Monday, 28 April 2014

The truth of liberalism - Ross Wolfe

Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History

"Taking stock of the internal tensions abounding within liberal bourgeois thought, Losurdo rejects as insufficient any attempt to blithely explain away these ideological inconsistencies as if they were of no consequence.  Liberalism’s inner divisions and cognitive dissonances were real, and cannot be so easily glossed over.  They deserve rather to be taken seriously, insists Losurdo.  And so what he instead chooses to affirm about liberalism is precisely the simultaneity of its contradictory aspects, discovering a dialectic of “emancipation and dis-emancipation”[9] hidden within its own conceptual underpinnings.  Central to Losurdo’s thesis are three main contentions.  To begin with, he controversially asserts that the dis-emancipatory characteristics of liberalism are by no means accidental to its historical appearance.  Quite the opposite, argues Losurdo: the emancipation of certain class elements within society was indissolubly bound up with the domination of others.  A corollary to this claim is the argument that the universal rights proclaimed by liberal thinkers were, from the very beginning, explicitly predicated upon “macroscopic exclusion clauses” that left large swaths of the population outside their sphere of application.  Thus, despite producing documents that were clearly “inspired and pervaded by a universal pathos of liberty,” the reality of liberal society failed to measure up to its high-minded rhetoric"

"While the enslaved status of blacks in the colonies was passed on to their descendents on a hereditary basis, the indenture of local subject-populations was usually maintained by threat of military force.  At the same time, however, Losurdo makes sure to emphasize that the dis-emancipation he associates with the rise of liberalism was hardly limited to the colonial fringe.  Meanwhile, in the metropole of these liberal Western states, a corresponding disenfranchisement was taking place.  Rehearsing the well-known Marxist narrative on the circumstances surrounding the primitive accumulation of capital, Losurdo argues that this was closely tied to the systematic dispossession and deracination of the English and European peasantry through enclosure.[12]  Many of the peasants uprooted in this fashion went on to look for work in the cities, merging there with the nascent urban proletariat.  Losurdo links this economic process symbolically to the political event of the Glorious Revolution."

"The automatic association of slavery with a particular race or skin color was something new"

Is this true?

"Moreover, liberalism’s impassioned defense of citizens’ absolute right to enjoy their personal property against the meddlesome influence of the state (i.e., bourgeois property rights) led to the further dehumanization of those who were themselves regarded as property.  In other words, Losurdo maintains, in undermining the absolute power of authority wielded by the patrimonial and ecclesiastical state over the commons in traditional societies, liberal thinkers transferred this absolute power of authority to individuals over their own property.  Whereas in the former relationship the entire territory belonging to the sovereign or prelate was viewed as simply an extension of his property (or as tributary regions subject to his suzerainty), in the latter relationship property rights were extended throughout the whole of civil society.  This leads Losurdo to make some of his most compelling observations."

"This leads Losurdo to make some of his most compelling observations.  Contrasting the work of the archliberal thinkers Locke and Grotius with the ideas of one of the most outstanding theoreticians of political absolutism, Jean Bodin, Losurdo notes the following: While the former two upheld the slave-owner’s inalienable right to dispose of his human property as he sees fit, Bodin appealed to the authority of both the Church and the Crown — that is, to the First and Second Estates — to step in and place moral and legal limits on the slaveholder’s prerogative.[14]  This stubborn reluctance on the part of liberal philosophers like Locke and Grotius to sanction any mandate imposed from above that would require an individual to discharge his legal property (in this case, his slaves) was mirrored in the prolonged survival of the “peculiar institution” in the colonies of liberal countries such as England and Holland.  Of course, this would by extension include the rebel colony of the former, the United States"

"This, in turn, took place over the course of the seventeenth century, all the way up through the first half of the nineteenth, as part of the more general transformation of traditional agrarian societies into their modern industrial counterpart.  Citing the well-documented expansion of the penal code during this period, Losurdo shows how this entire campaign of expropriation was accompanied, moreover, by a “criminalization of behavior that had hitherto been licit.”[16]  This only served to compound the already desolate situation in which the former peasantry now found itself, leading to an even greater depopulation of the countryside.  Upon arriving in the city, notes Losurdo, families dispossessed in this manner often lived in abject poverty and destitution, forced to take whatever job they could get — no matter how tedious, degrading, or dangerous — in order to survive"

"By treating radicalism — a category that includes most forms of utopian socialism, anarchism, and Marxism — as utterly exogenous to liberalism, one misses the moment in which (in an almost Hegelian transformation of something into its opposite)[254] liberalism itself became illiberal.  This moment, as stated, is June 1848.  Here the liberal worldview as a project of emancipation finally stalled out, unable to attain to the precedent it had set in 1789."


Friday, 25 April 2014

Thoughts on Representative democracy .

*Work in progress*

For Direct Democracy

  "Therefore, those who really want 'government of the people' in the sense that each can assert his or her own will, ideas and needs, must ensure that no-one, majority or minority, can rule over others; in other words, they must abolish government, meaning any coercive organisation, and replace it with the free organisation of those with common interests and aims"- Errico Malatesta.

  • Liberalism  spawns  Representative democracy.
  • Liberalism ties together the idea of the individualistic atomistic self , private property,  
  • Representative democracy is very very useful to the state and capitalism. It is the most mystifying form of government imaginable. It expresses and involves all of the liberal ideas anarchism seeks to debunk.
  • Reformism:  a politics which seeks to alter the oppression of existing society into liberation it seeks to make  capitalism into socialism for example 
  • Representative democracy only  made oppression easier to administer than under feudalism and opened the way to reformism.
  • Representative democracy  made reformism the official means of social change according to itself. Reformists not only end up supporting the existing order in the end but also the reformists use the thought of the capitalist system, they argue its ideas   and insofar as they do so,  both have aligned interests. Reformist keeps oppression intact. The Revolutionary is open to reforms but deeply hostile to reformism   
  • It increased the idea of distinction between private and public spheres.


"The cry for the “rights of man” is little more than the universal command to buy and sell"

"It is because representation excludes us instead of including us. In elections we choose someone to speak on our behalf, to take our place. We exclude ourselves. We create a separation between those who represent and those who are represented and we freeze it in time, giving it a duration, excluding ourselves as subjects until we have an opportunity to confirm the separation in the next elections. A world of politics is created, separate from the daily life of society, a world of politics populated by a distinct caste of politicians who speak their own language and have their own logic, the logic of power. It is not that they are absolutely separated from society and its antagonisms, for they have to worry about the next elections and opinion polls and organised pressure groups, but they see and hear only that which is translated into their world, their language, their logic. At the same time a parallel world is created, a theoretical, academic world which mirrors this separation between politics and society, the world of political science and political journalism which teaches us the peculiar language and logic of the politicians and helps us to see the world through their blind eyes."

"Representation is part of the general process of separation which is capitalism. It is completely wrong to think of representative government as a challenge to capitalist rule or even as a potential challenge to capital. Representative democracy is not opposed to capital: rather it is an extension of capital, it projects the principle of capitalist domination into our opposition to capital. Representation builds upon the atomisation of individuals (and the fetishisation of time and space) which capital imposes. Representation separates representatives from represented, leaders from led, and imposes hierarchical structures. The left always accuse the leaders, the representatives, of betrayal: but there is no betrayal, or rather betrayal is not the act of the leaders but built into the very process of representation"

"Representation always involves a distance between representatives and represented. In that sense, crisis is built in to the very nature of representation. But there is also a mechanism for resolving that crisis: in elections, the failure of representation is presented as the failure of one set of representatives. People vote for the other set of representatives and so the system is maintained."

"the essential function of really existing democracy within capitalism is principally an ideological one, to pacify or mobilize the masses to support the capitalist state itself and to foster the illusion of self-rule, the objective content which is to ensure the mass participation in their own subordination and exploitation. Real democratic demands can be met within limits but such limits could never be exceeded without democratic rights being immediately annulled through the use of “emergency” powers, anti-sedition or anti-terrorist laws. In other words, the limits of bourgeois democracy are strictly determined by the mode of production and balance of class forces. There will never be a referendum to eliminate exploitation. "

"Athenian democracy was the rule of a small percentage of the populous, never including more than 20% of the total, excluding slaves, freed slaves, women and foreign born. Later the definition was restricted to include only males of pure Athenian lineage, over 20 years of age, who had served in the military. Citizenship in ancient Athens was based on very specific identity of blood, geography, and state service. It was not, as the modern translation of dêmos would imply, derived from the universal rights of the sovereign individual. The common criticism of Greek democracy was of course its limited participation but the system that developed to insure the full participation of this identitarian minority was truly astounding and worth understanding. "

"It appears at every turn that the rich Athenians acted in exactly the same way as the rich today in manipulating democratic forms so that there would be little to no threat to the social structure and its division of wealth.But manipulation of the structure of democracy cannot explain why the lower two classes never threatened the social order of Athenian society in the age of direct democracy. Formally they had the rights and the power to do so. Arguments that the lower class Athenian citizens were essentially “bought-off” in much the same way that poor Southern whites were “bought-off” by the honor of “whiteness” are certainly useful in explaining the loyalty of the lowest class of thetes to the polis, but what such arguments cannot explain is why such inclusion/exclusion takes the democratic form. The privileging of one section of the population over another can appear in virtually any form of governance. The explanation for the appearance of the democratic form lies elsewhere, it is to be found in the emergence of two unique historic phenomena: the hopelite farmer/warrior whose identity was inseparable from his private property and silver coinage as This is the principle medium of exchange, i.e. specifically in the appearance of a new mode of production and distribution. not to assert a mechanistic causality between base and superstructure as in certain expression of orthodox Marxism, but to assert the materialist linkage between forms of social being and forms of consciousness. Many factors were involved in the formation of Greek social organization; it is our intention to highlight only two of them that seem fundamental for understanding both the origins of the democratic form and more importantly the limitations of that form."

"The very source of western political thought as well as the political as a separate sphere of social activity has its specific origins in the effort to counteract the centrifugal tendencies of private property with the centripetal force of political organizations based on conceptual abstractions, i.e. the universal and equal rights of the citizen. The evolution from timocracy to democracy occurred as Athenian society developed into a more commercial culture – money wealth rather than landed property-- had the effect of reinforcing the definition of each citizen as the separate and singular possessor of rights unified by the abstract definition of those rights. That is, irrespective of the actual ownership of property or the actual wealth of any, each had the right to own property potentially. Without this right, all property would be under threat. It is significant, even decisive, that in Solon’s reforms, he specifically forbid the ancient practice of placing ones self as collateral for a loan, a practice that had resulted in thousands of Athenian citizens falling into debt slavery; henceforth, only property could stand as collateral for loans. The citizen could never again be enslaved without first losing his political right to citizenship. At this moment the very essence of Athenian identity –landed property—is separated from the political sphere to the purely economic sphere and becomes universally commensurable, that is to say, commercially exchangeable, forever free to float through the social body in exactly the same way (form)--though decisively separated--as an autonomous and universal right. One can lose ones property but never the abstract right to own property. To use Sismondi’s metaphor, “commerce separated the shadow from the body, and introduced the possibility of owning them separately.”6Henceforth, the divided self will be defined as a citizen and “ divested of his real individual life and filled with an unreal universal.”7The individual will be identified as part of an abstract community quite independent of the organic (material) ground upon which real life depends. The political becomes an autonomous sphere of power while the economy does its work in the shadows. The foundation of democracy requires just such a separation allowing each individual to be the owner of an abstract right: the right to citizenship, the equal right to own property and equal right to vote. It is for this reason it would not be incorrect to place democracy at the very threshold of the original division between the state and civil society, a relationship which Marx compares heaven to earth."

"Although ancient Greek democracy was the first and perhaps the best example of direct democracy ever practiced, it was nevertheless limited both in its actuality and in its theory. It never reached beyond a highly restricted minority nor did it ever posit itself as a universal system of self-rule, that is to say, it never attained universality. Democracy had to wait another two thousand years before it remerged in its more abstract and universal form. We will argue that its universality is directly linked to the birth of capitalism and in particular with the evolution of labor as wage labor. However, modern democracy did not emerge as a mode of emancipation from the horrors of capitalist expansion but a political mode of first dominating labor and then absorbing labor into the machinery of production to satisfy the demands of capital. While the Greeks sought a positive community that was capable of overcoming the possessive individualism by willfully creating a political ethos, the modern world has driven the individual into isolation and existential despair while subsuming him into the totalizing structures of late capitalism. Modern democracy is less an ethos than a specific technology of power that weakens rather than strengthens, that entraps rather than liberates, that divides rather than unifies."

"The importance of labor will become evident if we look at Locke more closely. John Locke (1632-1704) is widely known, as the father of liberalism and some would say the modern conception of the self"

"A closer look at Locke’s theory however does not necessarily conclude that this labor is exclusively the labor of ones own body, it can also include setting to work the labor of others through the purchase of labor power in the form of wages, or under certain conditions, slavery itself. Locke was acutely aware of these relationships, so much so that he understood the new form of labor as the veritable definition of man. After once touring the Lancashire district in England he wrote, “the children of the laboring people are an ordinary burden to the parish and usually maintained in idleness so that their labor is also lost to the public till they are 12 or 14 years old.” He concluded that children should be put to work at the age of three with a belly full of bread supplemented in cold weather by “a little warm water-gruel.” Not surprisingly, Daniel Defoe, after touring the same district sometime later, reported that he was delighted to see four-year-olds working in the cotton industry and finding useful employment! Neither Defoe nor Locke saw children in these observations, but rather “idleness, burdens, and lost labor” or rather we should say quite simply, they could see only labor which is in their view the essence of the human subject. In Defoe’s Robinson Caruso, considered among the first modern novels, the protagonist carries civilization within himself, (in radical contrast to the Athenian subject) which is expressed through the proper organization of his own labors and the labor of others, therefore activating the highest calling of the sovereign subject and the very foundations of bourgeois society."

"Locke and his ilk were not only observers but also active participants in all of this. Their emerging democratic philosophies are direct expressions of the need for absolute security of private property, of accumulated capital and above all the need for free-labor. The sovereign subject who is the irrevocable owner of his own person (including his own labor) was NOT a step in the direction of freedom and liberty, but rather the philosophic weapon used to justify the confiscation of the common’s and native lands. Locke’s hands were soiled in this bloody story."

"The democratic premise is in fact based on the concept of the self as the “private property” of the self. Even among the more radical and egalitarian of the age, this axiomatic idea was foundational to the promotion of a more just society. Richard Overton, English Leveller and pamphleteer wrote “To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature, not to be invaded or usurped by any: for everyone as he is himself, so he hath a self property, else could not be himself.” Bourgeoisie theoreticians would of course tell us that these ideas emerged to protect the individual against the tyranny of the absolute power of kings and aristocrats, but what is rarely mentioned is that these same ideas were used to “protect” the individual against the tyranny of the commons! Locke himself supported the enclosures and justified the confiscation of native lands in America by claiming even the poorest English farmer is better off then the Native American due specifically to his rational deployment of labor, and of course it is the deployment of labor that is Locke’s justification of private property."

"Private property, free-labor and democratic ideologies are inseparable as they emerged together to reinforce one another, each replicating the other’s form. The new free worker possesses his own body and his own labor power, however he is unable to activate his sovereign body until he first alienates its power in return for a wage, much like the democratic subject who possesses a sovereign self and a sovereign right to which he must alienate in the form of a vote (in essence a contract that the subject agrees to abide by the majority decision) in order to secure his body’s continued sovereignty. "

"What we have tried to show up to this point is the intractable link between democratic ideology, private property, money and wage labor. Gradually man comes to be dominated by abstract universals through the dissolution of organic community bonds and the division of the self into the solitary concrete subject (body) on the one hand and the universal citizen or owner of abstract rights as well as the owner of labor power that can only be activated through the exchange on the other. But these tendencies do not come fully formed; capitalism begins the long process of radically reshaping social relationships in the sixteenth century but against tremendous resistance both from above and below."

"In the formal phase of capitalist domination—the era of the democratic revolutions and the capture of political power by the bourgeoisie—the principle task of the constitutional state was to liberate the economy from the plethora of archaic encumbrances, and reconfigure the bonds that hold society together through individual rights and constitutional law."

"  As Marx writes,
"The establishment of the political state and the dissolution of civil society into independent individuals—whose relations with one another depend on law, just as the relations of men into the system of estates and guilds depended on privilege—is accomplished by one and the same act. "

"This leads to Marx’s summary judgment that “The real content of “bourgeois” freedom is therefore at the same time the most complete suspension of all individual freedom, and the most complete subjugation of individuality. Bourgeois freedom has historically meant only one thing, the freedom of capital. "

"Speaking in 1831 at a parliamentary debate on extending suffrage, Prime Minister Charles Grey said, “The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution… I am reforming to preserve not to overthrow.” The 1832 reform bill extended the franchise from 450,000 to 650,000 out of a population of 14,000,000. The story of progressive enfranchisement continued well into the 20th century until the integration of the working classes was so total as to pose virtually no obstacle to capital. It s principle function was to ensure that the resistance was always posited in a political form that presupposed the preeminence of an enforcing and legally binding state apparatus. "

"This is why, while for capital we live in a real democracy, this same democracy is for the majority—for the proletarians—a falsehood, since its content is not effectively democratic. Bourgeois democracy is simply the rule of capital over the proletariat under a democratic form, under the appearance of freedom."

"In the domestic sphere, liberalism is far more hegemonic. It is the basis of parliamentary democracy, politics conceived as a debating chamber, “a theatre in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk.” By contrast, libertarian communists argue that “our society is not a debating chamber, but a power struggle between different groups with competing interests.” "

"On the other hand, a successful election draws the people and the state together. This is necessary because during session the opposition between citizens and the government is plainly visible and reinforced: The government’s job is to restrict or negate the interests of its citizens in the general public interest. The pledge of allegiance to the state enacted by voting maintains and makes feasible the contradiction between compulsion and consent12 . Through the choice of the personnel of domination, domination itself does not appear as such but instead is recognised as a service provided to the voters"

"Democratic opposition directs critique to its decent content. That is, a content which is supportive of the state. It is an invitation to the voter to solve her problem with politics by replacing the politicians. The common anti-critical statement ‘if you do not vote you cannot complain’ expresses this demand for subordination rather clearly. According to this it is beyond consideration that the election itself might be subject to critique"

"For me there is no doubt that the worst of democracies is always preferable, if only from the educational point of view, than the best of dictatorships. Of course democracy, so-called government of the people, is a lie; but the lie always slightly binds the liar and limits the extent of his arbitrary power. Of course the 'sovereign people' is a clown of a sovereign, a slave with a papier-mache^ crown and sceptre"-Democracy and Anarchy - Errico Malatesta

Further Reading :-

Capitalist Democracy: The Illusion of Choice,

Power and Democracy,  John Holloway.

Towards a Critique of the Democratic Form (Draft) B. York
Beyond democracy - Roi Ferreiro

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Thoughts on the state

  • Elman Service -"In all of the archaic civilisations and historically known chiefdoms and primitive states the 'stratification' was . . . mainly of two classes, the governors and the governed - political strata, not strata of ownership groups." (quoted by Taylor)
  • "Anarchists are opposed to the state because it is not neutral, it cannot be made to serve our interests. The structures of the state are only necessary when a minority seeks to rule over the majority. We argue that the working class can create our own structures, organised and run from below upwards, to ensure the efficient running of everyday life."
  • "If power belongs to the state, then the state is a public body distinct from the population and, therefore, not an instrument of working class power. Rather, as an institution designed to ensure minority rule, it would ensure its position within society and become either the ruling class itself or create a new class which instrument it would be. As we discuss in section H.3.9 the state cannot be considered as a neutral instrument of economic class rule, it has specific interests in itself which can and does mean it can play an oppressive and exploitative role in society independently of an economically dominant class."
  • representative democracy=  the people select who decides for them and who carries it out.
  • anarchism= those who make the decisions are the ones who carry them out . This is direct democracy.
  • The state is not some neutral institution. The purpose of the state is to  protect capitalism and the other systems of oppression and to unify their interests. While it may punish some oppressors or grant concessions  it only does so to maintain the integrity of the whole system. The state is willing to sacrifice the short term interests of some oppressors for the long term interest of maintaining the status quo  in the long term. 
  • Capitalism needs the state to expand and continue.
  • The state will do benevolent things to cover it's oppressive heart.
  • capitalists control the state either by bribes or by making the state kowtow to the interests of the market."
  •  Noam Chomsky :"In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general population." (Turning the Tide,)
  • Capitalists and the state loves the ide of representative democracy. It makes it look benevolent, neutral, etc .
  • " By effectively disempowering the masses and centralising power into the hands of the few which make up the government, the very nature of the state ensures that it remains under elite control. This is why, from the start, the capitalist class has favoured centralisation."
  • anarchists seek a society in which those who make the decisions, carry them out too. That is to say direct democracy unmediated by bosses or capitalists or politicians.  We do not believe that representative democracy truly is democratic. The ability to chose who makes decisions for you is not empowering in any meaningful sense of that word.
  • The state has a vested interest in maintaining and expanding capitalism. Oppression cannot be ended until it's protector( the state) is ended. However oppression is not reducible to the state or capitalism.
  • Regardless of squabbling over words the mistake common to both the liberal and the Leninist is the belief that if their people get in control of the state then the state will become a benevolent institution whether that's a 'peoples republic' , a 'workers state' or just 'good government'. There cannot be a peoples state.  The problem is not who is in charge of the state ,the problem is the existence of states themselves- all states, everywhere and anywhere, past present and future.
  • Even if someone with  anti-capitalist beliefs got in power they could not change what the state is. Even if  an anarchist got in control of the state they could not make it  an institution for liberation. This much was proven when members of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT got into the republican government during the Spanish Civil war .

"the state is, as we discussed in section B.2.1, a tool of the capitalist class. This, it must be stressed, does not mean that they always see "eye to eye." Top politicians, for example, are part of the ruling elite, but they are in competition with other parts of it. In addition, different sectors of the capitalist class are competing against each other for profits, political influence, privileges, etc. The bourgeoisie, argued Malatesta, "are always at war among themselves . . . Thus the games of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions and withdrawals, the attempts to find allies among the people against the conservatives, and among the conservatives against the people." [Anarchy, p. 25] This means that different sections of the ruling class will cluster around different parties, depending on their interests, and these parties will seek to gain power to further those interests. This may bring them into conflict with other sections of the capitalist class. The state is the means by which these conflicts can be resolved.
Given that the role of the state is to ensure the best conditions for capital as a whole, this means that, when necessary, it can and does work against the interests of certain parts of the capitalist class. To carry out this function the state needs to be above individual capitalists or companies. This is what can give the state the appearance of being a neutral social institution and can fool people into thinking that it represents the interests of society as a whole. Yet this sometime neutrality with regards to individual capitalist companies exists only as an expression of its role as an instrument of capital in general. Moreover, without the tax money from successful businesses the state would be weakened and so the state is in competition with capitalists for the surplus value produced by the working class. Hence the anti-state rhetoric of big business which can fool those unaware of the hand-in-glove nature of modern capitalism to the state"

"As such, the state is often in conflict with sections of the capitalist class, just as sections of that class use the state to advance their own interests within the general framework of protecting the capitalist system (i.e. the interests of the ruling class as a class). The state's role is to resolve such disputes within that class peacefully. Under modern capitalism, this is usually done via the "democratic" process (within which we get the chance of picking the representatives of the elite who will oppress us least)."

"While recognising that the state protects the power and position of the economically dominant class within a society anarchists also argue that the state has, due to its hierarchical nature, interests of its own. Thus it cannot be considered as simply the tool of the economically dominant class in society. States have their own dynamics, due to their structure, which generate their own classes and class interests and privileges (and which allows them to escape from the control of the economic ruling class and pursue their own interests, to a greater or lesser degree). As Malatesta put it "the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its servant and protector, tends, as with every servant and every protector, to achieve its own emancipation and to dominate whoever it protects." [Op. Cit., p. 25]"

Thus, even in a class system like capitalism, the state can act independently of the ruling elite and, potentially, act against their interests. As part of its role is to mediate between individual capitalists/corporations, it needs sufficient power to tame them and this requires the state to have some independence from the class whose interests it, in general, defends. And such independence can be used to further its own interests, even to the detriment of the capitalist class, if the circumstances allow. If the capitalist class is weak or divided then the state can be in a position to exercise its autonomy vis-à-vis the economically dominant elite, using against the capitalists as a whole the tools it usually applies to them individually to further its own interests and powers.
This means that the state it not just "the guardian of capital" for it "has a vitality of its own and constitutes . . . a veritable social class apart from other classes . . . ; and this class has its own particular parasitical and usurious interests, in conflict with those of the rest of the collectivity which the State itself claims to represent . . . The State, being the depository of society's greatest physical and material force, has too much power in its hands to resign itself to being no more than the capitalists' guard dog." [Luigi Fabbri, quoted by David Berry, A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945, p. 39]
Therefore the state machine (and structure), while its modern form is intrinsically linked to capitalism, cannot be seen as being a tool usable by the majority. This is because the "State, any State -- even when it dresses-up in the most liberal and democratic form -- is essentially based on domination, and upon violence, that is upon despotism -- a concealed but no less dangerous despotism." The State "denotes power, authority, domination; it presupposes inequality in fact." [The Political Philosophy of Michael Bakunin, p. 211 and p. 240] The state, therefore, has its own specific logic, its own priorities and its own momentum. It constitutes its own locus of power which is not merely a derivative of economic class power. Consequently, the state can be beyond the control of the economically dominant class and it need not reflect economic relations."

"This is due to its hierarchical and centralised nature, which empowers the few who control the state machine -- "[e]very state power, every government, by its nature places itself outside and over the people and inevitably subordinates them to an organisation and to aims which are foreign to and opposed to the real needs and aspirations of the people." If "the whole proletariat . . . [are] members of the government . . . there will be no government, no state, but, if there is to be a state there will be those who are ruled and those who are slaves." [Bakunin on Anarchism,

As such, it is important to stress that the minority whose interests the state defends need not be an economically dominant one (although it usually is). Under some circumstances a priesthood can be a ruling class, as can a military group or a bureaucracy. This means that the state can also effectively replace the economically dominant elite as the exploiting class. This is because anarchists view the state as having (class) interests of its own.
As we discuss in more detail in section H.3.9, the state cannot be considered as merely an instrument of (economic) class rule. History has shown numerous societies were the state itself was the ruling class and where no other dominant economic class existed. The experience of Soviet Russia indicates the validity of this analysis. The reality of the Russian Revolution contrasted starkly with the Marxist claim that a state was simply an instrument of class rule and, consequently, the working class needed to build its own state within which to rule society. Rather than being an instrument by which working class people could run and transform society in their own interests, the new state created by the Russian Revolution soon became a power over the class it claimed to represent (see section H.6 for more on this). The working class was exploited and dominated by the new state and its bureaucracy rather than by the capitalist class as previously. This did not happen by chance. As we discuss in section H.3.7, the state has evolved certain characteristics (such as centralisation, delegated power and so on) which ensure its task as enforcer of minority rule is achieved. Keeping those characteristics will inevitably mean keeping the task they were created to serve.
Thus, to summarise, the state's role is to repress the individual and the working class as a whole in the interests of economically dominant minorities/classes and in its own interests. It is "a society for mutual insurance between the landlord, the military commander, the judge, the priest, and later on the capitalist, in order to support such other's authority over the people, and for exploiting the poverty of the masses and getting rich themselves." Such was the "origin of the State; such was its history; and such is its present essence." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 94]
So while the state is an instrument of class rule it does not automatically mean that it does not clash with sections of the class it represents nor that it has to be the tool of an economically dominant class. One thing is sure, however. The state is not a suitable tool for securing the emancipation of the oppressed."

"anarchists reject the Marxist definition and theory of the state. For Marxists, "the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another." While it has been true that, historically, it is "the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and this acquires the means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class," this need not always be the case. The state is "at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy," although it "cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible" of it "until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap." This new state, often called the "dictatorship of the proletariat," would slowly "wither away" (or "dies out") as classes disappear and the state "at last . . . becomes the real representative of the whole of society" and so "renders itself unnecessary." Engels is at pains to differentiate this position from that of the anarchists, who demand "the abolition of the state out of hand." [Selected Works"

"For anarchists, this argument has deep flaws. Simply put, unlike the anarchist one, this is not an empirically based theory of the state. Rather, we find such a theory mixed up with a metaphysical, non-empirical, a-historic definition which is based not on what the state is but rather what is could be. Thus the argument that the state "is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another" is trying to draw out an abstract essence of the state rather than ground what the state is on empirical evidence and analysis. This perspective, anarchists argue, simply confuses two very different things, namely the state and popular social organisation, with potentially disastrous results. By calling the popular self-organisation required by a social revolution the same name as a hierarchical and centralised body constructed for, and evolved to ensure, minority rule, the door is wide open to confuse popular power with party power, to confuse rule by the representatives of the working class with working class self-management of the revolution and society"

"In summary, the Marxist theory of the state is simply a-historic and postulates some kind of state "essence" which exists independently of actual states and their role in society. To confuse the organ required by a minority class to execute and maintain its rule and that required by a majority class to manage society is to make a theoretical error of great magnitude. It opens the door to the idea of party power and even party dictatorship. As such, the Marxism of Marx and Engels is confused on the issue of the state. Their comments fluctuate between the anarchist definition of the state (based, as it is, on generalisations from historical examples) and the a-historic definition (based not on historical example but rather derived from a supra-historical analysis). Trying to combine the metaphysical with the scientific, the authoritarian with the libertarian, could only leave their followers with a confused legacy and that is what we find"


anarchist quotes on the state

Section B.

B.2 Why are anarchists against the state?

"The State is authority, domination, and force, organised by the property-owning and so-called enlightened classes against the masses . . . the State's domination . . . [ensures] that of the privileged classes who it solely represents." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 140]

"[T]he State . . . and Capitalism are facts and conceptions which we cannot separate from each other. In the course of history these institutions have developed, supporting and reinforcing each other.

"They are connected with each other -- not as mere accidental co-incidences. They are linked together by the links of cause and effect." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 94]

 As Malatesta put it, anarchists "have used the word State, and still do, to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the power to make laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force." [Anarchy, p. 17]

He continues:

"For us, government [or the state] is made up of all the governors; and the governors . . . are those who have the power to make laws regulating inter-human relations and to see that they are carried out . . . [and] who have the power, to a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical, intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige everybody to carry out their wishes. And this power, in our opinion, constitutes the principle of government, of authority." [Op. Cit., p. 19]

Kropotkin presented a similar analysis, arguing that the state "not only includes the existence of a power situated above society, but also of a territorial concentration as well as the concentration in the hands of a few of many functions in the life of societies . . . A whole mechanism of legislation and of policing has to be developed in order to subject some classes to the domination of others." [The State: Its Historic Role, p. 10]

 For Bakunin, all states "are in essence only machines governing the masses from above, through . . . a privileged minority, allegedly knowing the genuine interests of the people better than the people themselves." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin,

 Murray Bookchin writes:

"Minimally, the State is a professional system of social coercion -- not merely a system of social administration as it is still naively regarded by the public and by many political theorists. The word 'professional' should be emphasised as much as the word 'coercion.' . . . It is only when coercion is institutionalised into a professional, systematic and organised form of social control -- that is, when people are plucked out of their everyday lives in a community and expected not only to 'administer' it but to do so with the backing of a monopoly of violence -- that we can properly speak of a State." [Remaking Society, p. 66]

"  anarchists reject the idea that the state is the same as society or that any grouping of human beings living and organised together is a state"

"the state is a specific way in which human affairs are organised in a given area, a way marked by certain institutions which, in turn, have certain characteristics. "

 anarchists argue that "the political regime . . . is always an expression of the economic regime which exists at the heart of society." This means that regardless of how the state changes, it "continues to be shaped by the economic system, of which it is always the expression and, at the same time, the consecration and the sustaining force." Needless to say, there is not always an exact match and sometimes "the political regime of a country finds itself lagging behind the economic changes that are taking place, and in that case it will abruptly be set aside and remodelled in a way appropriate to the economic regime that has been established." [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel

As such, we can say that, for anarchists, the state is marked by three things:

    1) A "monopoly of violence" in a given territorial area;
    2) This violence having a "professional," institutional nature; and
    3) A hierarchical nature, centralisation of power and initiative into the hands of a few.

Of these three aspects, the last one (its centralised, hierarchical nature) is the most important simply because the concentration of power into the hands of the few ensures a division of society into government and governed (which necessitates the creation of a professional body to enforce that division). Hence we find Bakunin arguing that "[w]ith the State there must go also . . . all organisation of social life from the top downward, via legislation and government." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 242] In other words, "the people was not governing itself." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 120]

"with the state there is always a hierarchical and status difference between rulers and ruled. Even if it is a democracy, where we suppose those who rule today are not rulers tomorrow, there are still differences in status. In a democratic system, only a tiny minority will ever have the opportunity to rule and these are invariably drawn from the elite." [Harold Barclay, The State, pp. 23-4]

Thus, the "essence of government" is that "it is a thing apart, developing its own interests" and so is "an institution existing for its own sake, preying upon the people, and teaching them whatever will tend to keep it secure in its seat." [Voltairine de Cleyre, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 27 and p. 26] And so "despotism resides not so much in the form of the State or power as in the very principle of the State and political power." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 211]

As the state is the delegation of power into the hands of the few, it is obviously based on hierarchy. This delegation of power results in the elected people becoming isolated from the mass of people who elected them and outside of their control (see section B.2.4). In addition, as those elected are given power over a host of different issues and told to decide upon them, a bureaucracy soon develops around them to aid in their decision-making and enforce those decisions once they have been reached. However, this bureaucracy, due to its control of information and its permanency, soon has more power than the elected officials. Therefore "a highly complex state machine . . . leads to the formation of a class especially concerned with state management, which, using its acquired experience, begins to deceive the rest for its personal advantage." [Kropotkin, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, p. 61] This means that those who serve the people's (so-called) servant have more power than those they serve, just as the politician has more power than those who elected him. All forms of state-like (i.e. hierarchical) organisations inevitably spawn a bureaucracy about them. This bureaucracy soon becomes the de facto focal point of power in the structure, regardless of the official rules.

This means, under the current system, the capitalists "need the state to legalise their methods of robbery, to protect the capitalist system." [Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 16] The state, as we discuss in section B.2.1, is the defender of private property (see section B.3 for a discussion of what anarchists mean by that term and how it differs from individual possessions).

This means that in capitalist states the mechanisms of state domination are controlled by and for a corporate elite (and hence the large corporations are often considered to belong to a wider "state-complex"). Indeed, as we discuss in more depth in section F.8, the "State has been, and still is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its powers over the masses." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 97] Section B.2.3 indicates how this is domination is achieved in a representative democracy.

However this does not mean anarchists think that the state is purely an instrument of economic class rule. As Malatesta argued, while "a special class (government) which, provided with the necessary means of repression, exists to legalise and protect the owning class from the demands of the workers . . . it uses the powers at its disposal to create privileges for itself and to subject, if it can, the owning class itself as well." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 183] Thus the state has interests of its own, distinct from and sometimes in opposition to the economic ruling elite. This means that both state and capitalism needs to be abolished, for the former is as much a distinct (and oppressive and exploitative) class as the former. This aspects of the state is discussed in section B.2.6.

As part of its role as defender of capitalism, the state is involved in not only in political domination but also in economic domination. This domination can take different forms, varying from simply maintaining capitalist property rights to actually owning workplaces and exploiting labour directly. Thus every state intervenes in the economy in some manner. While this is usually to favour the economically dominant, it can also occur try and mitigate the anti-social nature of the capitalist market and regulate its worse abuses. We discuss this aspect of the state in section B.2.2.
Needless to say, the characteristics which mark a state did not develop by chance. As we discuss in section H.3.7, anarchists have an evolutionary perspective on the state. This means that it has a hierarchical nature in order to facilitate the execution of its role, its function. As sections B.2.4 and B.2.5 indicate, the centralisation that marks a state is required to secure elite rule and was deliberately and actively created to do so. This means that states, by their very nature, are top-down institutions which centralise power into a few hands and, as a consequence, a state "with its traditions, its hierarchy, and its narrow nationalism" can "not be utilised as an instrument of emancipation." [Kropotkon, Evolution and Environment, p. 78] It is for this reason that anarchists aim to create a new form of social organisation and life, a decentralised one based on decision making from the bottom-up and the elimination of hierarchy.
Finally, we must point out that anarchists, while stressing what states have in common, do recognise that some forms of the state are better than others. Democracies, for example, tend to be less oppressive than dictatorships or monarchies. As such it would be false to conclude that anarchists, "in criticising the democratic government we thereby show our preference for the monarchy. We are firmly convinced that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy." [Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 144] However, this does not change the nature or role of the state. Indeed, what liberties we have are not dependent on the goodwill of the state but rather the result of people standing against it and exercising their autonomy. Left to itself, the state would soon turn the liberties and rights it says it defends into dead-laws -- things that look good in print but not practised in real life.
So in the rest of this section we will discuss the state, its role, its impact on a society's freedom and who benefits from its existence. Kropotkin's classic essay, The State: It's Historic Role is recommended for further reading on this subject. Harold Barclay's The State is a good overview of the origins of the state, how it has changed over the millenniums and the nature of the modern state.

The main function of the state is to guarantee the existing social relationships and their sources within a given society through centralised power and a monopoly of violence. To use Malatesta's words, the state is basically "the property owners' gendarme." This is because there are "two ways of oppressing men [and women]: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and thus reducing them to a state of surrender." The owning class, "gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production, the real sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc., end up establishing their own power which, by reason of the superiority of its means . . . always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power, which is the government, and making it into its own gendarme." [Op. Cit., p. 23, p. 21 and p. 22]
The state, therefore, is "the political expression of the economic structure" of society and, therefore, "the representative of the people who own or control the wealth of the community and the oppressor of the people who do the work which creates the wealth." [Nicholas Walter, About Anarchism, p. 37] It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the state is the extractive apparatus of society's parasites.
The state ensures the exploitative privileges of its ruling elite by protecting certain economic monopolies from which its members derive their wealth. The nature of these economic privileges varies over time. Under the current system, this means defending capitalist property rights (see section B.3.2). This service is referred to as "protecting private property" and is said to be one of the two main functions of the state, the other being to ensure that individuals are "secure in their persons." However, although this second aim is professed, in reality most state laws and institutions are concerned with the protection of property (for the anarchist definition of "property" see section B.3.1).
From this we may infer that references to the "security of persons," "crime prevention," etc., are mostly rationalisations of the state's existence and smokescreens for its perpetuation of elite power and privileges. This does not mean that the state does not address these issues. Of course it does, but, to quote Kropotkin, any "laws developed from the nucleus of customs useful to human communities . . . have been turned to account by rulers to sanctify their own domination." of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Anarchism, p. 215]
Simply put, if the state "presented nothing but a collection of prescriptions serviceable to rulers, it would find some difficulty in insuring acceptance and obedience" and so the law reflects customs "essential to the very being of society" but these are "cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste and both claim equal respect from the crowd." Thus the state's laws have a "two-fold character." While its "origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage" it also passes into law "customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect" -- unlike those "other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., pp. 205-6] To use an obvious example, we find the state using the defence of an individual's possessions as the rationale for imposing capitalist private property rights upon the general public and, consequently, defending the elite and the source of its wealth and power against those subject to it.
Moreover, even though the state does take a secondary interest in protecting the security of persons (particularly elite persons), the vast majority of crimes against persons are motivated by poverty and alienation due to state-supported exploitation and also by the desensitisation to violence created by the state's own violent methods of protecting private property. In other words, the state rationalises its existence by pointing to the social evils it itself helps to create (either directly or indirectly). Hence, anarchists maintain that without the state and the crime-engendering conditions to which it gives rise, it would be possible for decentralised, voluntary community associations to deal compassionately (not punitively) with the few incorrigibly violent people who might remain (see section I.5.8).


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Communization/Communism useful quotes.

Useful quotes :-

"There is no revolution without the destruction of the state: that is the Spanish "lesson".But be that as it may, a revolution is not a political upheaval, but a social movement in which the destruction of the state and the elaboration of new modes of debate and decision go hand in hand with communization. We don't want "power"; we want the power to change all of life "
-When insurrections die - Gilles Dauvé

"The best guarantee against the reappearance of a new structure of power over us is the deepest possible appropriation of the conditions of existence, at every level"

"To conceive the destruction of the state as an armed struggle against the police and the armed forces is to mistake the part for the whole. Communism is first of all activity. A mode of life in which men and women produce their social existence paralyzes or reabsorbs the emergence of separate powers. "

"Communization is not a revolutionary position. It is not a form of society we build after the revolution. It is not a tactic, a strategic perspective, an organization, or a plan. Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property"

" TC claim that communization involves the abolition of gender as much as the abolition of capitalist social relations. For the divisions which maintain capitalism maintain the gender division and the gender division preserves all other divisions. "

"The binaries of public/private and social/domestic are embodied in the wage-relation itself. Indeed, these binaries will only collapse with the end of capitalism. "

"Communisation’s very starting point is a demand for the abolition of fundamental material elements of the reproduction of gender – the division of social life into two ‘spheres’.This implies an analysis of the system of gender and class as a unity, and because it focuses on the gender binary as a material relation of exploitation or oppression in which the two sides are produced rather than given, it also articulates the patriarchy in a way which, opens avenues of new and more rigorous theories of gender oppression that are able to link the exploitation and oppression of women with violence and oppression based on hetero-normatvity and cis-normativity"

 " Revolution is communisation; it does not have communism as a project and result, but as its very content"- The present moment - Theorie Communiste.

 "Said otherwise, if it is true that our attempts to describe communism are restricted to weak definitions (we know what it is that communism abolishes, but we do not know what it will concretely resemble) we have however a positive vision of its production: the communist measure.
The communist character of a measure derives from its capacity to reinforce the struggle against capital while all the while being the expression of its negation. It is, therefore, a definite and concrete way of putting into play the overcoming of exchange, money, value, the State, hierarchy, and race, class and gender distinctions—and so on. This list is presented in no particular order of priority because of the singular capacity of a communist measure to attack everything which makes up capitalist social relations. We know that communism is the overcoming of exchange, value and money; but we do not know how a world without exchange, value or money could function. We know that communism is the abolition of classes, but we do not know how a classless univeralism could function. A communist measure does not answer such questions in an overarching or global way, but tries instead to respond to them where they develop, and in the framework of the necessity of struggle."

"Communist measures and insurrection cannot be separated. Communist measures are absolutely opposed to whatever, within the class struggle, enables the integration of the proletariat as a class belonging to capital. Such measures break with legality, with mediating institutions and with habitual, admissible forms of conflict. You can count on the State to react with the violence and the cruelty which is customary to it. Communist measures are a confrontation with the forces of repression, and in this case too victory can be won only by a dynamic of rapid generalisation"

"From that point onwards, amongst all the things which are necessary for the production of communism, there is confrontation with State forces vowed to the defence of the old world—then the total destruction of all state structures. "

"That is: the more that communism is produced, the more it increases the potential for its own production. That is all that is meant by the concept of a communising dynamic"

"Measures which undertake the sharing-out of resources seized from the enemy open the way towards measures which undertake the satisfaction of needs by communist means. Measures involving local co-operation open the way towards co-operation on a larger scales"

"Likely to be communist, then, are measures taken, here or there, in order to seize means which can be used to satisfy the immediate needs of a struggle. Likely to be communist also are measures which participate in the insurrection without reproducing the forms, the schemas of the enemy. Likely to be communist are measures which aim to avoid the reproduction within the struggle of the divisions within the proletariat which result from its current atomisation. Likely to be communist are measures which try to eliminate the dominations of gender and of race. Likely to be communist are measures which aim to co-ordinate without hierarchy. Likely to be communist are measures which tend to strip from themselves, one way or another, all ideology which could lead to the re-establishment of classes. Likely to be communist are measures which eradicate all tendencies towards the recreation of communities which treat each other like strangers or enemies. "

"Treasures, palace ornaments and the rich decorations of churches were the signs of the social power of the nobles, the caliphs, or the ecclesiastical authorities. From the beginning of class society, money and value have been the symbols of domination. They became the supreme instruments for it in capitalism. Hence, no equality can come from the use of a means whose very existence is based on inequality. As long as there will be money, there will be rich and poor, powerful and dominated, masters and slaves."-Leon Mattis.

"Little by little, what emerges in these struggles is a calling into question, through the struggle, of the role assigned to us by capital. The unemployed of some grouping, the workers of some factory, the inhabitants of some district, may organise themselves as unemployed, workers or inhabitants, but very quickly this identity must be overcome for the struggle to continue. What is common, what can be described as unity, stems from the struggle itself, not from our identity within capitalism."

"The overcoming of all existing conditions can only come from a phase of intense and insurrectionist struggle during which the forms of struggle and the forms of future life will take flesh in one and the same process, the latter being nothing else than the former. This phase, and its specific activity, is what we propose to call by the name of communisation."

"We don’t know, we cannot know, and therefore we do not seek to concretely describe, what communism will be like. We only know how it will be in the negative, through the abolition of capitalist social forms. Communism is a world without money, without value, without the state, without social classes, without domination and without hierarchy – which requires the overcoming of the old forms of domination integrated in the very functioning of capitalism, such as patriarchy, and also the joint overcoming of both the male and the female condition. It is obvious too that any form of communitarian, ethnic, racial or other division is equally impossible in communism, which is global from the very start."

"If we cannot foresee and decide how the concrete forms of communism will be, the reason is that social relations do not arise fully fledged from a unique brain, however brilliant, but can only be the result of a massive and generalised social practice. It is this practice that we call communisation. Communisation is not an aim, it is not a project. It is nothing else than a path. But in communism the goal is the path, the means is the end. Revolution is precisely the moment when one gets out of the categories of the capitalist mode of production. This exit is already prefigured in present struggles but doesn’t really exist in them, insofar as only a massive exit that destroys everything in its passage is an exit."

"It is obvious too that the forward thrust represented by the creation of communism will fade away if it is interrupted. Any form of capitalisation of the “achievements of revolution”, any form of socialism, any form of “transition”, perceived as an intermediate phase before communism, as a “pause”, will be counter-revolution, produced not by the enemies of revolution but by revolution itself. Dying capitalism will try to lean on this counter-revolution."

"As for the overcoming of patriarchy, it will be a major disruption dividing the camp of the revolutionaries themselves, because the aim pursued will certainly not be an “equality” between men and women, but rather the radical abolition of social distinctions based on sex. For all these reasons, communisation will appear as a “revolution within revolution”."

" And the problems of the struggle are also problems of life: how to eat, where to stay, how to share with everybody else, how to fight against capital, etc. Debates do exist, divergences do exist, internal strife does exist – communisation is also revolution within the revolution. There is no organ to decide on disputed matters. It is the situation that will decide; and it is history that will know, post festum, who was right."

"No revolution is peaceful, but the military dimension is not the central one. "

"The more vital the social realm, the more the use of guns and the number of casualties will diminish. A communist revolution will never resemble a slaughter: not from any non-violent principle, but because it will be a revolution only by subverting more than by actually destroying the professional military. "

"A single thread connects the socialist vote for war credits in August 1914 to the participation in the government of the anarchist leaders, first in Catalonia (September 1936) and then in the Republic as a whole (November 1936). As early as 1914, Malatesta had called those of his comrades (including Kropotkin) who had accepted national defense "government anarchists"."

"The state represents and unifies capital, it is neither capital's motor nor its centrepiece"

" the substance of the state resides not in its institutional forms, but in its unifying function. The state ensures the tie which human beings cannot or dare not create among themselves, and creates a web of services which are both parasitic and real"

"The revolution has no Bastille, police station or governor's mansion to "take"; its task is to render harmless or destroy everything from which such places draw their sustenance."

"The Spanish Civil War proved both the revolutionary vigor of communitarian bonds and forms which have been penetrated by capital but which are not yet directly reproduced by capital, and also their impotence, taken by themselves, in bringing off a revolution. In the absence of an assault against the state, and of the stablishment of different relationships throughout the country, they condemned themselves to a fragmentary self-management preserving the content and even the forms of capitalism, notably money and the division of activities by individual enterprise. Any persistance of wage labor perpetuates the hierarchy of functions and incomes"

"Communism is not a programme one puts into practice or makes others put into practice, but a social movement. Those who develop and defend theoretical communism do not have any advantages over others except a clearer understanding and a more rigorous expression; like all others who are not especially concerned by theory, they feel the practical need for communism. They have no privilege whatsoever; they do not carry the knowledge that will set the revolution in motion; but, on the other hand, they have no fear of becoming "leaders" by explaining their positions. The communist revolution, like every other revolution, is the product of real needs and living conditions. The problem is to shed light on an existing historical movement.
Communism is not an ideal to be realized: it already exists, not as a society, but as an effort, a task to prepare for. It is the movement which tries to abolish the conditions of life determined by wage-labour, and it will abolish them by revolution. The discussion of communism is not academic. It is not a debate about what will be done tomorrow. It is an integral part of a whole series of immediate and distant tasks, among which discussion is only one aspect, an attempt to achieve theoretical understanding. Inversely, the tasks can be carried out more easily and efficiently if one can answer the question: where are we going?"

"the State is indispensable as a force gathering the elements of society, in the interests of the ruling class. Unification is made necessary by the destruction of the coherence of the primitive community"

"What ideology calls selfishness and the struggle of all against all, is the indispensable complement of a world where one has to fight to be able to sell. Thus economic violence, and armed violence as its consequence, are integral parts of the capitalist system."

"The proletariat is not the working class, rather the class of the critique of work. It is the ever-present destruction of the old world, but only potentially; it becomes real only in a moment of social tension and upheaval"

"Communism is the reconciliation of man and nature.
Communism is the end of the economy as a separate and privileged field on which everything else depends while despising and fearing it. "

"The aim is not to take over the factories only to remain there to manage them, but to get out of them, to connect them to each other without exchange, which destroys them as enterprises."

"Communism is opposed to productivism, and equally to the illusion of ecological development within the existing economic framework"

Communism is not a continuation of capitalism in a more rational, more efficient, more modern, and less unequal, less anarchic form. It does not take the old material bases as it finds them: it overthrows them.
Communism is not a set of measures to be put into practice after the seizure of power. It is a movement which already exists, not as a mode of production (there can be no communist island within capitalist society), but as a tendency which originates in real needs. Communism does not even know what value is. The point is not that one fine day a large number of people start to destroy value and profit. All past revolutionary movements were able to bring society to a standstill, and waited for something to come out of this universal stoppage. Communization, on the contrary, will circulate goods without money, open the gate isolating a factory from its neighbourhood, close down another factory where the work process is too alienating to be technically improved, do away with school as a specialized place which cuts off learning from doing for 15 odd years, pull down walls that force people to imprison themselves in 3-room family units - in short, it will tend to break all separations"

"The military aspect, as important as it may be, depends on the social content of the struggle. To be able to defeat its enemies on a military level, the proletariat - whatever its consciousness - transforms society in a communist way."

"Underdeveloped countries - to use a dated but not inadequate phrase - will not have to go through industrialization. In many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, capital oppresses labour but has not subjugated it to "real" domination. Old forms of social communal life still exist. Communism would regenerate a lot of them - as Marx thought of the Russian peasant commune - with the help of some "western" technology applied in a different way. In many respects, such areas may prove easier to communize than the huge motorcar-adapted and screen-addicted "civilized" conurbations. In other words, a worldwide process of dis-accumulation"

"Communizing is therefore more than an addition of direct piecemeal actions. Capital will be sapped by general subversion through which people take their relationships with the world into their own hands. But nothing decisive will be achieved as long as the State retains some power. Society is not just a capillary network: relationships are centralized in a force which concentrates the power to preserve this society. Capitalism would be too happy to see us change our lives locally while it carries on on a global scale. As a central force, the State has to be destroyed by central action, as well as its power dissolved everywhere. The communist movement is anti-political, not a-political"

"Discussions of communism usually start from an erroneous standpoint: they deal with the question of what people will do after the revolution. They never connect communism with what is going on at the moment when the discussion is going on. There is a complete rupture: first one makes the revolution, then communism. In fact communism is the continuation of real needs which are now already at work, but which cannot lead anywhere, which cannot be satisfied, because the present situation forbids it. "

"In the refusal of assembly-line work, in the struggles of squatters, the communist perspective is present as an effort to create "something else," not on the basis of a mere rejection of the modern world (hippy), but through the use and transformation of what is produced and wasted. In such conflicts people spontaneously try to appropriate goods without obeying the logic of exchange; therefore they treat these goods as use values. Their relations to these things, and the relations they establish among themselves to perform such acts, are subversive. People even change themselves in such events The "something else" that these actions reach for is present in the actions only potentially, whatever those who organize them may think and want, and whatever the extremists who take part in them and theorize about them may do and say. Such movements will be forced to become conscious of their acts, to understand what they are doing, in order to do it better."


Notes on Marxism

favourite  Marxist thinkers:-
Marx ,  Leon Mattis, Gilles Dauve , Paul Mattick  ,Guy Debord, Maurice Brinton, Bourdieu, Silvia Federici ,Raymond Williams , Edward Said ,

I dislike  though do not dismiss: Engels, Herbert Marcuse ,  Lukacs ,  althusser,  Gramsci

totally oppose:  Lenin, Trotsky,  Mao,

The core of Marxism consists of   Dialectical materialism which is it's philosophical framework, Historical materialism which is it's theory of history and Marxist economics and politics like class struggle, it's critique of capitalism, surplus value etc.

"For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher."

"Dialectics is the method of reasoning which aims to understand things concretely in all their movement, change and interconnection, with their opposite and contradictory sides in unity."

"For formal thinking, light must be either a wave or a particle; but the truth turned out to be dialectical – light is both wave and particle."

“the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process – i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development.” [Socialism: Utopian & Scientific]

Dilectics is opposed to Aristotle "who formulated the present system of formal logic...He laid down three basic laws of logic: the principle of Identity (A = A), of contradiction (A cannot be A and not-A), and the excluded middle (A is either A or non-A; there is no middle alternative)".

"Thus the axiom A is equal to A signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist."

Hegel was an idealist. He held the zeitgeist was a force moving through history via dialectical syntheisis of opposing forces(theses) which would lead to the end of history. He also mentioned Alienation.

Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians brought this down to earth,humanized it and made it materialist.They tried to work out the practical consequences of this for human beings. Feuerbach said religion led to alienation of humans from themselves because it sets god(s) up as ideas beyond humans when infact it was humans who created them.He sees religion as a human social construct.

Marx takes young hegelian ideas further.He agrees with Feuerbach.He sees economics as causing alienation.Communism is the practical form of Hegel's end of history which will abolish alienation as well as religion.It will be brought about not by the zeitgeist but by the proletariat class.Alienation is caused by the need to produce for economic ends not purely for necessity or beauty etc. Theses on feuerbach is where Marx develops beyond Feuerbach's ideas.He talks about human activity and how theoretical problems are solved by practical matters.

It seems Marx brings down to earth and makes Hegel humanist and practical in much the same way Dewey gets rid of the transcendental and almost mystical aspects of philosophy to make Philosophy about humans not abstract entities or ideas.
Marx says productive forces i.e. technology determines the relations of production e.g. wage labourer and boss which then determines the way society is organized(superstructure). As technology changes ,old relations break down and are replaced by new ones e.g. feudalism gives way to capitalism. If this sounds quite simplistic then it is.In some places Marx argues as simply and deterministically as this.In other places e.g. 18th Brumaire of Bonaparte he's less deterministic.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past"(18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte)

Marx on Communism

  • In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (Critique of the Gotha Programme)
  • but sadly Marx precedes Leninism with this line , " Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat"(Critique of the Gotha Programme).


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Gender as Performance- Judith Butler Interview.

Gender as Performance.An Interview with Judith Butler

Judith Butler teaches in the Rhetoric Department at the University
of California, Berkeley. Her first book, Subjects of Desire:
Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France ( J987) traced
the dialectic ofpro- and anti-Hegelian currents in French theory
across the writings ofa wide range ofthinkers. She is best known,
however, for her second book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the
Subversion ofIdentity (J 990), which has proved as influential as
it is controversial in its analysis of 'sex', 'gender' and 'sexuality'
as forms of enforced cultural performance. In particular, it has
been read by many as standing at theforefront of the new 'queer
theory' - a tendency within gay and lesbian studies which
foregrounds same-sex desire without specifying the sex of the
partners, in the hope of escaping the theoretical constraints of
gender difference. Gender Trouble calls into question the needfor
a stable 'female' identity for feminist practice, and explores the
radical potential of a critique of categories of identity. It argues
that gender identities acquire what stability and coherence they
have in the context ofthe 'heterosexual matrix '. In this discursive
chaining of gender to sexuality, it is suggested, subversive
possibilities arise for making 'gender trouble '. In her most recent
book, Bodies That Matter: The Discursive Limits of 'Sex' ( J993),
Butler addresses some of the misconceptions which have
accompanied both the popularity and the notoriety of Gender
Trouble. Concentrating this time on what is meant by the materiality
of the body, she looks at the forcible production of 'sex', at
heterosexual presumptions, and how they can contribute to their
own subversion. In October J993, Butler came to London to give
a talk on 'Subjection' at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,
London, and we took the opportunity to record this interview.

RP: We'd like to begin by asking you where you place your
work within the increasingly diverse field of gender studies.
Most people associate your recent writings with what has
become known as 'queer theory'. But the emergence of gay
and lesbian studies as a discrete disciplinary phenomenon has
problematised the relationship of some of this work to
feminism. Do you see yourself primarily as a feminist or as a
queer theorist, or do you refuse the choice?

Butler: I would say that I'm a feminist theorist before I'm a queer
theorist or a gay and lesbian theorist. My commitments to feminism
are probably my primary commitments. Gender Trouble was a
critique of compulsory heterosexuality within feminism, and it
was feminists that were my intended audience. At the time I wrote
the text there was no gay and lesbian studies, as I understood it.
When the book came out, the Second Annual Conference of
Lesbian and Gay Studies was taking place in the USA, and it got
taken up in a way that I could never have anticipated. I remember
sitting next to someone at a dinner party, and he said that he was
working on queer theory. And I said: What's queer theory? He
looked at me like I was crazy, because he evidently thought that
I was a part of this thing called queer theory. But all I knew was
that Teresa de Lauretis had published an issue of the journal
Differences called 'Queer Theory' . I thought it was something she
had put together. It certainly never occurred to me that I was a part
of queer theory.
I have some problems here, because I think there's some anti-
feminism in queer theory. Also, insofar as some people in queer
theory want to claim that the analysis of sexuality can be radically
separated from the analysis of gender, I'm very much opposed to
them. The new Gay and Lesbian Reader that Routledge have just
published begins with a set of articles that make that claim. I think
that separation is a big mistake. Catharine MacKinnon' s work
sets up such a reductive causal relationship betweessexuality and
gender that she came to stand for an extreme version of feminism
that had to be combatted. But it seems to me that to combat it
through a queer theory that dissociates itself from feminism
altogether is a massive mistake.

RP: Could you say something more about the sex-gender
distinction? Do you reject it or do you just reject a particular
interpretation of it? Your position on this seems to have
shifted recently.

Butler: One of the interpretations that has been made of Gender
Trouble is that there is no sex, there is only gender, and gender is
performative. People then go on to think that if gender is
performative it must be radically free. And it has seemed to many
that the materiality of the body is vacated or ignored or negated
here - disavowed, even. (There's a symptomatic reading of this
as somatophobia. It's interesting to have one's text pathologised.)
So what became important to me in writing Bodies that Matter
was to go back to the category of sex, and to the problem of
materiality, and to ask how it is that sex itself might be construed
as a norm. Now, I take it that's a presupposition of Lacanian
psychoanalysis - that sex is a norm. But I didn't want to remain
restricted within the Lacanian purview. I wanted to work out how
a norm actually materialises a body, how we might understand the
materiality of the body to be not only invested with a norm, but in
some sense animated by a norm, or contoured by a norm. So I have
shifted. I think that I overrode the category of sex too quickly in
Gender Trouble. I try to reconsider it in Bodies That Matter, and
to emphasise the place of constraint in the very production of sex.

RP: A lot of people liked Gender Trouble because they liked
the idea of gender as a kind ofimprovisational theatre, a space
where different identities can be more or less freely adopted
and explored at will. They wanted to get on with the work of
enacting gender, in order to undermine its dominant forms.
However, at the beginning of Bodies That Matter you say that,
of course, one doesn't just voluntaristically construct or
deconstruct identities. It's unclear to us to what extent you
want to hold onto the possibilities opened up in Gender
Trouble of being able to use transgressive performances such
as drag to help decentre or destabilise gender categories, and
to what extent you have become sceptical about this.

Butler: The problem with drag is that I offered it as an example
of performativity, but it has been taken up as the paradigm for
performativity. One ought always to be wary of one's examples.
What's interesting is that this voluntarist interpretation, this
desire for a kind of radical theatrical remaking of the body, is
obviously out there in the public sphere. There's a desire for a
fully phantasmatic transfiguration of the body. But no, I don't
think that drag is a paradigm for the subversion of gender. I don't
think that if we were all more dragged out gender life would
become more expansive and less restrictive. There are restrictions
in drag. In fact, I argued toward the end of the book that drag has
its own melancholia.
It is important to understand performativity - which is distinct
from performance - through the more limited notion of
resignification. I'm still thinking about subversive repetition,
which is a category in Gender Trouble, but in the place of
something like parody I would now emphasise the complex ways
in which resignification works in political discourse. I suspect
there's going to be a less celebratory, and less popular, response
to my new book. But I wanted to write against my popular image.
I set out to make myself less popular, because I felt that the
popularisation of Gende r Trouble - even though it was interesting
culturally to see what it tapped into, to see what was out there,
longing to be tapped into - ended up being a terrible
misrepresentation of what I wanted to say!

RP: Perhaps we could help to set that right here, by asking you
what you mean by 'performativity' - by describing gender as
performance. What's the ontological status ofperformativity,
for example? And how does it fit into the Foucauldian discourse
about regulatory norms which you deploy? Is performativity
the generic category of which regulatory norms are historically
specific instances, or what? Are you offering us a kind of

Butler: First, it is important to distinguish performance from
performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter
contests the very notion of the subject. The place where I try to
clarify this is toward the beginning of my essay 'Critically Queer' ,
in Bodies that Matter. I begin with the Foucauldian premise that
power works in part through discourse and it works in part to
produce and destabilise subjects. But then, when one starts to
think carefully about how discourse might be said to produce a
subject, it's clear that one's already talking about a certain figure
or trope of production. It is at this point that it's useful to turn to
the notion of performativity, and performative speech acts in
particular - understood as those speech acts that bring into being
that which they name. This is the moment in which discourse
becomes productive in a fairly specific way. So what I'm trying
to do is think about performativity as that aspect ofdiscourse that
has the capacity to produce what it names. Then I take a further
step, through the Derridean rewriting of Austin, and suggest that
this production actually always happens through a certain kind of
repetition and recitation. So if you want the ontology of this, I
guess performativity is the vehicle through which ontological
effects are established. Performativity is the discursive mode by
which ontological effects are installed. Something like that.


RP: And what about the body? You see bodies as forcibly
produced through particular discourses. Some might say that
you haven't adequately addressed the biological constraints
on bodies here. Take the female body's capacity for
impregnation, for example. Why is it that male bodies don't
get produced as child bearing? There are certain constraints
coming from the body itself which you don't seem to register.
Shouldn't you be talking about the constraints on discourse as
well as 'the discursive limits of "sex'" .

Butler: Yes, but doesn't everybody else talk about that? There's
so much out there on that.

RP: But if you don't say anything about it, people will think
. .
you don't accept any limits.

Butler: Yes, there will be that exasperated response, but there is
a good tactical reason to reproduce it. Take your example of
impregnation. Somebody might well say: isn't it the case that
certain bodies go to the gynecologist for certain kinds of
examination and certain bodies do not? And I would obviously
affirm that. But the real question here is: to what extent does a
body get defined by its capacity for pregnancy? Why is it
pregnancy by which that body gets defined? One might say it's
because somebody is of a given sex that they go to the gynecologist
to get an examination that establishes the possibility of pregnancy,
or one might say that going to the gynecologist is the very
production of 'sex' - but it is still the question of pregnancy that
is centaring that whole institutional practice here.
Now it seems to me that, although women's bodies generally
speaking are understood as capable of impregnation, the fact of
the matter is that there are female infants and children who cannot
be impregnated, there are older women who cannot be impregnated,
there are women of all ages who cannot be impregnated, and even
if they could ideally, that is not necessarily the salient feature of
their bodies or even of their being women. What the question does
is try to make the problematic of reproduction central to the sexing
of the body. But I am not sure that is, or ought to be, what is
absolutely salient or primary in the sexing of the body. If it is, I
think it's the imposition of a norm, not a neutral description of
biological constraints.
I do not deny certain kinds of biological differences. But I
always ask under what conditions, under what discursive and
institutional conditions, do certain biological differences - and
they're not necessary ones, given the anomalous state of bodies in
the world - become the salient characteristics of sex. In that sense
I'm still in sympathy with the critique of 'sex' as a political
category offered by Monique Wittig. I still very much believe in
the critique of the category of sex and the ways in which it's been
constrained by a tacit institution of compulsory reproduction.
It's a practical problem. If you are in your late twenties or your
early thirties and you can't get pregnant for biological reasons, or
maybe you don't want to, for social reasons - whatever it is - you
are struggling with a norm that is regulating your sex. It takes a
pretty vigorous (and politically informed) community around you
to alleviate the possible sense of failure, or loss, or impoverishment,
or inadequacy - a collective struggle to rethink a dominant norm.
Why shouldn't it be that a woman who wants to have some part
in child-rearing, but doesn't want to have a part in child-bearing,
or who wants to have nothing to do with either, can inhabit her
gender without an implicit sense of failure or inadequacy? When
people ask the question 'Aren't these biological differences?',
they're not really asking a question about the materiality of the
body. They're actually asking whether or not the social institution
of reproduction is the most salient one for thinking about gender.
In that sense, there is a discursive enforcement of a norm.


RP: This leads us to the question of heterosexuality.
Butler: I don't know much about heterosexuality!
RP: Don't worry, it's a theoretical question. You have argued
that one thing the gay/lesbian pair can give to heterosexuals
is the knowledge of heterosexuality as both compulsory system
and inevitable comedy. Could you say more about why it's
inevitably a comedy. If we understand heterosexuality as
repetitive performance, why does the performance always
fail? What is it that makes it fail, that means it can only ever
be a copy of itself, a copy of something it can never fully be?

Butler: Maybe there's a relationship between anxiety and
repetition that needs to be underscored here. I think one of the
reasons that heterosexuality has to re-elaborate itself, to
ritualistically reproduce itself all over the place, is that it has to
overcome some constitutive sense of its own tenuousness.
Performance needs to be rethought here as a ritualistic reproduction,
in terms of what I now call 'performativity'.

RP: But what creates this tenuousness?

Butler: Why is it tenuous? Well, it's a fairly funny way of being
in the world. I mean, how is it - as Freud asked in the Three Essays
on the Theory ofSexuality - that you get this polymorphous, or at
least minimally bisexual, being to craft its sexuality in such a way
that it's focused exclusively on a member of the opposite sex, and
wants to engage with that person in some kind of genital sex?

RP: So you'd give a psychoanalytical answer. We thought you
might have a more Foucauldian response. Does the above
apply to all social categories?

Butler: No, it applies to all sexual positions. It's not just the norm
of heterosexuality that is tenuous. It's all sexual norms. I think that
every sexual position is fundamentally comic. If you say 'I can
only desire X', what you've immediately done, in rendering
desire exclusively, is created a whole set of positions which are
unthinkable from the standpoint of your identity. Now, I take it
that one of the essential aspects of comedy emerges when you end
up actually occupying a position that you have just announced to
be unthinkable. That is funny. There's a terrible self-subversion
in it.
When they were debating gays in the military on television in
the United States a senator got up and laughed, and he said, 'I must
say, I know very little about homosexuality. I think I know less
about homosexuality than about anything else in the world.' And
it was a big announcement of his ignorance of homosexuality.
Then he immediately launched into a homophobic diatribe which suggested that he thinks that homosexuals only have sex in public bathrooms, that they are all skinny, that they're all male, etc, etc. So what he actually has is a very aggressive and fairly obsessive relationship to the homosexuality that of course he knows nothing about. At that moment you realise that this person who claims to have nothing to do with homosexuality is in fact utterly preoccupied by it. I do not think that these exclusions are indifferent. Some would disagree with me on this and say: 'Look, some
people are just indifferent. A heterosexual can have an indifferent
relationship to homosexuality. It doesn't really matter what other
people do. I haven't thought about it much, it neither turns me on
nor turns me off. I'mjust sexually neutral in that regard.' I don't
believe that. I think that crafting a sexual position, or reciting a
sexual position, always involves becoming haunted by what's
excluded. And the more rigid the position, the greater the ghost,
and the more threatening it is in some way. I don't know if that's
a Foucauldian point. It's probably a psychoanalytic point, but
that's not finally important to me.

RP: Would it apply to homosexuals' relationship to

Butler: Yes, absolutely.

RP: Although presumably not in the same way ...

Butler: Yes, there's a different problem here, and it's a tricky one.
When the woman in the audience at my talk said 'I survived
lesbian feminism and still desire women', I thought that was a
really great line, because one of the problems has been
the normative requirement that has emerged within some lesbian-
feminist communities to come up with a radically specific lesbian
sexuality. (Of course, not all lesbian feminism said this, but a
strain of it did.) Whatever you were doing in your sexual relations
with women had to be very much between women. It could have
no hint of heterosexuality in it. In the early days that included a
taboo on penetration. More recently, there have been questions
about relations of domination and submission, about sado-
masochism, questions of pornography, of exhibitionism, of dildoes,
and any number of fetishistic displays. The question is: are these
'practices straight, or can they be made gay? And if they can be
made gay, can they be radically and irreducibly gay? Because we
don't want to be seen as somehow borrowing from, or copying, or
miming heterosexual culture.
I guess this is my Hegelianism: one is defined as much by what
one is not as by the position that one explicitly inhabits. There is
a constitutive interrelationship. Lesbians make themselves into a
more frail political community by insisting on the radical
irreducibility of their desire. I don't think any of us have irreducibly
distinct desires. One might say that there are heterosexual structures
that get played out in gay and lesbian scenes, but that does not
constitute the co-option of homosexuality by heterosexuality. If
anything it's the reterritorialization of heterosexuality within

RP: It's interesting that you refer to your Hegelianism here.
To what extent would you be prepared to characterise your
work as 'dialectical'? Most people who use Foucault and
Derrida, for example, in the way you do, would want to resist
the notion of dialectic.

Butler: I don't know if I resist the notion of dialectic. I certainly
think that it has to be supplemented. I would say that in the
construction of any binary - when we take masculine and feminine
as a binary, for example - what's interesting is not just how the
masculine presupposes the feminine, and 'is' the feminine in the
Hegelian sense, or the feminine presupposes and 'is' the masculine,
but how a field is produced in which there are these two mutually
exclusive and mutually defining possibilities, and only these two.
There are a set of exclusions that are made in the production of any
binary, and those exclusions never make their way into intelligent
discourse. That's where the notion of the abject comes in. I accept
the Derridean notion that every dialectical opposition is produced
through a set of exclusions, and that what is outside the dialectic
- which is not a negation - cannot be contained by the dialectic.
This provides the opportunity for an important critical reflection
on the limitations of dialectical opposition.

RP: Speaking of binaries, it is interesting, isn't it, the quite
pivotal role which discussions oflesbian sexuality have had in
feminist approaches to sexuality since the 1970s. Amber
Hollibaugh said that at one point all feminists were trying to
have sex the way they thought dykes were doing it. Then later
on, in response to the puritanism which some feminists ended
up adopting because of this, it was lesbian discussions that
introduced a new sexual radicalism. All the way through
feminist discussion of sexuality, discussions about lesbian
sexuality have been in the vanguard of how to think about sex.

Butler: Yes, some of the romanticising of lesbianism is a
consequence of heterosexual guilt, which is the corollary of the
phenomenon that I'm talking about. If what is radically lesbian is
over here, untainted by heterosexuality, then heterosexuality is
constructed as a phenomenon that can only be staining or hurtful.
And when it emerges within lesbianism, it is the selling out of
lesbianism. And for the straight or bisexual woman, this opposition
reconsolidates gUilt. This has kept us from really thinking through
the comedy of heterosexuality - the compulsory and comic
character of heterosexuality - because that means in some sense
to own it. On the other hand, I think it' s impoverished our analyses
of lesbianism and bisexuality as well. The other way this logic
works is to make bisexuality into a sell-out position or a traitorous
position, or a duplicitous position. That's a horribly moralising
and unfruitful way to think about it.

RP: You yourself have made quite a move, haven't you, from
over a decade ago, when you contributed to the book Against
Sadomasochism ...

Butler: No, that wasn't me, that was someone else with my name!

RP: It wasn't you?

Butler: Okay, it was me, but I disavow it. I was really young! I
was really guilt-tripped by feminism. That essay is very ambivalent
about the notion that sexuality and power are co-extensive, but I
didn't yet know how to reflect on that ambivalence in a non-
moralising way.


RP: Perhaps we could go back to psychoanalysis at this point.
Gender Trouble contains a fairly severe critique of the
psychoanalytical perspective on sexual difference. Yet
psychoanalysis has since come to play an increasingly central
role in your work. How useful do you find psychoanalysis for
your theorisation of gender?

Butler: I probably misled you earlier. I don't actually accept
Freud's postulation of a primary bisexuality or pol ymorphousness,
although I do think that any given sexual arrangement is peculiar,
and not necessary. The problem I have with Freud's articulation
of bisexuality is that it is actually heterosexuality. There's the
feminine part that wants a.masculine object, and the masculine
part that wants a feminine one. Swell, we have two heterosexual
desires and we're going to call that bisexuality. So I reject that.
I also think that polymorphousness is a fantasy: the minute
you're born into the world you're interpolated in various ways.
But this is where I would stop - this is where I would depart from
both a structuralist psychoanalysis and a more developmental
object-relations one. Because at that moment they're going to
start saying: 'you're subject to the law of sexual difference from
the minute you're born in the world'. And that law becomes
unalterable. There are various relationships to it that can be taken,
but the law itself remains unalterable. Or there's a developmental
trajectory, differentiation from the mother, etc., which leads to
certain kinds of object formations, or formations of attachment.
This is where I want to take these models apart, because I feel
that's the moment at which a certain kind of heterosexual norm is
I think there's a really strong heterosexualizing imperative in
the Lacanian account of the Oedipal phase, the Oedipal scene, one
should say. And I also think that in object relations theory
lesbianism is almost always figured as a certain kind of fusion,
which I find extremely problematic. On the other hand, there is
much in psychoanalytic perspectives that is very valuable. It is the
best way we have of understanding how sexual positions are
assumed. It is the best account of the psyche - and psychic
subjection - that we have. I don't think one can offer an account
of how sexuality is formed without psychoanalysis. But I also
think that the psychoanalytic sciences are part of the forming of
sexuality, and have become more and more part of that forming.
I'm with Foucault on that. They don't simply report on the life of
the infant, they've become part of the crafting of that life.

RP: We'd like to turn to your critique of the tripartite
Lacanian division of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real
at this point. One thing we found particularly interesting was
the way you criticised Lacan's division between the imaginary
and the symbolic by arguing that the role of the phallus in
making that distinction is homologous to the role of the bodily
image in the mirror phase. So entry into the symbolic is
actually merely an extension of the imaginary, and what
Lacanians call the symbolic, and reify into the law of the
father, is in fact only a
hegemonic imaginary.

Butler: Yes.

RP: We have two problems with this. The first is that,
as we understand Lacan, the imaginary is always
already symbolic, so 'entry' into the symbolic is simply
the point at which the symbolic character of the
imaginary becomes clear. Secondly, although your
critique dethrones the phallus from its position of
psychic absolutism in the Lacanian symbolic, on the other hand what you call the
'heterosexual matrix' stands in for it. So although the phallus
is no longer king by virtue of some kind of psychic law, there's
a Foucauldian, historicist equivalent to it, which is equally
absolute. It may be socially and historically produced, but you
treat it as being just as absolute within the present.

Butler: Good question. Two responses. One is that although I
would accept the notion that every speaking being is born into a
symbolic order that is always-already-there, I think the Lacanians
describe that order, and the status of its always-already-thereness,
in too static away. The symbolic is repeatedly produced,
reproduced, and possibly derailed. I agree with Derrida here in his
analysis of structure in 'Structure, Sign and Play' in Writing and
Difference. A structure only becomes a structure by repeating its
structurality. Iterability is the way in which a structure gets
solidified, but it also implies the possibility of that structure's
derailment. So I do think the symbolic is always-already-there,
but it's also always in the process of being made, and remade. It
can't continue to exist without the ritualistic productions whereby
it is continuously reinstalled. And it gets reinstalled through an
imaginary idealisation which is rendered as symbolic, as necessary
and as immutable. The symbolic is the rendering immutable of
given idealizations.

RP: And where does this come from - the rendering

Butler: It's what Lacan gives us as the mirror stage. When we talk
about the operation of the imaginary, we're talking about a
misrecognition by which an idealised version of oneself is taken
to be oneself.

RP: So you believe in the mirror phase?

Butler: Believe in the mirror phase! I think it allegorises a certain
kind of idealising move that continuously misrepresents and
idealises the ego. And I think the phallus is precisely such an
idealisation. Now, if that's true, and if the mirror stage is part of
the imaginary, then the phallus is nothing other than an imaginary
and impossible idealisation of the masculine. The symbolic gets
reproduced by taking imaginary projections and recasting them as
law. That's much more of a Freudian approach than a Lacanian
one. But I don't mind that. I'm probably closer to-Freud than I am
to Lacan. There's more leeway, more complexity, in Freud.

RP: And slightly less authoritarianism?

Butler: Well, at least he throws up his hands every once in a while
and says, 'I have no idea what I'm doing here'! At least he models
a certain self-questioning. As for your second point - the
heterosexual matrix - I think you're right about Gender Trouble.
The heterosexual matrix became a kind of totalising symbolic,
and that's why I changed the term in Bodies That Matter to
heterosexual hegemony. This opens the possibility that this is a
matrix which is open to rearticulation, which has a kind of
malleability. So I don't actually use the term heterosexual matrix
in Bodies That Matter.

RP: Presumably, the dependence of coherent genders on a
'compulsory' heterosexual framing couldn't be universalised,
anthropologically, could it?

Butler: Well, you could probably make an argument that gender
positions within culture are in some ways related to positions
within reproductive relations. But it would be a bit of a leap to
claim that those reproductive relations involve compulsory
heterosexuality, since there are cultures that accommodate
reproductive relations without mandating heterosexuality.
There's a very specific notion of gender involved in compulsory
heterosexuality: a certain view of gender coherence whereby
what a person feels, how a person acts, and how a person
Radical Philosophy 67, Summer 1994
expresses herself sexually is the articulation and consummation
of a gender. It's a particular causality and identity that gets
established as gender coherence which is linked to compulsory
heterosexuality. It's not any gender, or all gender, it's that specific
kind of coherent gender.

RP: Psychoanalytically, this leads us in the direction of the
Lacanian 'real'. One way that someone like Zizek would
respond to your erosion of the fixity of the Lacanian symbolic
by the fluidity ofimaginary identifications would be to appeal
to the 'real' as the ultimate bedrock of a compulsory
construction of this kind of coherent gender. How would you
respond to that?

Butler: That's where I get scared. He wants to make it permanent,
and we're the permanent outside. It's as if we've got girls, we've
got boys, and then we have the permanent outside. No w~y!
We've got lots of people rolling around the streets who are the
'outside' to girls and boys who Zizek is naming as the impossible
real. It's a hell of a thing to live in the world being called the
impossible real- being called the traumatic, the unthinkable, the
psychotic - being cast outside the social, and getting named as the
unli vable and the unspeakable. This worries me. What he's doing
is consolidating these binaries as absolutely necessary. He's
rendering a whole domain of social life that does not fully
conform to prevalent gender norms as psychotic and unlivable.
RP: You find a moralising compulsion in Zizek's Lacanianism?
Butler: The line between psychosis and the social and sexual
positionalities that have been rendered abject or unthinkable in
our society is very fuzzy. The structural rigidity of the symbolic
in Zizek's work runs the risk of producing a domain of psychosis
that may well be a social domain. One of the problems with
homosexuality is that it does represent psychosis to some people.
Many people feel that who they are as egos in the world, whatever
imaginary centres they have, would be radically dissolved were
they to engage in homosexual relations. They would rather die
than engage in homosexual relations. For these people
homosexuality represents the prospect of the psychotic dissolution
of the subject. How are we to distinguish that phobic abjection of
homosexuality from what Zizek calls the real- where the real is
that which stands outside the symbolic pact and which threatens
the subject within the symbolic pact with psychosis?


RP: Could you say something about what you mean by the
'lesbian phallus'? Presumably, it's part of your counter-
hegemonic struggle against the phallus itself ...

Butler: I thought it was kind of funny. People get a little worried
about it!

RP: Some people take it literally and say: 'I know just what
it is, 1 keep three of them in my drawer.'

Butler: Yes, that's unfortunate, -an unfortunate literalization! I
wouldn't exclude it, but it would be a problem for me if the lesbian
phallus were reduced to the notion of the dildo. That would ruin
its speCUlative force.
So, what does it signify? Well, in the first place, it's a
contradiction in terms for most people who talk about the phallus,
to the extent that 'having' the phallus and 'being' the phallus
within the Lacanian framework correspond to a masculine position
and a feminine position, respectively. In the lesbian the having
and the being are in relation to one another (although of course
Lacan would say this is not a relation at all). To claim that the
lesbian either has or is the phallus is already to disrupt the
presumptive alignment of masculinity with having and
femininity with being, and with that, the relation in which they are
conceived. However, I wanted to do more
crossings than that. I wanted to suggest that having and being are
not mutually exclusive positions, and that there are a variety of
identificatory possibilities that get animated within homosexuality
and heterosexuality and bisexuality, which cannot be
easily reduced to that particular framework. Of course, there's
also a joke in 'The Lesbian Phallus' because to have the
phallus in Lacan is also to control the signifier. It is to write and to
name, to authorise and to designate. So in some sense I'm
wielding the lesbian phallus in offering my critique of the
Lacanian framework. It's a certain model for lesbian authorship. It's

RP: Could there also be the
female heterosexual phallus?

Butler: Yes, but that's been
around for a while. The female
heterosexual phallus has been the
phallic mother. The way it usually
works is that when the woman
has it she becomes the phallic
mother, and she becomes
absolutely terrifying.

RP: Couldn't one have it
without being the mother?

Butler: That's the question: why
is it that when the woman is said
to have the phallus she can only
be the terrifying engulfing
mother? What would it mean to
separate the heterosexual woman who has the phallus from the
phallic mother? It's an important thing to do.


RP: Perhaps we could move on to the politics of queer theory,
and in particular to the ideas of subversive repetition and
transgressive reinscription, which we touched on earlier when
we asked you about drag. Alan Sinfield has suggested that the
problem with supposedly subversive representations of gender
is that they're always recuperable. The dominant can always
find a way of dismissing them and reaffirming itself. On the
other hand, Jonathan Dollimore has argued that they're not
always recuperable, but that any queer reading or subversive
performance, any challenge to dominant representations of
gender, can only be sustained as such collectively. It's only
within critical subcultures that transgressive reinscriptions
are going to make a difference. How do you respond to these
views on the limits of a queer politics of representation?

Butler: I think that Sinfield is right to say that any attempt at
subversion is potentially recuperable. There is no way to safeguard
against that. You can't plan or calculate subversion. In fact, I
would say that subversion is precisely an incalculable effect.
That's what makes it subversive. As for the question of how a
certain challenge becomes legible, and whether a rendering
. requires a certain collectivity, that seems right too. But I also think
that subversive practices have to overwhelm the capacity to read,
challenge conventions of reading, and demand new possibilities
of reading.
For instance, when Act Up (the lesbian and gay activist group)
first started performing Die-ins on the streets of New York, it was
extremely dramatic. There had been street theatre, a tradition of
demonstrations, and the tradition from the civil disobedience side
of the civil rights movement of going limp and making policemen
take you away: playing dead. Those precedents or conventions
were taken up in the Die-in, where people 'die' all at once. They
went down on the street, all at once, and white lines were drawn
around the bodies, as if they were police lines marking the place
of the dead. It was a shocking symbolisation. It was legible insofar
as it was drawing on conventions that had been produced within
previous protest cultures, but it was a renovation. It was a new
adumbration of a certain kind of civil disobedience. And it was
extremely graphic. It made people stop and have to read what was
There was confusion. People didn't know at first, why these
people were playing dead. Were they actually dying, were they
actually people with AIDS? Maybe they were, maybe they
weren't. Maybe they were HIV positive, maybe they weren't.
There were no ready answers to those questions. The act posed a
set of questions without giving you the tools to read off the
answers. What I worry about are those acts that are more
immediately legible. Those are the ones that I think are most
readily recuperable. But the ones that challenge our practices of
reading, that make us uncertain about how to read, or make us
think that we have to renegotiate the way in which we read public
signs, these seem really important to me.
The Kiss-ins that Queer Nation did at various shopping malls
were quite outrageous. There had been Kiss-ins in front of the
Supreme Court when gay statutes were being discussed. I think
that was the first one, actually, the Kiss-in at the Supreme Court
building. (I was invited but I didn't go, because I didn't want to
kiss just anybody!) They worked for a while, but they always run
the risk of becoming tropes. Once they've been read, once they're
done too often, they become deadened tropes, as it were. They
become predictable. And it's precisely when they get predictable,
or when you know how to read them in advance, or you know
what's coming, that they just don't work any more.

RP: So they're most subversive when the subculture itself is
still struggling over them? When one group of lesbians, for
example, are trying to smash up the screen and rip the film out
of the projector, while the other ones are saying 'Yes, this is
a really usefully rethinking of female sexuality, look how it
undoes the heterosexual reading by placing the lesbian couple
differently within the scenario', etc?

Butler: Right. Some people would say that we need a ground
from which to act. We need a shared collective ground for
collective action. I think we need to pursue the moments of
degrounding, when we're standing in two different places at once;
or we don't know exactly where we're standing; or when we've
produced an aesthetic practice that shakes the ground. That's
where resistance to recuperation happens. It's like a breaking
through to a new set of paradigms.

RP: What are the relations of this kind of symbolic politics to
more traditional kinds of political practice? Presumably, its
function is in some way tied to the role of mass media in the
political systems of advanced capitalist societies, where
representations play a role they don't necessarily have

Butler: Yes, I agree.

RP: Yet at the same time, it is a crucial part of this role that
the domain of representation often remains completely cut off
from effective political action. One might argue that the
reason a politics of representation is so recuperable is precisely
because it remains within the domain of representation - that
it is only an adjunct to the business of transforming the
relationship ofsociety to the state, establishing new institutions,
or changing the law. How would you respond to that?

Butler: First of all, I oppose the notion that the media is monolithic.
It's neither monolithic nor does it act only and always to
domesticate. Sometimes it ends up producing images that it has no
control over. This kin? of unpredictable effect can emerge right
out of the centre of a conservative media without an awareness
that it is happening. There are ways of exploiting the dominant
media. The politics of aesthetic representation has an extremely
important place. But it is not the same as struggling to change the
law, or developing strong links with political officials, or amassing
major lobbies, or the kinds of things needed by the grassroots
movement to overturn anti-sodomy restrictions, for example.
I used to be part of a guerrilla theatre group called LIPS - it
stood for nothing, which I loved - and now I'm contemplating
joining the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Human
Rights Commission. There's nothing to keep me from doing one
rather than the other. For me, it does not have to be a choice. Other
people are particularly adept working in the health care fields,
doing AIDS activism - which includes sitting on the boards of
major chemical corporations - doing lobbying work, phoning, or
being on the street. The Foucauldian in me says there is no one site
from which to struggle effectively. There have to be many, and
they don't need to be reconciled with one another.
Radical Philosophy 67, Summer 1994


RP: Do you see the success of these kinds of sexual politics as
depending on their connection to broader left-liberal alliances?
Or do you view them more autonomously, more defensively
perhaps, as part of a separate sphere which will have to look
after itself, since its agenda is treated with such suspicion or
contempt by the mainstream?

Butler: I don't think that I could make the gay arena into the
fundamental one, and then approach questions of racism or
feminism, for example, within the context of the gay movement.
I understand myself as a progressive anti-Zionist Jew. I think my
Jewish background is more formative than anything else - which
is probably why I can't write about it. My agony and shame over
the State of Israel is enormous, and the kind of contributions I
make in that domain have very little to do with my being queer.
They may have something to do with being a woman, but they're
more closely related to certain kinds of anti-racist views that I
I don't believe that states ought to be based on race. It puts
Israel on a par with South Africa. I'm willing to make that
analogy, and I'm also willing to talk about the economic and
military arrangements that those two countries have between
them. So I feel left of the Jewish left in this particular way. I was
touring recently in Germany. I was supposed to be talking about
gender, but I ended up only talking about race. I started writing
about racism and responsibility in the German press. (There's a
debate going on about the relationship between the Turks, as the
new Jews, and German guilt, and how guilt relates to responsibility.)
It's a whole other venue for me.
It's extremely important to find ways to work between these
various struggles. The absence of a common grounding on the left
has been very problematic. It's produced new forms of identity
politics without developing a vocabulary for making connections.
Unfortunately, there are people from the New Left in the United
States, mainly white men who are feeling a little left out of things,
who are more than happy to supply the ground. I know that some
people have worried about Cultural Studies offering itself as an
umbrella organisation for this kind of realignment within the
academy. But it depends what they're talking about. Cultural
studies in the United States is very different from what it is in
Britain. It's often at some distance from the kind of global
political analyses offered by Stuart Hall.

RP: Perhaps we could return, briefly, to your Foucauldianism
here. Implicit in what you have been saying (and it was explicit
in your talk at the ICA), is a distinction between enabling and
regressive practices and interpellations - although, of course,
some practices might be both enabling and regressive at the
same time. The question that immediately arises is: what's the
criterion for the distinction? What are the grounds for
affirming some norms and rejecting others?

Butler: The trouble with the question of theoretical grounds is
that it presupposes that we live outside of these norms, that we can
witness them and engage them by a set of standards that are not
inherent in the practices that we're analysing. What worries me
most is that form of rationalist imperialism that thinks it has
access to a set of principles extracted from practices, that it can
then apply to other practices. The Habermasian recourse to
normative grounds is nothing other than an extraction of a
contingent set of norms from practices - abstraction and
decontextualisation - and then a re-application of those norms
universally. It strikes me as circular and politically wrong. There's
a really problematic circularity in that notion of normativity.
Whenlsay 'enabling', I would admit, sure, there's a normative
direction in my work, but I would hope that there is no normative
ground. I don't think that in order to have a viable normative
direction you need a ground. If! want to claim and describe certain
ways of producing gender as restrictive or cruel, that entails that
I have some more expansive or complex view of what gender
might be. I'm willing to say that without filling in the content of
what that's going to be, or prescribing an ideal norm for what
that's going to be. I am in favour of opening up certain kinds of
practices, be they sexual or gender practices, as sites of contestation
and rearticulation. In one sense, that is enough for me. I see that
as part of a democratic culture.

RP: The refusal to rationalistically foreclose the results of

Butler: Yes, and the opening up of spaces for a certain kind of
democratic contestation, or more locally, for a contestation of

RP: But doesn't the very notion of a democratic contestation
itself imply a norm of some kind of equality of input to the
contest? That would be the Habermasian point, I suppose.

Butler: Except that the Habermasians tend to impose an
exclusionary norm in constructing the notion of the subject whose
'input' would count.

RP: We'd like to end by asking you how you see the future of

Butler: Catharine MacKinnon has become so powerful as the
public spokesperson for feminism, internationally, that I think
that feminism is going to have to start producing some powerful
alternatives to what she's saying and doing - ones that can
acknowledge her intellectual strength and not demonise her,
because I do think there's an anti-feminist animus against her,
which one should be careful not to encourage. Certainly, the
paradigm of victimisation, the over-emphasis on pornography,
the cultural insensitivity and the universalisation of 'rights' - all
of that has to be countered by strong feminist positions.
What's needed is a dynamic and more diffuse conception of
power, one which is committed to the difficulty of cultural
translation as well as the need to rearticulate 'universality' in non-
imperialist directions. This is difficult work and it's no longer
viable to seek recourse to simple and paralysing models of
structural oppression. But even here, in opposing a dominant
conception of power in feminism, I am still 'in' or 'of' feminism.
And it's this paradox that has to be worked, for there can be no
pure opposition to power, only a recrafting of its terms from
resources invariably impure.

Interviewed by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal
London, October 1993.