Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Christopher Hitchens

"Chavez is a thug. He’ll be gone within two years, as will the Iranian regime. And Bush will be landing in Havana within two years. Then the last two uniformed leaders [in the Americas] will be gone.”

So spoke Bush's useful idiot - US Marine Corps Cheerleader in Chief. How low will this drunken, morally bankrupt, political traitor go?

More here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Jessop on the Capitalist State

I've just completed a draft of a chapter on (neo-) structuralist approaches to the analysis of the capitalist state. I had to take out a small section on Bob Jessop, since it didn't really add anything to the argument. So, since I'm not using it, I thought that I might as well post it on this site.

What I write, here, only refers to what Jessop writes in the final chapter of his book The Capitalist State (1982) and to comments in the final chapter of his book on Poulantzas, Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and Political Strategy (1985). I don't refer to what Jessop has written in his more recent books (cos I 'aven't read 'em!) - this is partly why I've decided to remove the section from my work.

I should also add a little health warning - much of what I've written about Jessop, here, is, quite possibly, completely wrong (another reason I've removed it!).

Jessop's Approach to the Analysis of the Capitalist State.

Jessop suggests that all social analysis must, in effect, start from the assumption of a kind of radical indeterminacy inherent in all social relationships. Jessop claims that when attempting to explain social phenomena, theorists should acknowledge ‘the multiplicity of possible points of reference in social analysis’ and ‘the multiplicity of possible causal mechanisms or principles of explanation’ (Jessop, 1982: 228)[1]. It is a mistake, Jessop suggests, to seek a single causal explanation for any social phenomena or to imagine that any phenomena can ever be explained entirely – any conclusions we draw can only ever be partial, incomplete and conditional. Jessops’s approach seems to be motivated by a desire to purge Marxist analysis of all economist and functionalist elements.

Jessop’s approach to the state, of course, reflects his wider views about the way in which social analysis, in general, should be carried out. He claims that it is impossible to develop any general theory of the capitalist state - to specify what its relationship with the dominant class is, and, indeed, what its relationship to the capitalist economy is, across time and space. That is, we cannot develop a theory of capitalist state power which is applicable to all capitalist states throughout history. Instead, Jessop argues that it is only legitimate to develop an understanding of power in particular states in specific historical conjunctures. Furthermore, even after attending to the specific circumstances of a particular state at a particular time, it is essential to realise that any understanding we develop of the functioning of that state and its reproduction of capitalist social relationships, can be only partial and incomplete. The functioning of capitalist states and the ways in which bourgeois hegemony is reproduced in and through them is so radically complex that no single theory or principle of explanation – and certainly no simple, linear account of cause and effect – can encapsulate it.

Now that I have set out the general line of Jessop’s approach to social analysis the way in which this is reflected in his treatment of state power, it is possible to take a closer look at the details of Jessop’s analysis of the capitalist state. Jessop bases much of what he has to say about the state on Poulantzas’ analysis in State Power Socialism (SPS) – indeed Jessop’s approach seems to be founded, largely, on a conscious and deliberate attempt to refine and develop Poulantzas’ ideas. Like Poulantzas, Jessop characterises the capitalist state as ‘the material condensation of a relation of forces among classes’ (Jessop, 1985: 336) and as ‘a complex social relation that reflects the changing balance of social forces in a determinate conjuncture’ (Jessop, 1982: 221). Like Poulantzas, too, Jessop also points out that, bound up in this material condensation of a relation of forces, is a dialectical relationship between structure and struggle. That is, just as we must conceive of the state as the institutional crystallisation of past class struggle, so we must understand that the structures of the state feed back into the process of class struggle and shape its course of development. Jessop is clear that, as a corollary of the conception of the state as a social relation, we can make ‘no absolute ontological distinction’ (Jessop, 1985: 359) between structure and class practice – the two are so intimately related.

Furthermore, Jessop argues, just as Poulantzas does, that the state consists of a plurality of apparatuses – Jessop refers to it as an ‘institutional ensemble’ (Jessop, 1985: 337) – rather than as a body with some pre-given unity. Similarly, Jessop also claims that the bourgeoisie are not, a priori, a unified force and neither do they have any pre-given control over the state. Instead, the unity of the state apparatus as a whole, the unity of the bourgeoisie (organised under the hegemony of a particular fraction), and the domination of the (unified) bourgeoisie over the (unified) state must be constituted through struggle. Further, this struggle for hegemony and power is a continuous process – the specific form of class domination must be continually renegotiated, modified and renewed. Just as for Poulantzas, state power (class power, constituted by and mediated through the state) for Jessop, consists of an “‘unstable equilibrium of compromise’” (Poulantzas, in Jessop, 1982: 244).

Though Jessop follows Poulantzas in his conceptualisation of the state as a social relation which the bourgeoisie must struggle to shape and control, Jessop rejects Poulantzas’ seeming affirmation that the ruling class is, in some way, destined to establish hegemonic control over the state (and therefore, over society). Unlike Poulantzas, Jessop argues that the domination of the bourgeoisie over the state apparatus is not somehow guaranteed and neither is there any necessary correspondence between the activity of the state and the requirements of the capitalist economy. Jessop is clear that, though:

capitalist relations of production may be a basic precondition of existence of the so
called “particularisation” or structural differentiation of the state form, it does not
follow that the state form is therefore essentially capitalist nor that it will necessarily
serve in turn to reproduce capitalist relations of production
(Jessop, 1982: 222).

Jessop’s position, here, it can be argued, is one which, logically, follows from Poulantzas’ conceptualisation of the state as a fractured terrain and the site of struggle between contradictory class interests – it is a position that Poulantzas would (or should) have arrived at, had he not lapsed into determinism and asserted that the certain domination of the bourgeoisie was somehow guaranteed and inscribed within the structure of the state.

For Jessop, the unification of the bourgeoisie, the unification of the state under their class domination and the cohesion of society more widely (the subordination of the dominated classes to the rule of capital) is established through the successful development and application of a hegemonic project on the part of a particular class fraction. This hegemonic project must win the support of other class fractions, and legitimise the domination of the ruling class over the dominated classes. Hegemonic strategies function, largely, through the coupling of the specific interests of a particular class fraction to the general interest of the ruling class more widely and through the presentation of this interest as the interest of the (de-classed) ‘people-nation’. In order to successfully develop and implement a hegemonic project, the class fraction behind this project must take into account the interests of other classes and class fractions, the projects developed by those other parties and the particular structural constraints within the state apparatus. The project is continually, re-negotiated and modified. The hegemonic project which emerges from the almost chaotic plurality of competing class fraction projects and strategies will be the one which has taken into account, most effectively, the interests of other fractions, and is best adapted to the structural constraints of the state. Of course, this is similar to Poulantzas’ account of the perpetual collision of micro-policies within the state – although, perhaps, Jessop puts much greater emphasis on deliberate strategy driving these projects and their continual adaptation, whereas Poulantzas tends to suggest that the emergence of the overall state line, develops, somehow beyond the conscious control of any particular subject. However, in marked contrast to Poulantzas, Jessop argues that there is a real contingency inherent within this process[2]. Unlike Poulantzas, Jessop is clear that, theoretically, a project developed by any particular class fraction could be successful, that there is no guarantee that any hegemonic project which emerges will successfully provide for the smooth operation of the capitalist system and, indeed, he is clear that there is nothing, in fact, to ensure that any hegemonic project will actually emerge from the competition between micro-policies.

For Jessop, then, the successful reproduction of capitalism through the working of the state is in constant peril. The class domination of the bourgeoisie is always in question and there is necessary reason why the state should function in such a way as to ensure the accumulation of capital - the state is not, of necessity, a capitalist state. Indeed, Jessop suggests that the state could, conceivably, reproduce some non-capitalist mode of production.

If the process of class struggle within the state is so radically open-ended how is it, then, that capitalist states (clearly) tend to reproduce the CMP? This is a question, however, about general tendencies in the functioning of capitalist states. As such, it is not a question, for Jessop, which it is legitimate for us to seek to answer – as we have seen, he does not believe that it is possible to develop any meaningful general theory of the state. As George Taylor comments, for Jessop, ‘there is no abstract theoretical solution to the question of how the political class domination of capital is secured’ (Taylor, in Marsh and Stoker (eds.), 1995: 262). Jessop suggests that we can only seek to build (partial and incomplete) accounts of how a particular instance of bourgeois hegemony is achieved in specific states, in specific conjunctures – ‘we must’, he writes, ‘engage in an analysis of the many determinations that are combined in a concrete conjuncture and show how they are interrelated as necessary and/or sufficient conditions in a contingent structure of causation’ (Jessop, 1982: 213).

There are, it seems to me, some deep problems in Jessop’s approach, however. The first problem is one of logical consistency in Jessop’s argument. Jessop’s approach is clearly influenced by postmodern theorists, such as Foucault, who focus on contingency and indeterminacy in social relationships and who oppose the construction of ‘totalising’ narratives and ‘reductionist’ accounts of social phenomena which privilege certain causal mechanisms while failing to acknowledge the reality or possibility of others. However, just as Jessop’s argument mirrors certain postmodern claims, his argument also reproduces a central paradox of postmodern thought. Briefly, in claiming that there are no final truths or principles of explantion, postmodern theorists are, precisely advancing a kind of final-truth and principle of explanation themselves. Postmodernism swallows its own tail. It abolishes itself.In a similar way, Jessop claims to be advancing a kind of anti-theory - he rejects the idea that we can make meaningful generalisations about capitalist states in general - but this, of course, is a generalisation and a full- blooded theory in itself. [Note this para is crap. I was going to re-write it. But you get the drift]

It seems to fair to point out that Jessop’s claim that we can only analyse state power effectively if we attend to the multiple, contingent determinations that have come together in any particular conjuncture in a particular state and that the conclusions we draw here cannot be generalised, seems (to say the least) rather impractical. This would, surely, constitute an impossibly complicated and, furthermore, an endless task. Moreover, if the conclusions we draw from our analytical focus on the intricate minutiae of the workings of a particular state in a single, specific conjuncture cannot be formulated into a set of wider conclusions about how the capitalist state in general functions then, if this analysis was conceived of as a Marxist endeavour, there would seem to be little point to this Sisyphean labour. One of the hallmarks of Marxist analysis is that it is designed to be of use in, or serve as a guide to, political action (at least potentially). As such it must be able to generate general maxims about social reality which can be formulated into some kind of testable and predictive framework that can help to guide agents in struggle. Jessop’s research methodology – and it is, of course, a methodology he outlines, rather than a substantive set of conclusions about the state – can generate no such thing. It is, as a Marxist approach, of little or no value.

Furthermore, Jessop’s position on the radical contingency of the process of struggle for class hegemony – his argument that ruling class domination and, further, the reproduction of the CMP through state power is in constant jeopardy – seems, in itself, rather unconvincing. Of course, Jessop is right to claim that ruling class hegemony and the rule of capital is not, somehow, absolutely guaranteed – to think otherwise, as Poulantzas does, would be to adopt a functionalist, determinist outlook. However, it is obvious that capitalist states tend to reproduce capitalist social relations – they clearly do not reproduce modes of production haphazardly or at random. A brief glance at the world around us and a passing knowledge of modern history should be enough to convince us that bourgeois class domination and the correlation between capitalist states and the CMP are not brittle, unstable phenomena, just as liable to collapse or disintegrate as they are to persist for any significant length of time. In fact, capitalism seems, on the whole, a remarkably resilient mode of production. It is both legitimate and necessary, I argue, to advance a set of arguments about the capitalist state(in general)'s
tendency to reproduce capitalism. A general theory of the capitalist state has to be central to any socialist political strategy. blah de blah...

[1]In my summary of Jessop’s theory I refer to what he argues in the last chapter of The Capitalist State and to comments in the final chapter of Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and Political Strategy. What Jessop argues in these two chapters is so similar that it seems legitimate to refer to them both as an articulation of the same theory.
[2]As opposed to what we might call the ‘pseudo-contingency’ of Poulantzas account. Any contingency present in Poulantzas' discussion of the development of state policy is cancelled out by his insistence that the outcome is, somehow, pre-determined.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Generation

Blimey, 'Suede' are back! Well, two of them (Anderson and Butler) and they're calling themselves 'The Tears', this time. Who'd have thunk it?

Now if you ask me (and I shall assume that you are) Suede were never the same after Bernard Butler flounced off, frilly shirt flapping and floppy hair flopping, in a 'musical differences' type huff. It's good to see him back collaborating with Brett 'caterwaul' Anderson all these years later.

I have something of an ambivalent attitude twards 'Suede'. Sometimes I think Suede are a fantastic band - I put on one of their albums and it sounds amazing. Other times, I'll put on the same album and find it almost unlistenable. I think it's Anderson's tendency to screech like a cat being kicked up the arse. 'Dog Man Star' is a case in point. It's often singled out as one of the best albums ever made. When I listen to it, however, (depending on the mood I'm in, I think) I sometimes find many of the songs ridiculous, overblown and Anderson's voice makes me cringe. Other times it seems obvious that it really is one of the best albums ever.

I imagine The Tears will have the same effect on me. It's hard to tell at this early stage - I've only heard the single 'Refugees' and it wasn't a screecher (at least relatively speaking).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Albert Einstein on the Possibilty of Socialism

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

Monthly Review, May 1949

Read the rest here

(Is it anachronistic to point out that Einstein should have known better than to refer to humankind, collectively, as 'Man'?)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Marcus Brigstock

Marcus Brigstock has an amusing column today, in which he defends 'Political Correctness' from the barbarian anti-PC hordes. The second half of the article, however, is bollocks.

Accusations of politically correct thought control have become a pathetic and transparent excuse for lazy racists, sexists and Islamophobes the land over. Challenging PC has become a game of chicken for bigots - daring each other to run out into the busy PC motorway and say something stupid before dashing back for cover. Who will dare to go the furthest without actually invading Poland? The Tories? Ukip? The Daily Mail? An excellent comic by the name of Chris Addison has said, "You can tell people who read the Daily Mail because they follow every stupid thing they say with the phrase '... but I suppose that's not politically correct', and think that makes it OK to say whatever they want."

Brigstock was the presenter of the very, very funny spoof history show called 'We are History' which was on the Beeb 4 or 5 years ago. I've never met anyone else who saw this show - it was a weekly 10 minute gem tucked away sometime in the TV schedules, when no-one tends to watch. The show basically took the piss out of history programmes presented by boorish, pompous 'personality' presenters - you, know like that idiot military historian, Richard Holmes, who seems to spend a lot of his time presenting to camera from the saddle of a white charger and with a sabre in his hand. The funniest moment in 'We Are History', I think, was when Brigstock's character, 'David Oxley BA (Hons)', clambered out of a long boat in a horned helmet and brandishing a plastic sword and then charged, yelling and shrieking, up a beach 'to give us some idea of what a viking raid would have looked like'.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Massacre in Uzbekistan

Uzbek soldiers shot at thousands of civilian demonstrators in Andijan yesterday. The BBC reports that:

[t]he violence erupted after days of peaceful protest in the eastern city of Andijan, against the imprisonment of 23 local business leaders accused of Islamic extremism.

A mob reportedly seized arms from a local garrison, before raiding the prison where the men were held and freeing them, along with thousands of other inmates.

They also took control of administrative buildings in the city and took government workers hostage, according to reports.

Just before dusk, troops moved in and opened fire on the crowds in the city square

According to the Guardian:

Lutfulo Shamsutdinov, the head of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan, said he had seen bodies of about 200 victims being loaded onto trucks near the square in the city of Andijan.

A witness in central Andijan told the Associated Press that "many, many dead bodies are stacked up by a school near the square" where the uprising took place.

Daniyar Akbarov, 24, joined the protests after being freed from the prison during the earlier clashes.
"Our women and children are dying," he said with tears in his eyes, beating his chest with his fists. Mr Akbarov said he had seen at least 300 people killed in the violence.

The city's hospital was cordoned off and officials could not be reached for casualty figures.

An AP reporter said she saw at least 30 bodies. All had been shot, and at least one had his skull smashed. She said there were large pools of blood and hundreds of spent cartridges on the streets.

The Uzbek government is claiming that the demonstrators are 'Islamic extremists'. This claim is utterly ridiculous - and, indeed, it is very doubtful that the 23 local business men accused of Islamism (the men the protesters attempted to free) are 'extremists' either. The Guardian states that the 'Akramiya' group the men are said to be members of is a 'moderate Islamist group' which 'gives Muslims a set of rules for life - including requirements to strive for success and give tithes to the poor'. Even in the unlikely event that they are 'extremists', of course, this does not justify the governments massacre of hundreds of civilians including children, who came out to demonstrate.

The likelihood is, however, the charge of religious extremism is a cover to justify the Uzbek government's crackdown on any sort of dissent. The BBC Comments:

critics say the president is using the threat of extremism as a cover to crush dissent.

Andijan, in the densely-populated Ferghana Valley, has a long tradition of independent thought, and is eyed by the government with suspicion, says the BBC's Monica Whitlock in Tashkent.

Thousands of local people have been locked up.

Along with high poverty and unemployment, it has pushed many people beyond the limit of endurance, she says.

So what has Washington - that beacon of liberty, singlemindedly striving to spread freedom and democracy across the world - got to say about this? According to the Guardian, the Whitehouse is 'urging restraint' (naughty Uzbek dictator) but has 'added that some of the prisoners who had been freed were from a "terrorist organisation". They did not elaborate, and the US embassy in Tashent could not say who they were referring to'.

Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch's representative in Tashkent, however, has said, in response to Washington's claims: "We don't know who they are talking about," said Ms Gill. "The use of the word terrorist is unjustified and plays into Uzbek government policy by justifying torture by calling it anti-terrorist measures."

It's no surprise that Washington is merely 'urging restraint', while simultaneously seeking to imply that the brutal crackdown is justifiable.

the US recruited... [Uzbekistan] as an ally in its "war on terror" in October 2001 - setting up a military base in the southern town of Khanabad to aid operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid flowed in, with critics accusing the US of turning a blind eye to the torture record of the regime of the president, Islam Karimov.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Respect Success

"There is a revolt spreading throughout the land in those areas where the poorest people live, where the immigrants, where the exploited live. The revolt is spreading in these areas because these are the areas New Labour has betrayed the most in the last eight years.

"We will now build on our campaign to capture the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham, starting on Monday. We intend to be the new broom that sweeps clean these two rotten boroughs. …"

Extract from Galloway's victory speech.

Selected results:

Bethnal Green and Bow - George Galloway - 15,807 (38.9%)
Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath - Salma Yaqoob - 10,498 (27.5%)
East Ham - Abdul Khaliq Mian - 8,171 (20.7%)
West Ham - Lynsey German - 6,039 (19.5%)
Poplar and Canning Town - Oliur Rahman - 6,573 (17.2%)
Preston - Michael Lavalette - 2,318 (6.8%)
Leicester South - Yvonne Ridley - 2,720 (6.4%)
Tottenham - Janet Alder - 2,014 (6.4%)
Slough - Ajaz Khan - 1,632 (4.4%)
Sheffield Central - Maxine Bowler - 1,284 (4.3%)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Mark Steel on the Election

[We should]... see democracy as more than just a vote. Many of the great changes such as civil rights in America or the dismantling of apartheid took place because millions expressed their discontent, and not just at election time. An international movement against poverty and war is developing, and from this new organisations may emerge.

That process can be encouraged in this election. The only signs of enthusiasm have been for candidates expressing the aspirations of that movement. While in most areas few can be motivated to even display a window poster, in Brighton there are thousands of posters for the Green candidate. In London, Respect holds daily meetings* on council estates, at which dozens of people lean from the balconies to take part. I wonder if people run through housing estates yelling, "Mum, Keith, Dave, come quick or you'll miss Geoff Hoon."

There are many ways of voting without rewarding Blair or Howard. There are anti-war Labour MPs, credible independents, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Greens and Respect. I would rather vote for the Liberal Democrats than a pro-war servant of New Labour. Your vote can't be misinterpreted, and you don't have to walk home from the polling booth feeling sullied.

The original is here, but you need to pay to see it.

*Just in case any pedants are reading this - the original appears to read 'Respects hold daily meetings', and I've altered this printing error. Steel clearly means 'Respect holds daily meetings'.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hmmm.. Veeerrry Interesting.

According to the Indie today:

Labour is warning supporters that Michael Howard could become prime minister in an attempt to neuter the influence of left-wing MPs by winning a big majority in the general election.

Although Labour chiefs are deepy worried that Iraq has dominated the closing stages of the campaign, they are privately hopeful of winning an unpredecented third term. They are talking up the threat of a surprise Tory victory amid fears that some of Tony Blair's flagship policies could be blocked by 50 left-wingers likely to be elected.

Senior Labour officials admitted they would have a "party-management problem" if Mr Blair's majority were cut from its present 159 to 50. They hope to win a majority of at least 80 to make it easier to push through the public service reforms in their manifesto.

Cut Labour's majority and strangle New Labour.

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