined as a result of the English Revolution in the settlement of 1688.  I am drawing attention to this because the way our state is structured is such that the exception is the rule.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider the provisions of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism legislation.  Another is to consider how political parties work and how the difference between them is constructed; what remains the same when there is a change of government.  Another is to consider the meaning of the oath of allegiance, sworn by all elected members of the UK parliament except those from Sinn Fein who refuse to take up their seats.  The allegiance sworn is to the crown.

Where does sovereignty lie?  (By the way, I will return to the significance of the fact that the some of the earliest English monetary units were coins called sovereigns and crowns).  Does it lie with the people?  It appears to.  The House of Commons only assumed sole legislative power in 1911 when the House of Lords had to cede its power to impede legislation in a dispute about progressive taxation (Piketty p.163).  Has sovereignty in the UK regime gradually, a step at a time, come to lie with the people?  The final move towards universal suffrage was in 1928 when women gained political equality with men.  Is the sovereign, the monarch above the law, the source of the law or subject to it?  The central part of Kantorowicz’ book is devoted to the work of Henri de Bracton, the English political philosopher who wrote De Legibus et Consuetunibidis Angliae (The Laws and Customs of the English, 1235 CE). This is mainly concerned with the question of the king’s relationship to the law.  He wasn’t alone in the work of formulating and arriving at conclusions about this question. It was a major preoccupation of thinkers and administrators from this formative period in the 13th century through the English Reformation (1527) (when the English Monarch became the Head of the Church of England), up to the execution of Charles I (1649) and onward to the revolutionary settlement of 1688.  When Charles I was executed the question was raised as to whether it was the temporal human king whose life was ended or that of kingship.  At one point during the Civil War the cry from parliament was ‘We must defy the king in order to defend the King’. If the King was not enthroned in Parliament was he still the King?  Did the crown remain in parliament? Bracton’s conclusion, 400 years previous to the English Civil War, was that a ruler could only be called king if he exercised power in a lawful manner.

As the actual power of the sovereign appeared to diminish and become ‘only’ symbolic, the sovereignty of the people appeared to augment and actualise itself. This is myth. Friedrich Engels was quick to point out the anomalous nature of the English regime (The Condition of England by Friedrich Engels Vorwarts! No.75).  He describes how the power of the crown seems to have been reduced to nil and yet the constitution cannot exist without the monarchy.  He comes up with the image of an inverted pyramid where the apex is at the same time the base: ‘and the less important the monarchic element became in reality the more important did it become for the Englishman.  Nowhere, as we all know, is a non-ruling personage more revered than in England'(Engels op.cit.).  It is as if the sovereign presents, as a function of its apparent distance from politics, the essence of the people. 

Although the English or British example seems so specific, the regime, the constitutional arrangement, is an outcome of a historical process that becomes visible in the years following the break up of the Roman Empire and shares this provenance with other European nation-states.  The English model was formative in this process.  It managed to resolve key issues of sovereignty that were influential in European nation-state formation in this extended period (400 – 1648CE).  I want to emphasise the point that nation states come into existence as a system through processes of mimesis.  A crucial part of this mimetic process is the way in which in war the opposing armies line up against one another.  Wars are the decisive means of determining sovereignty in the establishment of borders.  The English state was an early developer in its refinement of kingship as the hidden core of the state and it was an early developer of advanced industrial capitalism and imperialism.  There is no logic, as I have said elsewhere, that would lead us to believe that since, in both these respects, it was first in, it will be first out.  However the UK resistance to becoming a modern republic may make it, under the kind of crisis circumstances like those of the CV-19, particularly fragile and in danger of break-up.

The danger posed by the secession of the American colonies in the war that started in 1776 and the French Revolution 1789 was considerable.  Only resolved for a time by the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The relationship between the English and French revolutions, that happened only just over a hundred and fifty years apart, is a good example of the part played by mimesis in the aggregative processes of the co-development of nation states.  This point is pushed home when you also consider the impact of the constitutional forms that emerged in the American Revolution that started in 1776. These latter were created out of resistance to the English ‘monarch in parliament’ form.  However in replacing it, it reappeared in the relationship between the President and the Congress, though the significant adaptation was the separation of these functions.  The attempt to retain ‘regalian’ power by Trump revealed the ‘kingship/monarchical’ forms that lurk under the surface of the democratic republican constitution.  During the attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol Joe Biden made the comment that Trump was not ‘king’ and the Congress was not the ‘House of Lords’ as a way of expressing outrage and giving a sense of a society having progressed beyond forms of power associated with a more antique regime.

It is important to gain an understanding of the history of this nation-state form of which the UK regime is an example because it has been systematically imposed, often with disastrous consequences, on much of the human population through imperialism and neo-colonialism (decolonisation).

The idea that the Roman Empire went through a ‘break up’ as ‘barbarian’ populations moved into the Western part of the Eurasian landmass doesn’t fully take account of the process of transition that these groups went through as they interacted with the communities occupied by Rome.  This story is superbly told in Guy Halsall’s book Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West – 376-568CE.  The initial movements of these populations into territories colonised by Rome were characterised by settlement and absorption.  In a wonderful description of how ethnicities changed and were fused Halsall makes significant observations about ethnicity itself.  The populations were incorporated into ‘Roman’ institutions and structures.  The structures of imperial rule which had synchronously adopted the Christian religion as the state religion, became the organising principle of the cultural and political lives of the ‘invaders’.  The cathedrals and bishoprics of Western Europe were derived directly from the centres of Roman imperial administration.  

The Christian religion offered, due to its universalist philosophy, a good homogenising imperial ideology that could give the emperor a model of kingship that amalgamated the human and the divine.  The creation of a hierarchy that, at its centre, had a figure that was proximate to Christ could validate the rule of a human being who was blessed by divine power.  It was later that the idea of christomimesis, the idea that the king takes on the role of Christ, was developed.  The hierarchical structure of the empire transitioned into that of the Catholic Church.  But this was contested.  The period in question was followed by an ongoing contest between Popes and Emperors.  To some extent this issue was solved by the organisation of the Crusades which started at the end of the 11th Century.  By this time kingdoms had emerged.

Dynastic claims to territory were consolidated through the assertion of divine right.  Borders were established through force and sanctified by holy benediction.  The figure of the king who claimed allegiance from other contesting leaders was anointed with the aura of godliness.  In the court structure that centred on the monarch, the warrior nobility played out one aspect of his power while the clergy, the holinesses of the church, played out the other.  One gave restless obedience while the other supplied divine blessing.

Looking backwards towards the origins of patriarchy in the male ‘take over’ of the human group at the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic revolution that I described in a previous piece, the emergence of the particular form of kingship that laid the basis for the nation state was a specific solution to what I have described as the problematic of patriarchy: how could men take women’s power without destroying it?  How could they successfully create hierarchies that combined the power of the warrior leader and the charisma of the shaman/priest?

Looking forward, the development of the king’s ritual, administrative and military functions were characterised by what Piketty describes as the tri-functional state (Piketty op. cit.)where the sovereign was surrounded by the community of the commonwealth, consisting typically of the lords temporal (warriors, nobles) and the lord spiritual (priests, clergy) and the commoners/subjects.  The functions of these institutions transitioned into modern ‘parliamentary’ democracy and the development of political parties. The underlying movement of the two-party state replicates the vestigial functions embodied in the tri-functional state.  By the way, this could explain the strangely sectarian ‘religious’ structure of the Labour Party and the sacerdotal demeanour of some of its factotums. Particularly, in this recent period, its use of anti-semitism as a kind of coded ‘test’ of loyalty accompanied by confessions, accusations, prohibitions, public recantations, disavowals, ostracisations, heresies, ritual judicial procedures and witch-hunts. 

What disposes human beings to form groups?  This might seem a stupid question since we are born into them.  They are a function of our existence. Are nation states derived from human needs that are not determined by specific ecological, historical or geographical circumstance?  Psychoanalysis has offered, through its intensive intersubjective co-examination of humanity in the consulting room, remarkable insights into human need.  Wilfred Bion explored the underlying structures that prevailed in groups brought together in a therapeutic setting.  In a sense what he lays bare is like the raw material of human group interaction but his analysis has more general application.  He arrived at a limited number of structures which he called ‘basic assumptions’ which determined the ‘culture’ of the group (Bion, op.cit.)Sigmund Freud wrote about group psychology and made observations of a sort that were to some extent the basis of Bion’s ideas and he arrived at two basic forms of what he described as ‘artificial’ groups: the Church and the Army.  The artificiality was connected to hierarchical characteristics.  To my mind the other great thinker about group formation is Elias Canetti.  In Crowds and Power he gives a comprehensive morphological account.  Many of these thinkers recognise the significance of money.  This is also true of another perceptive thinker, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who explained in Intellectual and Manual Labour, A Critique of Epistemology, how the abstraction of value that money presents is inextricably connected to its role in what he described as ‘social synthesis’.  I am going to go no further here in exploring these important ideas that are relevant to our understanding of the state we’re in. These thinkers were working when fundamental questions about social cohesion, power and leadership were being asked as a consequence of the collapse of the financial system in 1929 and the rise of fascism and national socialism.  

What might be going on in a given group – the example I have given above is the British Labour Party – may be typical and indicative of processes active in the social formation of which it is a part.  To understand how deeply lived and pervasive the structures of kingship might be can shed light on the fear and loathing provoked in the establishment, the media and in the Labour Party itself by Jeremy Corbyn as leader.  The party 30 years before had been galvanised by the extraordinarily charismatic triumphant war leader, Tony Blair. He was a winner. Jeremy Corbyn would be seen by acolytes, media arch-priests and political battalion commanders as a usurper, not a ‘real man’, incapable of pressing the nuclear button, unsuitable for the proxy ‘regalian’ powers bestowed on the prime minister, a loser!  It was after the election defeat in December 2019 that the party had to be purified and re-sanctified.  This process has led to its moral collapse and this is one of the key indicators of how far the deterioration of the UK regime has gone. 

In the next piece I will go into more details about the specific political contours of the UK regime as it came into being and as it now manifests itself in its dissolution.  Just to reflect back on what I’ve said about the UK regime being a particular manifestation of the European nation-state that based itself on kingship of a type that was an amalgam of political forms derived from the Christianised Roman Empire let’s look at Percy Shelley’s work.  The iconic moment of the movement that cohered around Corbyn’s leadership was his appearance at the Glastonbury Festival main (Pyramid!) stage in 2017.  At this event he unlocked the poetic roots of the slogan (‘For the Many, Not the Few’) that had brought increasing support in the election of that year, by quoting the final verse of the poem, The Mask of Anarchy, that Shelley wrote as a response to the Peterloo Massacre (1819) when the dragoons made a military charge on Chartist demonstrators in Manchester:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few

Shelley was in Italy when he heard the news of the massacre and the poem takes the form of a nightmarish parade of the English regime, the embodiment of murderous anarchy.  This was 1819, a hundred and thirty years after the English imported a king from the Netherlands, guaranteed to be Protestant thus crowning the movement that was initiated with the break from the Roman Catholic Church at the English Reformation in 1527, and settled him into the ‘Monarch in Parliament’ constitutional settlement.  Here are some earlier verses he didn’t read out:

And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.

Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw -
'I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!'

With a pace stately and fast,
Over English land he passed,
Trampling to a mire of blood
The adoring multitude,

And a mighty troop around,
With their trampling shook the ground,
Waving each a bloody sword,
For the service of their Lord.

And a little later (just to drive the point home):

For with pomp to meet him came,
Clothed in arms like blood and flame,
The hired murderers, who did sing
'Thou art God, and Law, and King.

'We have waited, weak and lone
For thy coming, Mighty One!
Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,
Give us glory, and blood, and gold.'

Lawyers and priests, a motley crowd,
To the earth their pale brows bowed;
Like a bad prayer not over loud
Whispering - 'Thou art Law and God.' 

Henri de Bracton must have been turning in his grave!

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? Ecological limits.

Why has the corona virus pandemic been so devastating for the UK? The brutal indicators of excess deaths per 1000 have shown the UK to be a major disaster zone from the point of view of public health.  The economic consequences are even worse from an orthodox growth-oriented viewpoint.  As I have said already in this series it is the way the government has set out its policy as a balancing act between health and the economy that have been the sign and cause of its ineffectiveness.  The attacks on the public health system were central to the austerity programme of the 2010 coalition government so a whole decade has been spent grinding down the resilience of our communities.  Does the government’s incompetence coupled with its corruption mean that the UK regime is any less stable than others?  What is the underlying situation?  Can ecological thinking help to distinguish between superficial and profound instabilities in our political structures.

In the USA, of which the UK is a client state, the current crisis is centred on the response of a population to the loss of industrially productive infrastructure.  Exacerbated by the increased distribution of wealth and income towards the wealthy during the recovery from the 2008-9 crash, immiseration of large sectors of the middle class, casualisation of work, outsourcing of production processes have created a massive reaction of disillusionment, resentment and hatred of the central government.  So far this has been captured by the right. Racism and ‘masculinism’ have been the immediate forms of expression. The long-term devastation of the industrial heartland of the UK which began much earlier than in the US, during the Thatcher government of 1979 onwards, has had similar impacts.  The dramatic consequences of deindustrialisation are seen in a raw form in these two interlinked countries and it is manifesting itself as a betrayal of the poor white male by their ruling elite compatriots. This sector was bound by privilege, race and gender to ruling elites who now appear to have abandoned them.  In order to understand this unravelling it is helpful to look at the coalescence of factors that led to the early development of industrialism here.  The story of the rapid development of US industrial capitalism after the 1776 is well told in Trade Wars are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace by Matthew C. Klein and Michael Pettis.  Essentially these two processes were dynamically linked but that is a larger story.

The initial development of markets dominated by money at a critical scale took place in the mediterranean area in the 14th century and were centred on the mercantile centres of Genoa and Venice.  This network had eventually taken over from the Greek and the Pheonician trading ‘empires’.  The sheer volume and variety of goods, the way in which the merchant ships were the key focus for entrepreneurial investment, called for a stable means of circulating , measuring and storing value.  I’m not saying this was the origin of money simply that it was at this point that money was operationalised at a level that created previously unseen forms of capital and banking. It became systemically significant. The obvious question arises: why did industrial capitalism start so much further north?

Twenty years ago Philip Parker published a book called Physioeconomics, the basis for long run economic growth.  In it he relates climatic conditions to productive development.  Because he looks primarily at human need he describes causes of development as being associated with homeostasis.  This is the tendency for human beings to require their body temperature, whether they live in the hot tropics or the frozen north, to be stable.  I don’t want to simplify his argument but he attributes this interaction between human beings and the immediate average circumambient temperature to be a crucial determinant of how the productive infrastructure is developed.  Recently the study of bio-regionalism has developed and become more influential. Focused on the specific interaction between human populations and the immediate ecological circumstances of a given terrain it has given us a redrawn map of the earth cutting across nation-state boundaries. It has enhanced understanding of how human beings like other species, depend for their material existence on environmental resources and have an adaptive relationship to their habitat.  It is in this way that a population or a species will reach a carrying capacity determined by available assets. Interactions at a micro-level are related to those at a macro-level.  In broad terms this makes the history of human beings a part of natural history.  

Physioeconomics and bioregionalism help us to understand our situation.  Due to industrialism and imperialism human societies have transcended their immediate local supplies of environmental goods. The inventive use of input-output modelling has given us a sense of this extension of impacts in the composition of carbon-footprinting. Imperialism has exported the inequalities created by capitalist development thus extending their exploitation through trade. The colonised countries were (and are) sources of raw material for the industrial centres.  The costs, for the owners of capital, of raw material (natural resources, nature, or land) and labour (the production of labour power, reproduction) could be massively reduced by imperialist trade.  This did not simply consist of cotton or wood or oil but of human labour power that was apparently free of any costs of production.  This latter was the basis of the slave trade.  At the early stage the enslaved people were transported to where the productive infrastructure could consume their labour.  In the second wave of imperialism, globalisation, it was the productive infrastructure that was transported to where the production cost of labour power was lowest. By the second half of the twentieth century, on the basis of accumulated capital infrastructure and due to political imperatives, the high wage economies of the first and second waves of industrialisation had relatively high labour costs. Expectations of a high standard of living including the ‘welfare’ costs of public health and education had institutionalised these high costs.  The advantages experienced by the initial centres of capitalist accumulation later appear as burdens.  The austerity policies after the 2008-9 crash, brought in to facilitate the massive state subsidies to the finance sector, were a way of discharging this burden.  High wage costs act as a disincentive to investment so the problems of the first industrial centres have been exacerbated.  As states with trade surplus economies emerged, Germany and China in the present period, they tended to distribute wealth to the elites rather than sectors of the population are more likely to spend money and consume.  The elites tend to save and therefore decrease consumption imbalancing societies even further.  In the case of the UK as the first location of industrial ‘take off’, the first surplus industrial economy, the failure of renewal  and investment has also been made worse by the export of investment capital, benefitting from imperial advantage. 

There is no inevitable logic to the consequence of having been the first industrial power.  It does not necessarily mean that the UK will be the first to experience the full impact of post-industrialism but that is what’s happened.  The first phase (1979-2008) of this movement, that is complex because of the interaction between industry and empire, seems to have completed itself.  It has left the UK as the beneficiary of capital accumulation that reached its peak 150 years ago. There is residual capital infrastructure and wealth and, due to specific intra-imperialist relationships and conflicts, an over-centralised and internationalised financial ‘industry’.  It has left the UK population muddled.

The last major exploitable mineral resource within the UK territory was North Sea oil and gas.  The excess income derived from this enabled successive UK governments to continue with the  ‘run down’ of manufacturing industries and engage in wars.  The public housing stock was sold off as was most of the other public assets, services, infrastructures, and wealth.  The UK regime is unstable and will break up because the political elites have no more assets at their disposal.  They have no room to move and have no natural advantage.  Did they ever have?  What was the ecological basis for the development of industrial capitalism.

The wealth and well-being of people must derive from the land and natural resources with which they are surrounded and on which they live.  Of course culturally generated skills and knowledge, even predispositions, must play a part.  Ingenuity and inventiveness is natural and cultural.  Japan has been through extraordinary economic and natural crises and catastrophes over the last 20 years.  Bending Adversity by David Pilling is a book about the particular qualities of resilience that have shown themselves to be a part of Japanese culture and society. Interactions between human populations and their habitats are multiple and diverse and thus specific societies and groups and political regimes develop.

Every human culture is grounded in the unique response of human capabilities to the resources afforded by a given terrain and geographical position and is specifically developed from the social and political cultures that are antecedent to it.  The political contours of the British islands were formed by the extent and nature of the Roman occupation from 52 CE.  Whatever preexisting human developments – the British Isles were had a highly developed iron age culture – it was the Romans who first intensively extracted mineral wealth and organised agriculture in a systematic way.  The establishment of a major centre in London and the building of a system of roads that connected up the rest of the island to it was formative.  The extraordinary centralisation of communication that this provided has been determinant and is still. Already the benefits of the Thames river system and the harboured access to the sea were established. During the Roman occupation this facilitated the export of raw materials from the British Isles. Later the flow of trade would be reversed. The subsequent invasion (400-500 CE) by Germanic people in the period following the break-up of the Roman Empire kept within the geographical boundaries created by the Romans.  The Norman invasion, once again abiding by the Roman boundaries, was the last major movement of conquest and settlement that had started with the movement of people from the east, probably responding to climatic changes, who came into the western part of the Eurasian continent as the Roman Empire declined. The colonisation of the American continent that began 500 years later could be considered to be a continuation of this process of migration.  The country submitted to a comprehensive survey of assets carried out at the request of the new owners, the Domesday Book.  The suppression of resistance to this settler colonial invasion was violent and programmatic. It was particularly in the north that rebellion was most widespread, the suppression of which is remembered as the ‘harrying of the north’. The imposition of a ruling aristocratic elite was still being referred to during the English Revolution, nearly 600 years later, as the ‘Norman yoke’.  

As the political nation states of the Western region of the Eurasian landmass began to form themselves England was able to be peculiarly definite in its constitutional construction. This was partly due to the sea providing both a natural limit as well as a means of transport. Unity and homogeneity had been imposed by the Norman invasion. I will address the political consequences of this in another piece. The extraordinary natural harbour of the Thames estuary and the expeditious uniting of wool production with maritime expansion meant that within 300 years, England dominated the wool markets of Europe, even the cloth manufacturing of the Italian peninsula was dominated by this import.  It was rather the coincidence of shipping and wool that laid the basis for the introduction of Italian banking methods (Italian bankers became influential in England during the reign of Edward I) that extended the dominance of London and laid the basis for mercantile capitalism and later imperial expansion.  

The Romans started the exploitation of most of England’s coal deposits and thereafter, only when sources of timber began to run out from the 12th Century onwards, did coal production recommence. Maybe the impact of homeostasis can really be seen in this development in which the English, Welsh and Scottish were preeminent. The English dominated the coal market in Europe from the 1600s as they had the wool market. In 1905 the UK was still the largest coal producer. This is the underlying basis of the industrial development which took root at the beginning of the 18th Century.  Unsurprisingly the industries of cloth production and this newly exploited energy source were brought together in the steam powered looms which were so significant in the development of the factory system.  But the first innovation was the Newcomen steam engine that was developed to pump water out of coal mines.  Coal-mining in the UK was more or less brought to an early end in the mid-1980s by the Thatcher government’s declaration of war against what she stigmatised as the ‘internal enemy’ embodied in the militant trade unionism of the miners.  This they could only afford to do because of North Sea Oil. 

Although most of the mineral wealth of the British Isles has been extracted, the land is rich and rainfall means that it is well irrigated though there are signs that this land is exhausted. The ship-building that was so well keyed into the coastal and forest resources of the islands reached a peak of competitive success 100 years ago. The advantage that we gained from the early days of financial de-regulation in the mid-1980s, being conveniently placed between Asia and America and giving US banking access to deregulated financial markets, has been eroded by information technology innovation. The ideology of the peoples of the islands is badly divided and anything but homogenous.  The divisions between the north and the south which can be dated back to the Norman invasion have become more inflamed especially because of de-industrialisation. The huge distortion that the city of London has created in terms of wealth distribution has led to severe disruption between the rulers and the ruled.

A key-note in the speech Johnson gave to the Tory Party conference in 2020 projected a vision of the UK based on the exploitation of wind power.  He told members that wind would be to the UK what oil had been to Saudi Arabia. Johnson’s idea that wind would be to the British isles as oil was to Saudi Arabia needs a massive correction, it was wool or coal not wind.  

The British state, the UK project, has absolutely no obvious strength nor advantage.  The economy is highly indebted. This would be manageable if the currency remains stable.  However, sterling has already been downgraded because of what has been identified as political instability.  This will impact on the sale of bonds and restrict the ability of the central bank to engage in quantitative easing.  The impoverishment of the population by the 2008/9 crash has increased and this can become a source of deep alarm and discontent as the anti-austerity movement that started in 2010 showed.  The economic processes that are entailed in the exit from the EU look very different in the light of the ravages brought about by the pandemic.  The government are running out of credible candidates as target ‘enemies’.  There are efforts to engineer a connection between terrorism, left socialism, migrants, leftie lawyers and this could be escalated if they get into real trouble but, because of historical example, this isn’t an easy strategy for them.  They would need to prove widespread treason and subversion.  They have edged towards this in their attempts to isolate the socialist left but they have had to use the ‘veil’ of anti-antisemitism to do so.  Since the real enemy to their project must be social justice, egalitarianism, and environmental sustainability the reconstructed ‘war on terror’ can not serve them as a vehicle of counter resistance. They were only forced to construct this model of social struggle as the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived them of an obvious and powerful target.  It has turned out that the major consequence of the socialist movement that dominated the world in the twentieth century is the power and influence of the People’s Republic of China.  It is easy to forget that the victory there of the Communist Party was connected to the success of the Soviet Union in defeating German National Socialism.  Of course there will be attempts to show that China poses a deep threat – in the attempt to persuade people of this, the totalitarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party is always underlined.  At the moment this also appears as an unlikely target to focus counter-resistance around.  Will the external and internal weakness of the UK state with its economy so deeply in debt, so dependent on imports in all fields and on financial and related services that can so easily relocate and that anyway depends on the stability of a currency that is becoming more and more exposed, with a deteriorated education system, a damaged and demoralised university sector, a health service ravaged by privatisation, an increasingly apathetic and disaffected population that has lost a coherent sense of public responsibility and deeply distrusts its political institutions, be capable of being blamed on an internal or external enemy?

Do the weaknesses that I am pointing to mean that the UK regime is in a process of imminent collapse?  On their own they don’t but there is no feature of the situation which suggests any sources of strength.  The financial deregulation can be pushed a bit further and undoubtedly Brexit will act as occasion for this.  There is no North Sea oil nor can the UK look to be bolstered by a special relationship with the US based on military adventurism and shared security institutions. London continues to offer US banking an offshore deregulated haven. The US is also suffering relative decline. The cost of labour can hardly be driven any lower but undoubtedly the Tories will want to cut into it even more savagely.  The cohesion of its original colonising project first carried out through the colonial settlement of Wales in the 13th Century was grounded in the domination by the English of the British Islands.  It created a union with Scotland in 1707 and with Ireland in 1805.  It is clear that devolution of certain aspects of local government to the Welsh and Scots by the Blair government took place within the overall aegis of the European Union and this was even more pertinently the case with Northern Ireland.  This union is more and more fragile as we emerge from the EU.  Though this connection is more symbolically important than actually necessary, its meaning is powerfully central to the UK imperial project. One needs only to look at the Union Jack flag for confirmation of this

I fully admit that the picture I have given of the ecological determinants of the rise and fall of UK capitalism and imperialism is neither comprehensive nor authoritative.  It’s a sketch. What can these considerations tell us about what has supported the UK regime since it crystallised in the settlement of 1688-9.  Eventually imperialist advantage is worn away and wealth moves to where labour productivity is highest in order to recommence its cycle of dominance.  However radical changes in available and sustainable sources of energy have taken place.  What resources are available? The mineral raw materials that are the basis for electronics are not available in the old centres of imperialist power.  How can people reconstruct a productive and creative life conforming with these ecological imperatives or parameters or limits? 

Each of the elements of an ecological history of the British Isles has a political and social correlative impact. I will attempt to describe these consequences and interactions in the next piece.  I am not advocating ecological determinism. Also the focus on the UK may be misleading. The UK regime’s crisis is linked to an international crisis that is expressed through the specificities of the nation state. I am describing what factors determine the advantages and vulnerabilities of the political elites in the UK but also indicating the depth of the issues that must be addressed by a new movement based on ecological thinking and socialist ideas.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The human revolution?

I wrote in my last piece (see below) that ecological thinking based itself on a view of humanity as a species, a species inter-relating with other species.  I pointed out that this thinking would play a part in the break-up of the UK regime.  My question now is: can our understanding of human origins shed light on the specific underlying shifts, movements and crises we are aware of in our contemporary world?  Especially here in the UK and in the USA the signs of fragmentation are provoking a kind of rage of reaction and it might appear that the forces of radical patriarchy are strengthened through this chaos.  They are manifesting themselves in an extreme form but this may be impelled by despair deriving from a deep sense of loss.  In the midst of a tense exchange about the story of women in human evolution and the revolution, the brilliant anthropologist, Camilla Power, exclaimed in an email to me: “How can we use our past to help us reach that: we have the bodies, hearts and minds today that made that revolution before.  Care of children taught us how to do it!” Exploited and oppressed but constantly moving like a very deep dance the human truths that our bodies feel exact more vivid forms of listening and touching and community.  The deeper the crisis, the deeper into the past we have to go.

Much of what I am describing here has been described far better by others who know more and have thought more deeply.  I want to find a connection between what I have learnt from radical anthropologists like Camilla, other thinkers and writers and my own observation of what is happening around me.

Darwin’s work of discovering the developmental determinants of species underlies ecological thinking.  The formation of the new species of hominids, homo sapiens, was due to particular adaptations relating to selected characteristics.  These manifested themselves in distinctive genetic changes.  The erect posture of the immediately preceding species of hominids enabled their occupation of increasingly diverse terrains which gave a wider scope of food sources.  Collective organisation and communication abilities were related to larger brain in successive hominid species.  The trade-off between larger brain-size, thus the heavier, larger head, and the erect posture was complex. The birth canal of the human female was compromised by the erect posture so the size of the head needed to be accommodated by ‘early’ birth.  The human (homo sapiens) baby was born into a state of physical, emotional and social dependence. This engaged with the social and collective skills associated with larger brain size.  Our species needed to be social. The reproductory and child care processes were extended.  It involved protection against the most significant competitors, big cats. In order to build group solidarity it was necessary to isolate and disempower ‘alpha male’ selfish individualism. We needed to counter the behaviour that led to the largest male being able to make immediate sex for meat exchanges and to be destructively disposed towards offspring from other fathers.  These were the basic material narratives that selected for a high degree of social collaboration.  The development of the larynx giving the ability to make complex sounds, the shape of the human (homo sapiens) eye with the unique mobility of the iris against a white background gave an enhanced ability to communicate. Human females’ collaborative ability to control the rhythm of the availability of sex was connected to human males developing co-operative strategies in hunting, thus enabling social sharing of food.  The work carried out by coalitions of human females ensured that caring processes were at the centre of early human activity and this was enabled by the link between human biology and the cyclical movement of the moon, establishing a social rhythm of sex and hunting.  The development of intersubjectivity and of language both propelled and were outcomes of this new species development. This specific aspect of early human development is outlined in the work of the renowned primatologist, Sarah Hrdy in Mothers and Others: the Evolutionary Development of Mutual Understanding.  The other part of this story is to be found in the work of the Radical Anthropology Group but particularly in Blood Relations: Menstrual Synchrony and the Origins of Culture by Chris Knight, a colleague of Camilla Power who I quoted above. This social form of organisation was successful and enabled the spread of the new species from the Rift Valley of Africa 200,000 years ago to populate the entire earth.  The last significant land mass that was colonised by our species was Aotearoa (New Zealand) settled by Polynesian people from 1280-1350.

At the centre of developments in the sciences of primatology, social biology and anthropology in the past 70 years is the work of a growing number of women social and life scientists.  The influence of this new perspective is described in Chris Knight’s book.  A good recent example of this work is Human Origins, Contributions from Social Anthropology edited by Camilla Power, Morna Finnegan and Hillary Callan.  The idea that human females were responsible for the origin of culture and society is not surprising when looked at from an evolutionary point of view.  But what difference does it make to how we look at our current situation and the social forms which we inhabit?  Arguments are made that it was human males and their collective organisation of hunting that played the leading role in these developments and even that war played this role. This affirms a view that male dominance is natural. What is surprising is what happened 12,000 years ago when our female-oriented species was transformed into a male-dominated hierarchically-organised creature disposed exploitatively towards the natural resources with which it was surrounded. This transformation is complex, developing unevenly and gradually and some human groups exist where this transformation is incomplete.

Let us, for a moment, counterpose the vision of human origins articulated by contemporary radical anthropology with the vision given in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. This extraordinarily influential book was published two years after the execution of Charles I in London in 1649.  This event during the English Revolution was of crucial symbolic and political importance and Hobbes’ thinking was fundamental to the subsequent restoration of the monarchy and the eventual settlement of 1688-89 which I believe is the foundation moment of the regime that is beginning to break up. Hobbes describes the state of nature as a war of all against all where the intercession of the sovereign, the embodiment of reason presents essential unity.  The book encompasses descriptions of the make-up of the individual, how in each of us we wrestle to attain our better nature through processes that he connects with money accounts or rationality, and about how the commonwealth resembles an artificial man that is above nature and forms itself through a kind of contract. He bases his argument on deep consideration about the the senses and the external objects of the world, where contrary to Aristotle, he asserts an empiricism that diminishes knowledge as an interaction between material agents and emphasises the immediate responses of the senses to external stimulus and the separation of the subject from the object.  Nature is the objective and increasingly measurable reality that lies outside us and can be conquered epistemologically by reason.  The justification for the authority of the sovereign state derives from an assumption that the animal in us, the natural beast, is bad and must be struggled against through the construction of a sovereign power and submission to it.  I shall describe in a future piece why Christianity offered such a profoundly stabilising ideology to empire.  At the start of this Christian narrative we find man and woman in a natural state into which evil is introduced by the woman.  This state of sin is only redeemed for humanity with the advent of Christ who combines, like the kings for whom he was a progenitor, man and god. 

Murray Bookchin in Ecology of Freedom and elsewhere describes this initial period of human existence as the organic society and its break up as being signalled by the development of humans distinguishing themselves from the circumambient natural world and dominating it and the synchronous development of exploitation of humans by humans. These ideas have been influential on the work of Abdallah Ocalan, a leading member of the PKK, whose voluminous Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation, written while in a Turkish prison, explores the specific impacts of the beginning of hierarchical society in the fertile crescent where the Kurdish people have their home.  He urgently asserts that the first intra-group oppression practiced by humans was the exploitation of women.  This oppression sets the precedence for other forms of slavery. Alongside his reexamination of the origins of society and of human oppression, Ocalan and his movement have criticised the central role of the nation-state in the liberation of the Kurdish people. This is an extraordinary and inspirational example of how re-thinking human origins has played a part in structuring a strategy of resilience for sectors of the Kurdish people, especially those in Turkey and Northern Syria.  The strategy is based on the liberation of/by women, ecological sustainable development and participatory democracy.  This last principle is based on calling into question the role of representation, of representative forms, in the functioning of democracy.   The full global implications of the political inventiveness of the Kurdish people have yet to be realised.  The Kurdish revolution as it is conceived by Ocalan is an attempt to confront the historical consequences of the development of patriarchy.

So what do we imagine happened during this transformation of human society, the male ‘take over’, and what are the consequences for subsequent human history? By the way I’ve written a play, THE STORY OF GO, about this event. It was given a reading in an event co-hosted by the Radical Anthropology Group. There’s brief description here. There were important ecological factors, such as the end of the Last Glacial Period and the changes in herding patterns that determined the movements of the big game that the human populations had come to rely on.  Correspondingly there was the success of human population growth which meant that certain stocks of hunted animals had been reduced by over-hunting, transgressing the critical point in a population when predation prevents replenishment of stocks.  Population growth also meant that the major competitive pressure was other human groups, thus creating conflicts between them.  There may have been other factors such as knowledge of terrain and its biomass potential that derived from inter-generational observation, also knowledge of herding patterns could have led to herd control and intervention in breeding that was the basis of animal husbandry, the movement towards settling land and cultivation may have derived from observation of river systems and exploitation of tidal movements in adjoining land. A number of books give accounts of the break up of the egalitarian society, for example, The Creation of Inequality: How our prehistoric ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.

The move towards the prioritising of production over reproduction, the turn from hunting group to war organisation, the re-emergence of alpha male dominant behaviour, the territorialisation of power and space that arose from crop cultivation and animal husbandry, the creation of surplus and the social dynamics of storage and distribution all shifted the basic structures of human life towards men’s dominance of women.  An important factor in this was the ability of men to take women’s power and institutionalise their possession of it.  To do this they mimicked the forms of power that women exerted over them.  The powerful mysteries of reproduction, the isolation and protection afforded by women to young females moving into adulthood, the first appearance of the menstrual blood, were ritualised and men were excluded.  Often in the current life of hunter gatherers this secrecy, exclusion, withholding and protection is the basis for social play.  Men copied their exclusion from the menstrual hut in the construction of men’s hut where they also performed rites of passage that involved blood and scarification. There, in these sacred spaces, the warrior leader and the shaman emerged as powerful actors. In recent discoveries at Gobeklitepe, one of the earliest discovered neo-lithic sites dating from 11,700 years ago and situated near the border town of Urfa in Southern Turkey it appears that the dynamic of the process of cultural development reverses a simple mechanical materialist explanation.  The creation of ceremonial sites connected to the burial of human remains and to the dramatisation of the border of the world of the dead were laid out in accord with the emerging knowledge of astronomy.  The evidence is that these sites which were in continual development that would have required the organisation of, and provision for, large groups of workers and thus it was these sites which preceded the developments in animal husbandry and crop cultivation made necessary by the organisation of their construction.  The need to exercise symbolic power drove the organisation of production.

The need for men to exert their control over the symbolic order, to create exclusive sacred spaces connected to power over life and death, was based on territorialisation and secrecy. Knowledge was to be the privilege of the hierarch and be controlled through control of space.  The driving energy was men’s exclusion from reproduction.  The continual impossibility of dominating women’s bodies drove the cultural project forward.  The energies derived from the oppression of women were effectively the energies of human reproduction recathected through men’s domination and control.  Men’s power was and is effectively women’s power.  The continual social enactment of domination is the very structure of the political institutions that we live in.  Men’s power is their power over women.  This domination is not an event but rather a continuous process of theft and coercion.  It is symbolic and actual and it depends not on women’s weakness but their strength – which at any given moment is their power over men – and this is the basis of their submission and incorporation into the social project dominated by men.

In fact one of the crucial processes that lies at the core of patriarchal cultural appropriation is a process of inversion. The stories and images of the truth of human origins in the work of human female coalitions are re-played so that the basic energies can be incorporated in a re-writing of the story that inverts the basic images and movements. This cultural appropriation through inversion and incorporation retains the source energies of the narratives.  Symbolic power was taken from women but my further point is that this is a continuous process.  It is in this way that men’s power is only their power over women and this power is women’s power re-cathected through the institutional forms of patriarchy. 

The energies that were engaged with as the process of male ‘take over’ started are effectively those which fuel our current social and political institutions. It is in this respect that the story of origins becomes important in terms of our understanding of the basis of our society and how it can change.  The presence of the power of the feminine and the story of the preceding organic society whose primary organisational principle was the reproductive activity of human females are seen in cultural manifestations everywhere. Anthropologist are skilled at ‘decoding’ the myths and stories in which the core values of women’s culture are revealed inside the, sometimes scarcely visible, patriarchal carapace.  But also in corporeal terms this other world, the world of the body and the collective, is constantly resisting the mental dominance of the male abstract, virtual, oppression. For a wonderful description of how hunter gatherer cultures can help us to contact our collective sensuality particularly in this pandemic see Morna Finnegan’s talk to the Radical Anthropology Group, Touched: Hunter Gatherers and the Anthropology of Power. This is why social change seems so dynamically linked to a return to our real nature.

It is the continuous nature of this cultural project that impelled patriarchy to construct a relationship with eternity and infinity in order to enact the basic assumption of male power.  It is almost as if this culture is energised by ever more superior forms of power, as if perhaps this is like the helplessness men encounter when faced by women’s power or beauty, or their mother.  Marx describes the cell form of capitalism as a commodity and describes how this object is endowed with a kind of power that he associated with fetishism. Look at Chapter One of Part One of Volume One of Capital He describes a system in which things have power over people. Capitalism is a development of patriarchy and it manifests itself in a typically mystified or disguised form.  It presents like an economic system rooted in humanity’s god-given nature.   Posing as an economic system it separates itself from the political forms that give it a rational carapace.  It ‘dis-embeds’ itself from real social human processes. The developmental movement is continually towards higher and higher degrees of abstraction.  The circulation of commodities appears as the circulation of money;  money appears as the circulation of quantities, money quantities appear as credit, credit money then appears as digitalised entities, money appears as information.

The early organisation of patriarchal culture is enacted in the figures of warrior leader and the shaman/priest/spiritual leader.  These figures are the core components of kingship.  This political structure is the basis of modern state organisation.  Power over life and death – I believe this is what Foucault refers to as the concern of bio-politics – which is the prerogative of the state must be sanctified by an appeal to a higher authority which acts as a ‘basic assumption’ (see the work of Wilfred Bion)  in the human group.  To achieve this, power must disclose itself as right.  Just as physical force and spiritual power must be virtually separated so that they can be brought together as the power of government.  This is reconciled in the production of knowledge as secrecy.  It admits of a fundamental splitting of human capability. 

In Thomas Piketty’s extraordinary study of modern politics Capital and Ideology he examines ideology initially from the point of view of the trifunctional state, the state form that existed in its clearest manifestation in the pre-revolutionary French state. There the basic operation of kingship, of sovereignty, was acted out through the three estates: the nobles, the clergy and the populace.  He traces the development of these forms through the revolutionary period as they make their appearance in the modern ‘democratic’ state.  He describes the action between the key political parties as being tributes from this earlier state form, the Merchant Right versus the Brahmin Left. The dance ritual of the modern state is a play between the vestiges of the warrior class (the Lords, nobles however constituted, reflected in the Tory Party in the UK, those who assume a god-given right to rule) and the clergy (the intellectual classes, the media, legal systems, the Labour Party in the UK). Piketty, constructing an international model, alludes to the Indian caste system in calling these secularised clergy, the Brahmin. We can see clearly in this organised and ritualised political form the original embodied forces that lay at the origins of patriarchy.  This dance between the different aspects of state power keeps the status quo balanced like a gyroscope and the basic energy is the suppression that derives from the constant reduction of women to objects, either as symbolic commodities or as functional providers and generators of labour power.

I believe the corona virus pandemic has sheered the outer casework from this weird machine so we can see the key operations of kingship, patriarchy, racism and look into the core processes of our social lives. These are, unsurprisingly, held together by women, consigned to the roles that are generative and essential, that of caring for human beings.  Beside them, behind the veil of justice and democracy, are revealed the heaving pitiful fearful creatures crouching in despair and hope that their outrage and anger will restore their king-like function. I am thinking particularly of the recent mob attack on the Capitol in Washington and the crisis of the regime there as the republican cover is blown off the monarchic core.  An immediate cause is a deep discontent at the impoverishment escalated by the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent bail-out of the bankers and in the foreground is the rage of these ‘real men’ so desperately afraid of weakness.  It is the symbolic reenactment of the Civil War of the 1860s that keeps emerging but even deeper in the formation of the US state is the agony of their modification of the structures of kingship that animated the rebellion of 1776. This story moves like a field of force in the undergrowth.  There is a deep ambiguity in the very formulations of a constitution made in the name of humanity by slave-owners declaring freedom.  Essentially patriarchy is hierarchical and is based on the assumption of superiority.  Initially exercised against women.  As the ever more complex social forms appeared this exercise manifested itself systematically as the extraction of labour power from the processes of reproduction, ever pressed into yielding product at lower and lower cost.  Racism inextricably linked with slavery is driven by labour power extraction and cost reduction employing similar cultural mechanisms of oppression.  Can the US regime admit this history without breaking up?  This crisis is joined to the one that afflicts the centre of the imperial system from which it appeared to gain its independence. 

I believe that the reason why our political structures are ‘double’, as described by Piketty are because they derive from the problematic of patriarchy in its suppression of women: how to exert violent power and justify this right so to do through symbolic power.   Vast quantities of intellectual work and social organisational effort were expended to reconcile whether the King or Monarch was above the law or the source of the law.  I will describe in further contributions to the CV-19 Impacts series and refer there to the remarkable book by Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies.

It is the continuous character of this drive to exploit reproduction through production that I am attributing to the endless project that patriarchy presents.  To call it a take over could be misleading since power is constantly taken.  Labour power and human need is constantly exploited.  This operates at every scale and level in our society.  It is the source of male violence.  Its theoretical extension lie in the bases of economics as it is taught and commonly understood.  In this discipline we are told that demand is infinite.

During the corona virus we have witnessed the break down of what is called the economy and we are told that public (and individual) health has to be balanced with the health of the economy.  The economy is assumed to be a mechanism that is dis-embedded, that has its own divine laws of motion.  Really the absurdity of this weird mystical system can only be summoned by saying it is based not on infinite demand but the underlying myth of infinite supply.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime change? Ecological thinking? Socialist ideas?


What I believe is the case and what I wish for can be confused.  The UK regime is collapsing.  The depth of corruption and incompetence exhibited by the current government is a superficial sign of this.  The break up of the United Kingdom is not.  It is an indication of a deep unravelling of the basic integuments of the regime, that which was founded by the settlement of 1688-89.  The exposure attendant on the withdrawal from the European Union means the chips are down. The EU was joined because it was a last ditch attempt by the UK elites to hold together the Union which lies at the core of the constitution.  The hope was that membership of the European Club despite its republican aura or perhaps because of it, would offer a modern fig leaf to cover the UK’s semi-feudal constitutional arrangement, parliamentary monarchy. This is of course specifically true in relation to Ireland.  The prospect of a united Ireland, with Sinn Fein playing a significant role in its polity will send shivers down the spine of those with any historical sensibility.  Ireland was England’s colony, brutally exploited for raw material, until the danger heralded by the French Revolution made the oppressor nation hastily include it in the union in 1805.  Thus it followed Scotland who had been coerced and cajoled into participation in 1707.  It’s all a recent story.  It was at the very end of the 13th Century, 1284, that Edward 1 King of England, Lord of Ireland, having accomplished the first (possibly except for Gascony) settler colonial operation, ‘settling’ English farmers on stolen land in Wales and building castles to oversee the colonisation. Edward crowned the process by having his son Edward born in Caernafon and later invested him Prince of Wales in 1302.  This was before he went on to terrorise the Scots. He had Robert Bruce’s sister suspended live in a public cage, the English practicing the arts later refined in the slave plantations of the Caribbean.

Simultaneous with this imminent break up is the moral disintegration of the Labour Party.  The elites may need a compliant second string to their bow and the Labour Party historically has been happy to submit to the honour.  The Corona pandemic has not just ripped through the UK population like no other but like a corrosive illuminant it has exposed the inoperancy of the UK state, the whole rigmarole, the two-party absurdity, the obsessive centralisation, the bluster, the muddling through, the completely irresistible tendency to think of governance as ruling over the population and the utter incapacity to think socially.  There is a deep fear of socialism.  There will be some who believe that this is unwarranted, especially those that tend that way, but the smell of rank panic floats over the land.

The crisis is deeper than they fear.  It is not just socialism they have to be scared of – partly because they are having to operate policies that have the odour of this perversion – but it is ecology, ecological thinking, that should make them quake  The failure to recognise the Corona pandemic as an ecological event and to understand that it’s impacts need to be dealt with socially, by society as a whole, is deeply connected to their failure to understand human society as an outcome of our development as a species. This is why their response is deeply racist and stupidly nationalistic.  They think of it as war!  They think of it as a one-off crisis. They keep saying, about testing and about vaccines, that we should be comforted that we are doing better than Europe or America or..and the numbers prove it!  Canute tried beating back the waves with his sword.

If there is no informed alternative, the break up of the old order faces us with catastrophe. The alternative can only come from a popular movement that engages with the deep and vital connection between ecological and socialist thinking.  This is the simple truth as I see it.  This deep connection is already being made and, as it becomes stronger, the energies that it engages with will generalise themselves.  But we need to get moving.  We are unprepared and part of what absorbs our energies is the idea that old institutions can do new things.  The years immediately before this crisis gave us signs of what is involved now.  There was a significant mass popular movement against austerity which was sparked by the student rebellion of 2010 and that grew as it pushed Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party.  There was the extraordinary inventiveness and innovatory energy of Extinction Rebellion.  And more recently there has been the popular uprising around Black Lives Matter.  There has been, throughout the land, the mutual aid movement mobilising solidarity, responding to the community impacts of the Corona virus crisis.

We have to be prepared for a deep struggle for social and environmental justice.  The formation of the UK regime derived from the English Revolution of 1642.  The energies that structured the regime flow from the extraordinary upsurge of popular revolutionary consciousness that marked this event.  This movement was captured and incorporated through the formation of a constitutional settlement, a brilliant historic compromise, establishing power and sovereignty as emanating from the ‘monarch in Parliament’. This was sealed by a hybrid protestantism and operationalised by an imperial war machine financed by the innovatory central bank, the Bank of England (founded in 1694, specifically created to produce the credit to enable a war against Catholic France), thus the dominance of the City of London was affirmed. All this, the ideology, the values, the tone, the key personality of the ‘English Gentleman’, the good chap, he who can ‘smile as he kills’, sword or umbrella at the ready though carefully and seductively concealed, all this is passing into history; it is threadbare, a parody of itself, sinking slowly into a mire of incompetence. 

Regimes and all political structures are made by counterposed energies of resistance.  As resistance is overcome the energies are channelled into the new structures and institutions.  The energies of the current regime derive from the English Revolution but its deep roots are in the patriarchal structures that arose from the male ‘take over’ of the original human culture developed at the birth of our species by coalitions of human females.  This historic process is associated with the Neolithic Revolution and the spread of agriculture approximately 12,000 years ago. This is why the break up of the UK regime is not an isolated event.  It is connected to a crisis of the nation state.  This is a form of organisation that derived specifically from the process of territorialising power and sovereignty in the western part of the Eurasian land mass after the break up of the Roman Empire.  The state formation in England (only that part of the British isles that was colonised by the Romans) was such that it was a model for the wider dispersion of this form.  Nation states developed as a system in a mimetic process articulated through wars.  The hierarchical forms of patriarchy driven by the need to produce, taming and exploiting our species’ reproductive processes, were binary. Men could not simply rule over women through physical force but had to take over symbolic power and justify their dominance.  This continual need to dominate women’s reproductive power drove the impulse to produce and exploit natural resources. The continuous process of male take over is like a colonisation of the original female-oriented human culture.  Capitalism in all its successive forms is a political system that derives directly from patriarchal hierarchy. Its appearance as an economic system is a part of the way it constantly obscures its operation. This is apparent in the continual process of abstraction and quantification that accompanies its development. The ultimate movement of this process is the transformation of money into digital information.

This means that the crisis underlying the break up of the UK regime goes to the very roots of our species’ existence.  We are engaged in a struggle for our humanity. Unsurprisingly it is deeply connected to the prospect of human extinction.   I believe that the key to succeeding forms of human organisation is knowledge.  I mean this in every sense of the word.  The idea of knowledge that underpins our current system is subject to hierarchy and limitation.  Knowledge is interaction.  This is as true for quantum physics as it is for our coming into being as humans.  Intersubjectivity, the capacity to be deeply moved and changed by our encounter with the other, was and is at the centre of the inventions made by coalitions of human females in the Rift Valley of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago.  It was essential to the development of big-brained, early-birthed creatures whose need for physical protection and cultural identification was the primary work.  Of course in later human development all these capacities remained but they were systematically exploited.  Human development becomes reduced to the supply of quantities of labour power to a productive machine on which, we are led to believe, human survival depends – or, at least, the continuation of our ‘way of life’.

I have suggested in previous blogs that a social network is needed of activist reporters in every constituency feeding into a central source of knowledge and information, primarily about the impacts of the Corona virus.  This local knowledge network should be capable of spreading out to different sectors locally to engage with the care community, the NHS community, the teaching community, the retail community, the delivery community, the mutual aid and self-help community.  It should engage with local expertise on the environment, on productive activities and on judicial and legal processes.  This could quickly form an easy to access cross-referenced source of real knowledge that would be actual intelligence.  It might be similar to Mass Observation.  This network of living breathing human beings concerned to create a people’s picture of our society and its needs would be a basis for a movement for environmental and social justice.

Notes

About ecology as I understand it:

The core value of ecology is the interconnectedness of life-forms in systemic co-developmental interdependence.  The unit of ecology is the ecosystem, complex mutual aid relationships between species.  Human social organisation is deeply embedded in these relationships and the sum total of all the different forms of human organisation are our species total interaction with the biosphere.  These different forms of organisation, adaptations made by human groups to the different biomes and bio-regions of our planet, form the basis of the different societies, cultures and political regimes.  All of this biomass, the flora and the fauna, and the geology of the earth has a history, in other words it changes interactively.  The history of the human species is a part of the natural history of the Earth.

About socialism as I understand it:

Socialism is a communal recognition of the collective nature of social life. It is not a state form.  Rather than human life being shaped around the imperatives of the economy and production, socialism enables people to develop their lives equally and according to their needs through political practice, through social organisation and through using economic activity as a tool to serve this end.  Essentially it views the products of people’s work as being the common, public property of society.  Necessarily this involves distributing wealth, in goods and investment, according to people’s needs.  A part of socialist practice has happened in societies where collective ownership has been used as a means of industrialisation, of expanding production. Socialism in a post-industrial setting requires a rethinking of the model offered.

About bringing ecological thinking and socialist ideas together:

Bringing the ideas of ecology and socialism together is a way to understand how the UK regime and the capitalism and patriarchy which it embodies can be surpassed.  It is not a matter of if but when.  It will disintegrate when coherent ideas of social and natural development seize the hearts and minds of a critical mass of the population.  The insights derived from an ecological understanding of how our human system’s interdependence on the multiplicity of the Earth’s ecosystems can clarify the basis of the UK regime’s historical development and its demise.  Socialism is a body of human political experience that contains both principles and sometimes difficult lessons that can help guide the development of social forms through which people can take over the running of society.  We are going through a change in our species being.  A new paradigm of what it means to be human is emerging, free of racial prejudice, nationalism and imperialism.  The specific circumstances of the UK regime make it a prime candidate to make a break with the system of which it has been a progenitor but its break up will not be isolated from other irruptions of a similar sort.  Humanity faces extinction and as it does so it will engage with its origins in the brilliant invention of the coalitions of human females in the Rift Valley of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago as our species emerged.  This enormous capability, though suppressed and exploited, is current in our lives and lives in us as the vital revolutionary energy that we can call on to reconstruct our lives.

About me:

I am writing this at a crucial moment, a moment of change. The UK has now left the European Union and we are in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic.  I am an old white English man.  My mother’s family were working class from the Midlands and my father’s middle class from Lancashire.  I had the benefit of the 1948 Education Act, went to a Grammar School (becoming a comprehensive half way through my time there), got into Cambridge University and subsequently worked as a theatre director and writer. As a young adult, maybe as a direct consequence of being at the Bloody Sunday March in Derry in January 1972, I joined the Communist Party and was a Borough Organiser in Brent which then included a significant industrial district. I was on the editorial staff of Marxism Today.  My work as a theatre practitioner initially involved touring theatre that, in two notable instances, was financed and supported by the National Union of Mineworkers.  Latterly I have worked internationally and this led, amongst other things, to a collaboration with a theatre company in Gaza, which is ongoing.  My work as a theatre practitioner was sidelined more than ten years ago by my need to engage with climate change and this led to my doing a Masters in Ecological Economics at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds.  I say all this so you know more or less where I’m coming from.  I may not be alive to see the changes that I am able to describe and I feel strongly that it is voices other than mine that need to be heard.  We who are old and white should listen.  And writing can be a way of actively listening.

About knowing

Getting attuned to listening is a way of joining a dialogue and it is only this that will activate the knowledge we need.  I am aware of a need to engage in philosophy. The new paradigm that I mentioned above requires new knowledge.  This is important in our circumstances where such a lot of information is available.  Knowing must be practical and active.  I think of this as materialism.  The ‘knowing’ that I believe is required is connected to the human capability for intersubjectivity, how we know and recognise the other and how we become who we are through this process. This human capability is central to the inventions made by coalitions of human females at the origins of our species when the priority for the human group was enabling the reproduction of large-brained early-birthed creatures that required protection as they grew physically autonomous and socially aware. It is in the nature of this paradigm shift that we have to go back to our roots in order to go forward to our future. Whatever social and popular movement arises will base itself on communication and exchange that can situate itself successfully, and take up a creative relationship, with electronic social networking, information technology and technological intelligence.  The kind of material knowing that I am describing is completely compatible with analytical and systemic wisdom and awareness. 

CV-19 impacts: the merchants of grim privilege

In the face of the continuation of the CV-19 crisis the Tories attempt to deal with it by big talk, bluster, testing schemes designed by public relations firms rather public health professionals and the endless blame game.  The strategy is to set one part of the community against another either generationally or geographically.  They’ve worked out that the rich are not going to suffer. In fact under the cover of the augmentation of central state power they can hand out contracts and offices to their cronies and just blag it. This government is a disaster.  They should be forced to resign through popular pressure.  What lies at the root of the problem? You can read the pieces I’ve written about the Covid-19 crisis. The first was published on May 20th.

The latest actions taken by the government legislating, in contravention of the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union, to secure the ‘unfettered’ passage of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will have a number of impacts.  The UK are unilaterally breaking an international treaty.  Although there are claims in respect of the Finance Act of 2013 that a similar rupture was made, this aspect of the government’s action is unprecedented. The meaning in terms of the international good standing of the UK government is unforeseen.  The primary impact will be on our EU member neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, because of the arrangements made in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 .  

The customs border between Northern and Ireland and Great Britain agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement involved certain goods and services being subject to mutually agreed control in order to decrease friction on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  This would have left certain aspects of life in Northern Ireland remaining subject to EU regulation.  The open nature of the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is a key feature of the 1998 agreement.  

A major factor in the movement of the UK state towards membership of what was then the EEC was the framework it offered to ‘solve’ the Irish question. In fact a major element in the violent uprising by the Protestant/Unionist population in the North in the mid-1960s was the indication given of this move by the UK state when Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister elected to power in 1964, and Séan Lemass, Irish Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966, met to discuss membership.  This integration into the EEC, founded by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, threatened the political and economic privileges of the Protestant community there. These had been the key ‘give aways’ that had been confirmed during the division of Ireland, consequent on the national liberation struggle of the Irish people.  The struggle for Irish unity had been forestalled by the connivance of the UK state in setting up a client state in the North and reigniting the colonial settler ‘ascendancy’ of the Unionist population, a minority in Ireland as a whole but a majority in the six counties of the Ulster region.  It was the Republican movement’s response, initially defensive of the Catholic/Nationalist community of the North against the violence of the unionist attacks that developed into the complexities of the so-called troubles or what should be described as the continuing struggle of the Irish people for the liberation of their island from English imperialism.  The main settler colonial movement occurred under the Commonwealth government of Oliver Cromwell, granting land rights to protestants imported from the British mainland in the 1650s.  The traces of this history are seen in the reinforcement of the rights of this colonial operation by the campaign of William of Orange imported from Holland in 1688 to solve the contradictions of the English regime in its need for a monarch that was tied to Protestantism and that would respect the merchants and capitalist property rights.  The Tory party represents this historic imperialist interest and it is significant that it was the Labour Party under Wilson that started to make this EEC-oriented reform and it was the first major act of the New Labour government of 1997 under Blair that brought about the Good Friday Agreement.  The Conservative and Unionist Party has written into their historical DNA an assumption of power over England’s first colony and an inability to countenance incursions on a sovereignty that symbolically underlies the unity of the Kingdom.  The spectre that haunts the Tories is that of a united Ireland and this has been made to resonate even more strongly with the historic advance of the Sinn Fein Party in the recent Irish elections.  Sinn Fein means ‘ourselves alone’ and is the party whose military wing is the Irish Republican Army.  Johnson’ pre-emptive swipe against Starmer accusing him of consorting with IRA supporters should surprise no-one.  

As the post-imperialist crisis of the UK drives the weird Brexit Tory clique deeper into their bunker, they assert sovereignty over the first territories grabbed by the English. This will increase the racism that is in its very being and make it reach out, in a kind of death agony, to kith and kin worldwide. Unfortunately, in a strange irony, the great white supremacist dreamland of the United States may provide a major injury to its erstwhile monarchic oppressor, and latter-day client state, when it refuses through its Congress the lifeline of a beneficial trade deal because the Good Friday Agreement has been subverted, aggravating the Irish-rooted population there.  And perhaps this will help to make sense of the strange sequence uttered by Johnson, apparently rattled by Labour criticism of its class-biased examination algorithm, imputing anti-NATO sentiments in the same sentence as the IRA slur to the feckless Labour leader.  

If Johnson is losing it, what exactly is he losing?  His wits? Or the carefully crafted English imperialist project initially practiced so programmatically, criminally and cruelly against the inhabitants of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. A project started possibly even before Edward I (1272-1307) solved the Welsh question by military occupation and settling English farming families in Wales (the imperial technique copied by Cromwell in Ireland later) and building a succession of castles to protect this colonisation.  He insisted that his wife give birth to what turned out to be their son, the future king Edward II, in Caernarfon, establishing a symbolic connection that still has to be reasserted by the dreadful monarchs lodged in, and predating on, our society. 

By the way, it was this first Edward that made the first expulsion of Jews from a sovereign territory in 1290, using racist sentiment to his clique’s material advantage – simultaneously he abolished all debts to them. This act followed almost a century of state-authorised restrictions that enforced badge-wearing, stigmatisations and the humiliation of compulsory attendance at sermons by Dominican clergy.  This racism was a rehearsal for the programmatic version that justified slavery as the imperialist project spread its wings. The connection of Christianity to territorial belonging and the use of racist exclusion to create coherence in the emerging nation-states of Europe was also connected to the crusades.  Edward’s first child, Joan, was born in Acre in what is now Israeli-ruled Palestine.  But it shouldn’t be forgotten that an initial target of the first crusades were communities of Jews encountered in the path of the Christian armies. If anti-semitism has any home here it is historically in the sullen, mean bosom of the Conservative Party.

So as the union, based on primitive racism, religious exclusion, territorial appropriation and commercial expansion, begins to fall apart the fissures in Ireland hasten the independence movement in Scotland. The cause of freedom for the people of Britain –  I mean by this the human rights of all the people who live and breathe here, naturally including those recently arrived on no matter what means of transport – echoes the observation made by Karl Marx (in reference to England and Ireland) that a nation that oppresses another nation cannot itself be free.  This idea of freedom, that the recognition of the rights and being of the other can be a liberation for both and all, is a component in a cultural movement that accords with human dignity.  This can be so hard for a population, a part of which has been won over to believe that they share an advantage and a benefit with the peddlers of supremacism, those that would have us believe that there are chosen people and our future is secure with the merchants of grim privilege.