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Most modern wars are fought between professional military forces fighting on behalf of states, such as wars between Germany and France, between North and South Korea, between Egypt and Israel, and between China and Vietnam. Sometimes there are several participants on one or both sides, as in World Wars One and Two. Again, the 'participants' are states, which mobilise organised violence to defend, attack or otherwise protect and advance their interests. Sometimes one of the sides in a war is not a formal state, as in the Algerian war against France. In such cases this side usually aspires to the status of a state.
It may seem obvious that wars are fought by and on behalf of states. But it is also important to realise that wars are not fought directly on behalf of other groups.
Modern war is organised violence by military forces on behalf of states in a system of competing states. War is seldom a direct battle between individuals or communities, between classes, between ethnic groups or between sexes. Violence does occur directly in relation to these and other divisions in society, and the problems raised by this are important ones. But for focussing on the problem of war, consideration of the role of the state is vital. Social structures such as patriarchy do play vital roles in war, as I will describe in later chapters, but these also need to be analysed through their connection with the state and the state system.
It is true that war preceded the state. But 'war' is not a timeless category: its significance and dynamics depend on the social structures in which it occurs. Few of the conditions for tribal or feudal warfare exist in industrialised societies today. Understanding the nature of war in prehistoric times can be illuminating, but the insights cannot readily be used to analyse modern war. This is because the structures through which organised violence is mobilised and the uses for which it is directed are so different. Modern war is tightly linked with the modern state system and associated structures such as bureaucracy, patriarchy and capitalism. To address the problem of modern war, it is necessary to confront the state.
The state can be defined as a set of social structures based on a monopoly, within a territory, over what is claimed to be the legitimate use of force. The structures of the state operate to control and extract resources from the population in the territory. Military forces and police are the agents of the state. They exercise violence on its behalf against external or internal enemies.
The central role of the state in war is the focus of this definition. Indeed, it is by implicitly invoking this definition that I have distinguished war from independent violence between, for example, individuals or ethnic groups. The definition also points to the importance of the system of competing states as a key factor in the dynamics of individual states, rather than looking entirely at the relationship of social classes within countries. While the state is not the only locus of power in society, it is of central importance for the problem of war due to its monopoly on 'legitimate' violence.
More concretely, the state is typically composed of a set of organisations, most of them bureaucratic in form:
Under state socialism, the state directly owns and administers the large majority of economic enterprises. In capitalist systems many enterprises are not owned by the state, but they are still quite constrained by state ownership or regulation of transport, communications, land use, labour, permitted products and so forth.
Within its realm created by a monopoly over legitimate force, the characteristic function of the state is administration: controlling from above the frameworks in which economic, political and social life takes place. The organisational medium through which this administration takes place is bureaucracy. The state is essentially an intermeshing system of bureaucracies which together make up a large-scale power system which sustains itself by means of exploitation of a population. The key bureaucracy which defends and promotes the state using violent means is the military.
The modern state system is only a few hundred years old. Increased trade and the slow development of capitalism undermined the economic self-sufficiency of the feudal system in Europe. This also undermined the political and military autonomy of the feudal estates. More power passed to monarchs, who employed tax collectors and other administrators to control economic and political life. The rise of state bureaucracies and state military forces further undermined local autonomy, especially as the military role of the feudal aristocracy, its main justification for political control and economic exploitation, was superseded.
The process of state-building has been immensely stimulated by two types of catastrophic events: violent revolutions and wars. The French Revolution played a key role in the extension of the state in Western Europe. Theda Skocpol in her important book States and Social Revolutions conceives a revolution as a rapid and fundamental transformation of state and class structures, in part carried out by a class-based revolt from below. Prior to the French Revolution, local loyalties had been breaking down but no replacement was being provided. The revolution provided a new focus for loyalty: the state itself. This faith in a state ideal, often of religious depth and fervour, is usually called nationalism, though statism is a more appropriate term.
Revolutions are events of state-building and state transformation. The mechanism for changing class rule is by changing state structures. Historically, this has usually meant the creation of vast new bureaucracies for state control of society. Revolution in this sense is virtually always a state-oriented transformation. Major social revolutions since the French Revolution, including the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and other Third World revolutions, have taken a similar state-building form. This is just as true of the Iranian Revolution, in which the clergy has consolidated state power under its leadership, as it is of revolutions led by communist parties. In each case mass action has been utilised to destroy one state and class structure and create another. Also in every case, the newly created state apparatuses have maintained and extended the powers gained through revolution, and increased centralised control over the populace which gave rise to it.
War is the second type of catastrophic event, besides violent revolution, which has greatly stimulated state-building. The French Revolution mobilised nationalist passions and channelled them into a policy of expansion and conquest. Ruling elites in other countries which were overwhelmed or threatened by French military expansion saw the necessity for defending their own interests by centralising and expanding military strength, and extending state power to pay for and administer this. The French armies did not achieve victories by superior armaments or leadership. The key to their success was mass mobilisation and fighting spirit based on state chauvinism. To defend against this, a similar state mobilisation was promoted in other European countries.
Violent revolutions have often been linked with war. The Russian Revolution was precipitated by defeat of the Czarist armies in World War One, and followed in 1918-1920 by a major war for survival against internal and external opponents. Third World revolutions have often been the end products of lengthy anti-colonial wars. Wars are important in state-building in several ways. Besides defending the territorial monopoly on violence necessary for perpetuation of the state, wars also require the creation of bureaucracies for supporting, staffing and supplying armies. Central control of political and economic decision-making is required for the war effort. National unity is enhanced and dissident opinion repressed.
The state-building role of war applies not only in social revolutions but also to wars fought by existing states. As Randolph Bourne wrote during World War One, "War is the health of the state."
The state shares many qualities with the military. These qualities include centralisation of command, emphasis on discipline and obedience, and hierarchical organisational structures. This is not surprising, since the state is composed of bureaucracies and the military is a model bureaucracy. But this connection is not a coincidence: it is forged and extended in the course of war, which promotes the militarisation of society and strengthens the state as the locus of centralised administration.
Since the rise of the modern state several centuries ago, it has gone from strength to strength. The activities of existing states have been steadily extended. Typical activities include public health measures, town planning, schooling, funding of scientific research, unemployment payments, job creation schemes, subsidies for major industries, and ownership or regulation of radio and television. In extending its sway, the state directly or indirectly has broken down many local activities and traditions. The 'mentally ill' are no longer cared for by local communities, but are controlled by professionals funded by the state. Involvement by local people in town-level political decision-making has given way over many decades to an ever increasing focus on state-level party politics and particularly on the prime minister or president. The social support systems of the extended family and local community are collapsing in the face of geographical and social mobility and the provision of state services to individuals or nuclear families. Worker and community educational associations have given way to state-funded and regulated compulsory schooling.
The destruction of local organisations has meant that the state no longer has any major locally-rooted rivals in the provision of services. Only capitalist enterprises provide real competition to the state in providing some services. Provision of services by families, voluntary organisations and informal community structures are important, but take place within a state-controlled framework.
The state has moved into many new areas as they become significant, such as environmental protection, legislating against racial and sexual discrimination, and promoting nuclear power. This expanding role of the state helps prevent the rise of any significant competing forms of social organisation.
Many of the roles and activities of the state now seem indispensable. Even those who complain bitterly about the inefficiencies and abuses of state bureaucracies usually want only to reform the state rather than provide an alternative structure. Relying on the state for solutions to the problems of labour exploitation, poverty, racism, sexism and environmental degradation can be attractive, since the state can and does meet some needs in these areas. The difficulty is that the expansion of state power also reduces local direct democracy and increases vulnerability to manipulation by elites. This reinforces the structural basis for the original social problems whose alleviation was sought. The problem of war is a case in point.
In several instances, what were seen as solutions to the problem of war succumbed to the moulding force of the state system. Democracy was at one time seen as an antidote to war. But 'democracy' has been moulded to serve the state, becoming representative democracy to elect state officials, in which candidates are chosen by bureaucratised political parties. Far from being an antidote to war, mass representative democracy has been linked historically with the development of modern war. Indeed, mass democracies, beginning with the French Revolution, have been quite successful in war-fighting due to the power of popular sentiment mobilised on behalf of the state. In the two world wars, mass democracies defeated empires.
Socialism was also seen as an antidote to war, but it too succumbed to the state mould. The revolutionary triumph of socialism has always been the triumph of state socialism, not transnational socialism. In Soviet, Chinese and other socialist systems, the statist aspects of state socialism have prevailed over the libertarian aspects. War, the great promoter of the state, has been the rule in state socialist revolutions, and has been a frequent occurrence in interstate socialist relations.
World War One demonstrated the victory of the state system over any competitors or moderating influences. The international socialist movement, which demonstrated great apparent strength before the war, quickly succumbed to nationalist passions on the outbreak of the war. There was no general strike by workers nor blocking of war credits by socialist parliamentarians. Likewise, personal and group commitments to pacifism and neutralism were overwhelmed by nationalism. The pleas of Christian leaders were ignored. The talents and emotions of intellectuals were mobilised to glorify their own states and to vilify opponents. Even portions of the anarchist movement, including leading figures such as Peter Kropotkin, supported the war. Big business and international finance could not prevent the war, but rather adapted production to make war profits. War and the state system have emerged triumphant over allegedly pacifist influences of representative democracy, capitalism, Christianity and socialism. These and other ideologies and social systems have succumbed to or accommodated war and the state.
The state cannot survive solely by the use of violence to enforce acquiescence. A fair degree of popular support or at least passivity is required. State objectives can be more effectively promoted if members of the population are mobilised to support and work for the state. This process of mobilisation to serve the state is a key one. It proceeds on many levels.
The state is a symbol of strength and domination with which many individuals can identify. As the traditional sources of allegiance, such as the family, religion and local community, lose their force, the more abstract allegiance to country and state takes its place. Patriotism is the most obvious manifestation of the mobilisation of psychology to serve the state. More pervasive is the tendency to perceive the world from the viewpoint of one's state and to identify one's own interests with those of the state.
The process of identifying with the state is most widespread in relation to international relations, where the influence of the individual is least. Individual powerlessness can promote identification with what is seen as the source of power, the state. Mobilisation of individual psychology helps mobilisation for war, and in turn war is a potent method for generating patriotism.
In many cases agencies of the state can act without consulting or involving members of the public. But when community disenchantment or outright opposition begins to play a major role, then the state may sponsor limited participation which helps to mobilise consent for its policies and actions.
For example, city planners for many years simply proceeded without consulting the public. But in the late 1960s and 1970s community resistance developed: local pressure groups were established to oppose freeways, new airports, demolition programmes, uncontrolled commercialisation of neighbourhoods, and other aspects of urban 'development.' One official response to this grassroots resistance was to sponsor limited forms of participation in urban planning, for example by setting up neighbourhood councils to advise planners. Participation as used and promoted by state bureaucrats served to mobilise support and legitimacy for the state. Low-level participation can serve as a form of social control. It ensures that 'participation' takes the form of consultation or placation rather than community control. It also serves to coopt and absorb many social activists, and to isolate radicals from their constituency.
A crucial way in which the state mobilises support is through elections. Voting seems to offer some citizen control over the state; its less obvious effect is to foster acceptance of the state's system of bureaucratic administration. Benjamin Ginsberg, in his insightful book The Consequences of Consent, argues that elections aid the state's authority and help persuade citizens to obey. Elections channel political activity into electing representatives who become part of the state, and away from potentially dangerous mass action. Contrary to common belief, governments have often introduced voting and expanded suffrage on their own initiative, in order to prevent 'disorder.'
State sponsored participation serves to mobilise consent both to support particular policies and to support the prevailing system of top-down administration. This is similar to the use of limited forms of worker participation in corporations.
Antagonism between ethnic groups can be used and reinforced by the state to sustain its own power. When one ethnic group controls all the key positions in the state, this is readily used to keep other groups in subordinate positions, and as a basis for economic exploitation. This was clearly a key process in apartheid in South Africa, but is also at work in many other countries in which minority groups are oppressed. From this perspective, the dominant ethnic group uses state power to maintain its ascendancy. But at the same time, the use of political and economic power for racial oppression helps to sustain and legitimate state power itself. This is because the maintenance of racial domination and exploitation comes to depend partly on the use of state power, which is therefore supported and expanded by the dominant group. From this perspective it can be said that the state mobilises racism to help maintain itself.
There are several other avenues used by the state to mobilise support. Several of these will be treated in the following chapters, including bureaucracy and patriarchy. In each case, structured patterns of dominance and submission are mobilised to support the state, and state in turn helps to sustain the social structure in question, such as bureaucracy or patriarchy. To counter the state, it is necessary both to promote grassroots mobilisation and to undermine the key structures from which the state draws its power and from which it mobilises support.
Is the state system really so bad? War is the most obvious indictment of the system, and this alone should be enough to justify questioning the state. As wars have become more destructive, there is no sign that any steps to re-examine or transform the state system are being taken by state elites. This should not be surprising. War is not simply a by-product of the state system, to be moderated and regulated when it becomes too dangerous to populations. Rather, war is part and parcel of the state system, so the destructiveness of war makes little difference. State elites (and many others) see the world as a state-structured world, and all action is premised on this perspective.
War is the external manifestation of state violence. Political repression is its internal form. Political freedoms are not only at a premium under military dictatorships and state socialism, but are also precarious in the representative democracies, especially in relation to 'national security.'
One of the most telling indictments of the state system is found in Leo Kuper's book Genocide. Kuper documents the most horrific exterminations in this century, including the killing of the Jews by the Nazis, the massacre of the Bangladeshis by the Pakistan army in 1971 and the extermination in Cambodia beginning in 1975. What is damning of the state system is the reluctance of governments (and of that assemblage of state actors, the United Nations) to intervene against even the most well documented genocidal killing. The reason for this reluctance is the concern for the autonomy of the state. In short, maintaining the 'integrity' of the state system is more important for state elites than intervening against genocide.
There are many other social problems caused, sustained or aggravated by the state, including suppression of dissent, state support for corporate elites, and the activities of spy agencies and secret police. These problems stem essentially from the system of unequal power and privilege which the state both is part of and sustains. The state is not the only way to embody and sustain unequal power and privilege: it is a particular way involving bureaucracies for administration and military forces for defending against external and internal enemies.
It is possible to analyse the nature of the state at great length. Indeed, this has been an active area of inquiry for quite a few years, especially for Marxist academics. One can analyse the changing class composition of state elites, the relative autonomy of the state and the ideological state apparatuses, ad infinitum. But for all the analysis of the state as it is, there is relatively little fundamental critique of the state as a social structure, and less still in the way of alternatives to the state. Abolishing the state is hypothetically on the Marxist agenda for the far-distant future, but it is certainly not an immediate preoccupation of state socialists. Under state socialism, the state is strengthened. In capitalist societies, most socialists also seek to strengthen and expand the domain of the state. They aim to adapt state power for their own ends, not to abolish it. One reason for maintaining the state is to wage war against enemies of the state.
Who are those who seriously want to reduce state power? Here I will discuss three groups: anarchists, certain conservatives, and globalists.
Anarchism provides the most longstanding and incisive critique of state power, and indeed the centrepiece of anarchist theory and practice is opposition to the state. There are many different anarchist perspectives, ranging from support for a capitalist market economy without state interference to more collectivist orientations which also can be termed 'libertarian socialism' or 'left-wing anarchism.' My focus will be on these latter orientations. Most anarchists see a possible and desirable human community as one directly managed by the people who live in it. A typical libertarian socialist vision is that local communities and workers would organise their activities by techniques of direct democracy. Higher-order decisions would be made by bodies composed of delegates directly elected and immediately revocable by local groups. In such an anarchist society, privilege and power based on formal position would not exist. Work would be reconstituted so that the distinctions between mental and manual work and between work and nonwork were dissolved.
The long-term goals of left-wing anarchists and of socialists often have much in common, and indeed Marx is sometimes claimed as a mentor by both groups. Anarchists accept the bulk of Marxist analysis of capitalism, and like socialists oppose class rule: the unequal distribution of political and economic power embodied in capitalist social relations. Lenin's theoretical position on the state, spelled out just before the Russian October Revolution, contains many democratic practices which would be supported by most anarchists, such as direct recall of delegates and merging of legislative and executive functions.
Where anarchists and state socialists differ is over what methods are acceptable and successful for attaining liberation from class rule. State socialists historically have supported the 'intermediate' stage of 'dictatorship of the proletariat,' namely the vesting of ownership of the means of production in the hands of communist party elites who claim to represent the proletariat. In other words, in order to destroy capitalist power, state socialists support a vast expansion of state power. In theory this state power is supposed to wither away some time in the future, but in practice there has been no programme to achieve this goal.
Anarchists, since the early days of Marxism, have warned that the taking over of state power in the name of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' involves only another form of elite rule, and is not compatible with the goal of a stateless world. Anarchists strongly support the principle that the means should embody the ends. If the goal is abolition of the state, the means must involve weakening rather than strengthening state power. Anarchists in the late 1800s correctly foresaw that the outcome of revolutions led by vanguard elites to capture state power would be increased political repression.
Even with their heavy focus on the problems caused by the state, anarchists are far from having developed a persuasive and potent programme of political action against the state. They do support initiatives for self-management such as cooperatives and workers' control. These are seen as budding alternatives to state power and to other types of elite power.
Some anarchists take a 'purist' attitude to social action, preferring to avoid involvement in the state system themselves and so to work only on its fringes. This is one reason why anarchism remains very much a 'fringe' ideology.
Many anarchists have looked for social change to come from sudden, often violent, revolutionary transformations of society. Unlike vanguard parties on the left, few anarchists want to become new elites. They bend over backwards to avoid formal leadership roles, and prefer to leave the course of revolutions to the spontaneous initiatives of the masses. The intuitive support for self-managing structures has been graphically illustrated by such occasions as the Spanish Collectives in 1936-1939. These occasions are among the central guiding images for many of today's anarchists.
It is unfortunate that there has been relatively little attention by anarchists to long-term strategies for undermining and superseding the state. Anarchism provides perhaps the most fruitful starting point for development of strategies. It has a far-reaching critique of the state and of other structures for social repression, and a fair conception of an alternative mode of social organisation based on self-management. Perhaps anarchists have not developed strategies against the state because of their reluctance to become enmeshed in the state system and because of their belief in the spontaneity of self-managing social revolution. Contrary to many anarchists, I think a strategy against the state must involve coordinated action by people both inside and outside the state. Becoming 'ideologically compromised' is an inevitable consequence of such an approach.
Also, I think the emphasis by some anarchists on spontaneity is somewhat misplaced. Plans, strategies and scenarios are greatly needed to promote social change. The proper alternative to the rigid 'lines' of socialist vanguard parties is not pure spontaneity, but rather involvement by all interested people in developing a road, or rather many roads, to a self-managing future. For all their promise, the major social revolutions with self-managing traits have not had encouraging outcomes. More planning and attention to strategy could increase the odds of success in the future.
Another critique of state power is provided by certain conservatives. I say 'certain' conservatives since much right-wing opinion is not critical of the state in any fundamental sense. Defenders of capitalism often complain loudly about government intervention, but few want to alter the nature of the state in any dramatic way. Rather, they want state intervention in the economy to be tilted more towards the interests of capitalists. Few of them would really be happy with disappearance of state financing and regulation of roads, rail systems and air traffic, foreign trade, medical services, schools or the legal system.
The conservatives I have in mind are those who oppose the weakening of local organisations (including families, communities, churches and voluntary organisations) by the centralised state. This is a conservative anti-statism rooted in traditions of local autonomy rather than in defence of corporate or other vested interests. Localist anti-statism is found in most parts of the world which have not succumbed to industrialisation and 'modernisation.' (Modernisation is a code word for incorporation in the exploitative national and international political and economic systems.) Even in industrialised countries, localist anti-statism persists in many areas, especially in the United States. Often it is mixed with pro-capitalist ideology.
A writer who presents the view of conservative localist anti-statism very well is Robert Nisbet. In his book Twilight of Authority his basic theme is the destruction of local organisations by the centralised state, and the need for renewal of the local organisations. Nisbet provides a strong critique of the state, pointing to its failures, corruption, abuse of power, and destruction of valuable traditional structures and values. Nisbet also spells out the connection between the rise of state power and the rise of bureaucracy, the important role of war and military influence as causes and consequences of increased state power, and the role of intellectuals in promoting and being benefited by the state and war.
Nisbet's preferred alternative to state domination is a revival of localism, of kinship links, of decentralisation and of voluntary organisations. In this emphasis, localist conservatism and anti-statism has much in common with anarchism and with the goals of many community activists who push for more local autonomy and self-reliance in health, energy or production.
But there is a big difference in the nature of the local organisations supported by anarchists and by conservative localists. Anarchists favour self-managing localist alternatives, and oppose hierarchy and other forms of oppression such as patriarchy and the factory division of labour. Nisbet by contrast is uncritical of the localist alternatives to state power. He does not question the inequality and oppression embodied in the traditional family, class structure and so forth. Nisbet supports local varieties of hierarchy as a counter to centralised enforcement of uniformity.
How does Nisbet see localism recovering its lost position against statism? This is a problem for Nisbet: he has no strategy. He apparently puts his trust in the power of ideas to cause change. This lack of a strategy is linked with Nisbet's lack of critical attention to the family, voluntary organisations and local community whose resurgence he advocates. The oppression found in these local organisational forms has a lot to answer for, including contributions to racism, sexism, religious intolerance and class oppression. This is one important reason why state power so often has been seen as a solution to social problems.
Because anarchists and other community activists do criticise the localist organisational forms, this provides them with a basis for mobilising people's concerns and energy. For example, feminists are able to mobilise social action through their focus on oppression in the family and in larger-scale patriarchal social structures. The energy generated by organising to build egalitarian and self-managing systems of social organisation also can be used to undermine and challenge state power. By aiming to reconstruct local structures and thereby mobilising people, anarchists, feminists and others have access to a broad constituency for an anti-state strategy. The constituency for a conservative anti-state strategy would lie in those who are privileged by local hierarchies, and this is a much more dubious base for challenging the larger hierarchies of the state.
A third critique of the state comes from those who may be called globalists. These are people who recognise the tragic consequences of war, exploitation and repression caused by the state system, and see the solution as some sort of global world order.
One frequently advocated alternative to the state system is world government. But world government, or rather a world state, would not necessarily eliminate war, exploitation or repression. Rebellions, revolts and civil war would still be possible and indeed would be likely unless inequality, exploitation and other roots of war were removed. A form of peace enforced by ruthless use of centralised power might be maintained, but this in many ways could be just as bad as war. Indeed, in a world state the opportunities for repression would be immense. If a world state came into existence, it would be as necessary to develop ways to challenge and go beyond it as it is to challenge the present state system. Those who advocate the world state of course do not want it to be repressive. But the reality of a world state is likely to be quite different, especially considering that the most probable way in which a world state could arise is as a result of a major global war.
Short of a world state, another favoured direction is a strengthening of present international organisations, especially the United Nations. For all its advantages, this approach is still limited by its reliance on the continued existence of states. The UN has failed time and time again to prevent war or repression. Essentially this is because it is an organisation of state elites: an inter-national and not a global organisation. To be represented at an international level, local initiatives must be filtered through state apparatuses. The UN and other international organisations often are able to act above and beyond the interests of particular state elites. But in any action that threatens to challenge or undermine the state system itself, international organisations are quickly reined in by their constituent members, the state elites.
This problem is well recognised by sophisticated globalists such as Richard Falk and Johan Galtung. They favour a weakening and superseding of state power by simultaneously strengthening initiatives at local and global levels. Local organisations and campaigns can be linked in networks across state boundaries, and global organisations can be constituted independently of states, as in the case of global organisations of scholars, war resisters or amateur musicians. Global organisations, or individuals or groups constituted independently of states, provide valuable support for local initiatives, and vice versa.
Where this viewpoint runs into some trouble is in spelling out what sort of powers global organisations would have in setting frameworks or providing administration. Surely it is desirable to provide guidance at a global level for regulating the input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, or for providing assistance to disaster-stricken areas. But what procedures should be used for creating and operating groups on such vital topics? How are they to be made properly representative and accountable? Are their recommendations to be enforced in any way?
The arguments of the globalists may sound good, but how are their proposals to be implemented? In the end, they seem to rely on the power of ideas. Just like the conservatives, the globalists have not done enough in terms of developing strategies.
Nevertheless, the key insight of the globalist-localist advocates is an important one: that local groups and initiatives should be linked non-hierarchically with other groups and initiatives throughout the world. Action groups often operate strictly within the framework and perspective of a single state. The globalist orientation can help broaden the view of local activists. Likewise, the involvement of individuals and local organisations in global initiatives helps break down tendencies towards elitism in global organisations.
What should be done to help transform the state system in the direction of self-reliance and self-management? The problem can seem overwhelming. What difference can the actions of an individual or small group make? Actually, quite a lot.
The state system is strong because the actions of many people and groups support it. Most social activists see state intervention as a solution, often the solution, to social problems.
The obvious point is that most social activists look constantly to the state for solutions to social problems. This point bears labouring, because the orientation of most social action groups tends to reinforce state power. This applies to most antiwar action too. Many of the goals and methods of peace movements have been oriented around action by the state, such as appealing to state elites and advocating neutralism and unilateralism. Indeed, peace movements spend a lot of effort debating which demand to make on the state: nuclear freeze, unilateral or multilateral disarmament, nuclear-free zones, or removal of military bases. By appealing to the state, activists indirectly strengthen the roots of many social problems, the problem of war in particular.
To help transform the state system, action groups need to develop strategies which, at a minimum, do not reinforce state power. This means ending the incessant appeals for state intervention, and promoting solutions to social problems which strengthen local self-reliance and initiative.
These grassroots, self-managing solutions to social problems are in many cases no more than suggestive directions. Detailed grassroots strategies in most cases have not been developed, partly because so little attention has been devoted to them compared to strategies relying on state intervention. But the direction should be clear: in developing strategies to address social problems, aim at building local self-reliance and withdrawing support from the state rather than appealing for state intervention and thereby reinforcing state power.
Many people's thinking is permeated by state perspectives. One manifestation of this is the unstated identification of states or governments with the people in a country which is embodied in the words 'we' or 'us.' "We must negotiate sound disarmament treaties." "We must renounce first use of nuclear weapons." Those who make such statements implicitly identify with the state or government in question. It is important to avoid this identification, and to carefully distinguish states from people. The Italian state is different from the people living in Italy. Instead of saying "China invaded Vietnam," it is more accurate and revealing to say something like "Chinese military forces invaded Vietnamese territory" or perhaps "Chinese military forces, mostly conscripts, were ordered by the rulers of the Chinese state to invade territory which was claimed by rulers of the Vietnamese state as exclusively theirs to control." Also to be avoided is the attribution of gender to states, as in 'motherland' or 'fatherland.'
Many social action campaigns have a national focus, a national organisational basis and depend on national activist leaders. This is especially true when the campaign is based on influencing state elites to implement or change policies. This national orientation both reflects and reinforces a state perspective and state power. The alternative is to think and act both locally and transnationally, and to develop skills and leadership at local levels. This approach has been adopted by some social movements, but seldom on a sustained and systematic basis.
In developing strategies which withdraw support from the state, activists must come to grips with the issue of electoral politics. In most countries with systems of representative democracy, the dominant political parties are well and truly interlinked with the state. Far from providing a means for externally controlling state power, the party system is really an adjunct of the state. The party in government can achieve little without the cooperation of the state bureaucracies, especially the bureaucratic elites. Likewise, the ability of the government to implement policies depends on fitting those policies into the mould of state bureaucratic activity. This government-bureaucratic feedback provides enormous pressure to turn the party in government into co-administrators: helping to administer the state, along with bureaucratic elites. This relationship is strengthened by the bureaucratic structure of most political parties, which are organised similarly to state bureaucracies, and by the system of patronage, which promotes interchange of key personnel.
If the electoral system is so closely intertwined with the state, this may suggest that activists wishing to strengthen local and transnational rather than state power should withdraw from electoral politics. This is indeed the conclusion drawn by many anarchists. But this conclusion is a bit too hasty.
In transforming the state, there are two interlinked approaches: building self-managing alternatives from scratch, and moving existing state structures towards self-management. For example, as well as starting up new worker cooperatives, initiatives in the direction of self-management can be undertaken within state bureaucracies. Likewise, as well as building new processes for decision-making, efforts for democratisation of the existing political system can be undertaken. The electoral system, like all other parts of society, is a potential arena for social struggle with the aim of increased self-management.
The big problem in trying to transform the electoral system is getting caught up in the system: entirely working within it rather than also helping change it. The inevitable pressure on party leaders is to compromise principles of democracy, participation and responsiveness to the grassroots for the goal of attaining or maintaining power. Activists often go along with these compromises, and their participation in electoral politics then serves to reinforce state power.
The conclusion for activists is to be very careful about engaging in electoral politics. It is not good enough to assume that any social movement, once it reaches a certain critical size and strength, must engage in electoral politics. Grassroots strategies that do not depend on 'success' in elections need to be developed and pursued.
Finally, people in action groups should try to come to grips with their own nationalist feelings, and attempt to transcend them. A good test is to address issues which strike at the roots of nationalism. One such issue is immigration. In a world in which state power has been dissolved, there should be no barrier to movement between large-scale communities: no requirement for passports, immigration quotas and screening procedures. It is compatible with this goal to campaign for open state borders. On the other hand, it might (or might not) be a feature of a self-managing society to have closed or semi-closed local borders, at the level of households, communes or neighbourhoods, at least so far as settlement is concerned. For example, many ethnic groups need local autonomy to maintain their culture.
As well as immigration, other issues relating to statist feeling, such as citizenship, uniforms and medals, flags, state representation as in sporting events, and state holidays, often contain a deep reservoir of emotion. Confronting these issues and formulating policies and actions concerning them is a good way to come to grips with statist assumptions and feelings.
As mentioned before, there has been little effort devoted towards developing grassroots strategies for dissolving the state and replacing it by self-managing political and economic systems. Here all I will do is outline some of the elements which might contribute towards such a strategy.
The essential basis for a state-transforming strategy is building self-managing alternative structures at the local level:
As well as building self-managing structures, it is necessary to challenge, confront, undermine, transform or abolish many existing state structures. There are several avenues through which such challenges may proceed.
In pursuing campaigns which challenge the state, it is important that planning and coordination be done on both local and global levels, rather than just within separate states. The overall challenge must be to the state system, not just to individual states within it.
Challenges to the state need to take into account the different parts of the state and their different roles in restraining or supporting grassroots efforts. Those parts of the state in which social activism is most tolerated or structurally possible are mostly the areas where social activists are currently found and where campaigns are focussed, such as the education system, welfare systems and the electoral system. These efforts are important, since these sorts of areas are where most headway seems possible. But it is also important to develop campaigns focussing on parts of the state which are most resistant to democratisation and which play the largest role in opposing and smashing social movements. The following are some of the powerful and potentially most repressive parts of the state in relation to the problem of war.
Since the state system is so strong now, it would be somewhat speculative to present a detailed strategy for state transformation. For the moment, moving in the appropriate direction may have to be sufficient, for example in organising campaigns by action groups. If and when local forces become much stronger and pose a real threat to state power, other more difficult problems for strategy will arise. To what extent should global considerations dictate actions within a single country? Is self-management possible in one country? What should be the role of figureheads and leaders of the nonviolent revolutionary movement? Which parts of the state system should be abolished, which reconstituted and which protected for the time being?
These and other such questions may seem far in the future. But although significant change towards self-management may not occur for many decades, it is best to be prepared. Social revolutions usually proceed far ahead of planning and strategy, often with disastrous consequences. It is never too early for grassroots involvement in thinking and planning for long-term social change.
There are a number of traps into which anti-state campaigns can fall.
In chipping away at peripheral portions of the state system, one possible result is increased power for local communities, but another is increased power for the central parts of the state system. For example, challenging a regional government within a state may lead to increased local power or to increased power for the national government, depending on circumstances. Likewise, weakening state power in peripheral states, as in Norway or Czechoslovakia, may increase community-level power or increase the sway of the United States or Soviet Union, or both. The existence of this problem should not provide an excuse for bolstering regional or peripheral state power. Rather, the implication is that campaigns should be designed so that grassroots organisations are able to take advantage of any space opened by weakening bureaucracies or other aspects of the state.
One of the important challenges to existing states lies in separatist movements, as in Quebec, Scotland, Tibet or Bangladesh. But in weakening the control of existing states, separatist movements can play into the hands of regional elites. A successful separatist movement often simply leads to a new state in the old mould.
States should be distinguished from nations. A nation is a group of people typically with a common language and culture, and a set of traditions based in common religion, territory, and political, military and economic systems. A state may include more than one nation, as in the case of the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and other nations in the Soviet Union. Also, a national grouping may be spread over many states, as in the case of the Jews. But states exert a strong pressure towards internal uniformity, by promoting a common language, education and culture, so the tendency is for people within a state to be moulded into a single and unique nation as well. The standard concept of the nation-state is testimony to this process.
The related phenomenon of nationalism is often thought to be based primarily on common cultural characteristics. But John Breuilly argues that nationalism is better understood as a form of politics, in which cultural characteristics are used to legitimate and mobilise a political opposition to the state. Instead of appealing to universal principles or particular political rights in organising a political movement, a nationalist movement appeals to a distinctive cultural identity. But nationalist politics, according to Breuilly, have little connection with the existence or non-existence of a nation, but rather are shaped by existing interstate politics. From this perspective, the aim of nationalist movements is gaining or exercising state power, not providing any fundamental challenge to the nature of the state system.
Like the problem of weakening peripheral portions of the state system, weakening the state in some cases may simply allow increased exploitation by non-state organisations such as transnational corporations. It is important to keep in mind that while the state may be a key driving force behind war, it is not the only source of poverty, exploitation and repression. Campaigns against capitalism and other repressive power systems, including church hierarchies, patriarchy, and feudal-style social systems, need to be pursued hand in hand with campaigns against the state system.
The state has gradually garnered a monopoly over provision of certain social services, such as unemployment payments, pensions, schooling and medical care. It is one thing to promote locally controlled and self-reliant alternatives to these state services, and another to uncritically call for cutbacks in state services. Without the alternatives, opposition to state provision of services plays into the hands of those who wish to maintain their own privilege at the expense of others. But blindly defending the state services helps maintain the state system with all its problems. The resolution to this problem is to develop and build up ways of satisfying social needs for livelihood, learning and health in a more locally controlled manner than state services, and also to push for conversion of state services to these alternatives.