The ingredients of a regime

What are the basic ingredients of a regime?  This is an important question to answer if you want to make one or change one.  Here we are not talking about government nor constitution but about another more basic level of political and social organisation.  The UK has had plenty of governments and, of course, many of them have served to keep things the way they are.  There is an idea that, since the UK goes without a written constitution, it doesn’t effectively have one. It is unwritten and therefore less open to change although you could say that the Bill of Rights of 1688 or the Act of Union (with Scotland) of 1707 or the reform movement, the key staging posts of which are the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867, may all be constitutional changes.  Not to mention the treaty which gave us membership of the Common Market in 1973!

There’s always a danger that constitutional change can bring about regime change.  But even so, for the UK, these may have been changes to the constitution without being changes of constitution.  The regime that was established in 1688 started its gestation with the separation from Rome, the Protestant Reformation of the 1530s. French society began a process of regime change in 1789 and completed it with the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870.  In between these dates it went through a number of constitutions.  The significance of 1870 was the establishment of a republic.

So what do you need to make a regime?  You need territorial integrity.  This was less of a problem for the English/British after union with Scotland.  At this point the effective construction of a combining identity could begin.  ‘We’ only became ‘British’ in the 18th century.  Of course this is not (and was not) entirely unproblematic.  The territory-defining process can start with a colonisation or ‘land grab’. A good example of this is Israel.  Equally Islamic State have made a similar attempt. Both of these state-building projects started (and continue) with armed terrorist-type actions.

Territorial integrity is not simply determined by an armed appropriation of land.  You need another ingredient which makes the land identifiable with the people and the people identifiable with the land.  Anybody who has thought of such matters (and may be familiar with the work of Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities) knows the importance of language in this respect.  However the reach of a regime is (or can be) more visceral even than language.  For example, the National Socialist regime in Germany that took power soon after the elections of 1933 created a network of concentration camps, thousands of them so that there would be always one local to any community within the regime’s territory.  The principle was that the infliction of pain and humiliation to one person should be effectively communicated to thousands more.  The ability for the state to ‘disappear’ somebody has an impact that communicates itself quickly within the ‘identifiable territory’ of the regime.  Likewise, the initial strategy for the National Socialists was to make strategic releases of ‘survivors’ from the camps.  These would be the messengers and their reappearance in the community had high communication value.  This is similar to the proposed measure announced by David Cameron to deprive suspected terrorists of their passports.  Everybody in range of this message would be thankful to have one.  Like when you hear about a theft, you feel for your purse with quickened tension.  There’s nothing like the fear of statelessness to make one identify with the state.  In other words, the territory only becomes integral when it is identifiable and is a united sensory field.

The corollary of this is exclusion.  The territory would not be worth having if there was no resistance to its appropriation.  So the process of exclusion is linked to identification.  God comes in handy.  If you want a regime, it really helps to have your own god.  At a deep level the justification for the Israeli appropriation of land is written in holy texts.  You will immediately notice that this is the same for Islamic state.  The formation of the French national regime, the monarchy that ruled France until the Revolution, was deeply linked to the work of the Inquisition. For a specific instance of this, Ladurie wrote a series of books studying the impact of the Inquisiton, ‘Montaillou‘.  In England the specific construction of a God that served the regime’s purpose of cohesion was linked to the development of Protestantism. Ironically, the core of the puritan movement, that sharpened its project in the English Civil War of 1642-1660, strongly identified with the Israelites.  This was based on the story, particularly compatible with protestant ideology, that the English were (are) the chosen people.  We know that this particular story was capable of being exported west in the foundation of the United States. Anyway, you really need God if you are going to kill and killing is definitely a part of regime formation.

Another ingredient that will take the process of regime formation even deeper into the interstices of social life and interpersonal behaviour may be described as social synthesis. This is how Alfred Sohn Rethel described the process of abstraction of social relations presented by the agreement about the value of money, what Spinoza in the Ethics describes as the universal object of desire that “occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else”.  A key institution for the UK regime formation, and this is a sign of its prodigious modernity, was the Bank of England.  This was founded in 1694, obviously not long after the accession of William and Mary of Orange (1688), and the basis of its foundation was this deal: the bank could print money and issue coin (with the sovereign’s head on it) and the monarch could borrow money to conduct foreign wars. These wars turned out to be to the advantage of the merchants that had backed the setting up of the bank.  This was the simple bit. Enforcing this arrangement and ensuring that the currency was accepted in the integral territory was more messy.

In 1690 Thomas and Anne Rogers were tried and found guilty of having in their possession counterfeit coin and the implements that were necessary for forging currency.  Thomas was hanged drawn and quartered.  Anne was burnt alive.  The charge was treason and the punishments were exemplary.  Displays of killing like this were as intensive as possible to send the message out to all within the regime’s sensory range. The message was: trust the currency.  Clearly fear and trust are the opposite sides of the same coin.  Once the Bank had been set up things got no less violent. Major effort had still to be deployed to prevent counterfeiting. Isaac Newton, who in the later part of his life, after his exertions in optics, physics, mechanics and alchemy, became an employee of the Bank and was made a Justice of the Peace so that he could pursue malefactors indulging in coin-clipping and forgery.  A key role for the Bank of England is to maintain confidence in the currency.

You can only undertake programmatic killing of the sort which the Rogers underwent if you believe you have God ‘on your side’ or if you have the belief that you are battling an ineffable evil. So there is a connection between the central symbolic enactments of the regime, the monarch, ritualised slaughter and the creation of ‘social synthesis’.  A key component of this last is the agreement about money’s value.  This enables social relations to be regulated and thus money is able to perform its multiple, designated social function as both a means of exchange, of circulation and a store of value.  This means value can be retained and accumulated and there is stability in prices.

As well as core processes such as the administration of justice, policing, the creation of currency, the structuring of social relations through military organisation and deployment, there were also popular ‘displays’ such as parades with accompanying songs and symbolic enactments. As mentioned above the ‘glue’ which held these processes together for the English/British was the Protestant religion.  This was the basic combinative ingredient, the ideology.

English/British Protestantism was (and is) an extraordinary hybrid structure, sealed off, on the one hand, from the democratic tendencies of radical ‘dissenting’ Protestantism and and, on the other, by distinguishing itself from Roman Catholicism.  At a doctrinal level this effort of formulation is summed up in the 39 Articles. These form a part of the Book of Common Prayer, the English/British equivalent (maybe forerunner) of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.  Protestantism provided ‘litmus-test’ for loyalty.  All public officials had to swear their loyalty to this religion and in the early days of the regime had to take Anglican communion.  The lynchpin of the, only partly-disguised, theocracy of the English/British system was that the Monarch was the head of the church.  This meant that loyalty to the religion was corroborative of loyalty to the monarch.  We can see that, when the regime representatives are pressed, they come up with the requisite symbolic actions as proof of loyalty, witness David Cameron’s exhortation to Jeremy Corbyn to prove his loyalty by wearing a tie and by standing up and singing “God save the Queen’.  Those who look with scorn at the jihadists’ cries of “Allahu akhbar” should check for attitudinal consistency.

The connection between Protestantism and state loyalty reflected the crucial link between Catholicism and treason.  At a core level of regime solidarity the connection of an ‘enemy within’ with the ‘enemy without’ is essential.  It is in this way that military organisation permeates the interstices of the society.  The Royal Navy was the senior service, and this had impacts on the bureaucracy of state organisation.  The initial move in the 1690s by the regime alongside the renewal of the Navy was the creation of the Coalition Army with the Dutch against the French.  This was the first mobilisation of a UK army to fight in foreign fields for some time.  It was a Northern European Protestant alliance against the Catholic powers.  All of the UK’s wars, it goes without saying, were fought outside the integrated territory, and the co-ordination between the Navy and the army set the pattern for adventures right up the Falklands/Malvinas adventure.  However the Navy remain the ‘keynote’ armed service.  It also goes some way to helping to understand why our main ‘deterrent’ is the sea-borne ‘Trident’ system.

This also goes some way to explaining how UK polity was, and is, organised.  Up until the 1780’s the key government departmental organisation was the separation between the Northern Department, which engaged with relationships with the Northern European Protestant states, and the Southern Department, which dealt with relations with Catholic and Muslim (I nearly said Islamic) states.  It was after the defeat in the American War of Independence, a salutary and complex shock to the UK system, that the Home Office and the Foreign Office were formed to replace this ideologically and geographically-based bureaucratic organisation. The cohesion/exclusion processes of regime-making are structured, at the level of policy formation and execution, by the articulation of ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy. The relationship between these two departments of government remains, while the regime is intact, unquestioned like a basic assumption .

At the same time in the 1780 and 90s, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic campaign there was the first real threat of invasion since 1066, a significant change to the loyalty test took place.  Anti-Catholicism had served extremely well in providing the key cohesion/exclusion necessary for the sustaining of the ‘chosenist’ imperial expansion.  It could be ritualised at a popular level with Church and King festivities like Guy Fawkes bonfires. Fawkes was often replaced by Napoleon or even Tom Paine during the 1790s in such ceremonial effigy-burning.  Thus the new enemy became ‘Republicanism’ and it is significant that the oath of loyalty for the armed forces, at this point, dropped the Protestant component.  From that time you only had to swear allegiance to the monarch to serve in his (or her) majesty’s armed forces. To this day all members of Parliament, the armed forces and certain sections of public servants do likewise  The distinction between being public servants and servants of the crown is ill-defined.  It was some time later that Engels encapsulated the UK system as being like an inverted pyramid where the peak was at the same time the base:

The English Constitution is an inverted pyramid; the apex is at the same time the base. And the less important the monarchic element became in reality, the more important did it become for the Englishman.  The Condition of England F. Engels Vorwarts 1844

Popular sovereignty was magically transposed into monarchic sovereignty and we, poor ‘Ukanians’, remain subjects of the Crown, despite our more recent reaching out (apparently unsuccessfully) to European Republicanism and citizenship via the EU.

Another important ingredient is how the regime embodies itself, how it personifies itself. The emblematic character for the English/British regime is the English Gentleman.  All forms of national identification centre on this figure.  The central place of patriarchy, or the renewal of patriarchy in the constant ‘replaying’ of this particular character, connects with military, behavioural and temperamental codes.

So, an integrated territory with a sensory unity, ritual killing authorised by god, connected social synthetic processes  (money and language), military organisation and action sanctioned by god through the sovereign, all brought together in a symbolic figure, an emblematic personification, a functioning ideology that creates social cohesion through exclusion (in the UK’s case, this was first anti-catholicism, then anti-republicanism, then anti-communism and then ‘war on terror’), public displays and rituals that enact the basic ideological values, are the basic ingredients.

As one looks in more detail at these regime-making processes we can see that, underlying government, there are certain sustaining structures.  It’s as if the basic space, structure and furniture of a house were established and the processes of change and renewal were limited to curtains and fittings, decorative features and who it is that actually occupies the space.

How far are the ingredients of a regime the same as those of any human group?  Is the regime a species of human group?  Sigmund Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego extrapolated from smaller human groups and arrived at the idea that the basic organisational forms of larger groups were typically manifested in the Army and the Church.  In this regard, it is significant, in the UK case, that the monarch is both Commander in Chief and Head of the Church.  When Wilfred Bion (see Experiences in Groups) analysed the underlying structure of the human group he identified certain, what he described as, ‘basic assumptions’, occasionally applying these to whole societies.  Writing in the period immediately after the Second World War, he surmised that the structure of German society as the war was coming to an end, resembled a group dominated by the ‘fight/flight’ basic assumption.  This is one of three group structures that he identified: ‘fight/flight’, ‘dependent’ and ‘pairing’.  These interrelate and are in dynamic contention with a fourth: the ‘work’ group. In Elias Canetti’s work Crowds and Power he describes a morphology of human groups, for example, ‘increase pack’ group behaviour where a human group is structured by consumption that escalates mimetically: the more that is consumed, the more the group members feel that they must consume.  The question is: are these basic human group structures operational at the level of regime organisation?  How far is the structure of the regime a natural human phenomenon?  Does regime change involve a change in human nature?

I am unable to do justice to the three great observers of human group behaviour that I have cited above.  However, none of them were in a position to see what we can now see: that the human species is endangered by human activity itself.  The regimes that I have been describing, using the UK regime as the main example, are all historically specific and are, in complex ways versions of nation-state regimes.  I’m saying it is complex because the development of the different nation-state regimes were not autochthonous.  They developed mimetically.  The development of one borrowed forms from another.  They placed themselves against one another and mimicked each other.

So there are two perspectives from which we can look at regime change.  One, is to do with the fact that now, it is even more unlikely that regimes can change in isolation from other regimes.  The problematic history of the Communist Revolution in Russia after 1917 demonstrates this issue.  The other perspective is given by asking how far new kinds of people have to come into being first in order to create regime change.  Of course, people are always changing and developing and they do so at the same time as formulating what they recognise as being human. They inscribe these formulations in the societies they build. As regimes solidify and create international structures of conformity, hierarchic relations operate through groups of nations (G7, G20,) taking on the lead role in international social organisation. In these circumstances, where there is a universalisation of regime maintenance, there appears to be a growing multitudinous powerlessness proportional to the centralisation of power. Humanity as whole seems to be more powerful, more productive and therefore more destructive, but the overwhelming majority of human beings experience a lack of control over their immediate circumstances.  It seems as if we are living at a time of social disintegration where fewer and fewer people are able to engage in making our lives together. So often when thinking about the disfunctionality caused by inequality, privatisation, financialisation and dispossession one meets contradictions which appear to be deadlocks.  How can people change their political and social circumstances when as individuals they have so little power?

There are deep connections between inequality, powerlessness, global-warming anthropogenic climate change, racist divisions and patriarchal values and, because of this, it is difficult to know where to start.  Yet the overwhelming nature of the problems that we are encountering mean that action is necessary.  Two things occur to me.

One, is that reason and rationality, as we receive them, seem of limited help.  This is not to undervalue thinking but it means being critical of thinking of a certain type. We have to question common sense and received definitions of reality. Of course the risks are of isolation and illusion.  Is there some basic sense of humanity that we can test our intuitions against?  Can we continue to experience our humanity as a variable and dialectical process of realisation?  What is this work and what tools are necessary?  Reflection is important, but is it sufficient? One knowledge that I have found valuable arises out of the work that I have done in theatre and drama.  The starting point for me in this work, the creation of the aesthetic space in which the work can take place, has been the reduction of human interaction to a kind of neutral readiness and the gaining of a relaxed concentration.  Alongside various appropriate exercises, I am constantly inviting the people with whom I am working to do nothing, to ‘just breathe’.  This place of stillness is where we start from.  I connect this to the primordial, pre-verbal condition of humanity and when I have thought about this recently the work of the Tao Te Ching has been brought to mind, especially the idea of the ‘uncarved block’.  This is a complex idea developed in the work.  What it most reminds me of is the first period of our lives before we have language.  I believe that making contact with this ‘being’ is a prerequisite of action in the world. This action of society building (what Castoriades in his work ‘Philosophy, Politics and Autonomy’ calls ‘instituting’) is, for me, identical to changing the regime.

Two, this work should start with work in groups and work on making groups that can act as organisational examples of social generation as well as being effective communities of action.  This seems to me to be in accord with the recognition that we are essentially mimetic creatures, that we make each other through imaginatively transferring our selves to the other.  So, if regime change engages, as the psychoanalytic thinker, Otto Gross expressed it, with our ability to ‘replace the will to power to the will to relate’ (See Gottfried Heuer’s book about Gross), then it is in group work that I feel that this capacity to relate can be best practiced.

It would be difficult to overestimate the need for good clear thinking but it strikes me that regime change or revolution now, in our circumstances, needs deep passion more than anything else.  Going deeper into ourselves and our humanity is prescriptive of being truly active.









Permission to Narrate Gaza by Ilan Pappe in ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ and thoughts about regime change


Reading Ilan Pappe‘s essay in the ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ book I began to believe that he was answering a question that I had asked myself. Don’t we in the UK need a new kind of activism? See my “Activism and Az Theatre’ in the Az Theatre blog.

His essay called ‘Permission to Narrate Gaza’ is one of many wonderful contributions in this volume edited by Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar but Pappe’s was the contribution that really caught my attention. Here is an extract. He is responding to Edward Said’s call for Palestinians ‘to extend their struggle into the realm of representation and historical narratives’:

‘One can continue Said’s journey by challenging further the historical narrative and by questioning the hegemonic discourse on Palestine commonly employed by the powers that be. This questioning has to insist on including the historical context and new terminology when discussing the 2014 attacks on Gaza and the overarching question of Palestine. The new terminology can be presented best as several pairs of antinomies: the former in each pair representing a redundant term to be replaced by the latter more apt one. Occupation versus Colonisation; Peace Process versus Decolonisation; Peace Solution versus Regime Change; Two States Solution versus One Sate Solution; Israeli Democracy versus Israeli Apartheid; Israeli Defence Policy versus Ethnic Cleansing (and, as we shall see, Genocide in the case of Gaza)’ p.159 Gaza as Metaphor

He is summary and is concerned with breaking down illusions, of moving beyond the accepted given narrative of the situation. He is redefining the space of thought. I feel his reasoning has dimension. But, at the same time, he is summing up what has already been articulated. And the thoughts are based on recognising what is happening in Gaza.

I am particularly interested in his use of the idea of ‘Regime Change’. See The Specifics of British Regime Change and Is Regime Change a Paradigm Shift?

What was the first building block on the way to founding this new vision, what he calls a new ‘penning’? He is comparing the power of the pen with the power of the sword. Maybe it starts with a critique of the accepted thinking. Usually faced with the situation there in Palestine you meet ‘facts on the ground’. These facts on the ground are the arguments that set out the space, determine the basic ideas, the terms of the debate. Normally these facts and ideas send your mind round in circles. They make it not make sense.

The ‘two-state solution’ arises from the initial partition of the land in 1948 that was validated by the United Nations. The logical corollary of this partition is that the two peoples should live in separate spaces. He quotes sardonically the Robert Frost poem about ‘good fences making good neighbours’.

The next proposition is that the Peace Process should lead to the foundation of the Two States. This is a piece of double-think or, at any rate, it is the generation of thinking as a smoke screen. The Israelis are ‘pretending’ that they are not appropriating Palestinian land, most significantly the land which they occupied in 1967. So the next idea that hits the floor and smashes to pieces, is that what they are doing is ‘occupying’ the West Bank and Gaza, that what is taking place is an ‘occupation’, as if this is envisaged by the perpetrators as a time-limited process and that the ‘occupiers’ are planning to withdraw. Of course the ‘withdrawal’ of colonies from Gaza is a part of this feint. We are asked to believe that this was a part of the ‘occupation’ ending.

Already by criticising the Two-State solution, the Peace Process and the Occupation, the ground in view, and the mind, starts to clear. If these were pictures that obscured the real view then it is necessary to knock them down and dispense with them. The Peace Process is the biggest feint. There can be no peace without justice. It cannot be that a ‘peace’ can be constructed as if there has been a war between two parties whose conflict has reached a conclusion.

I have recognised for some time that the Peace Process is a fake game and finally knowing this was simultaneous with recognising that a genocide was happening. I don’t agree with Pappe that this is only happening in Gaza.

Of course, my use of the word genocide is specific. It is genocide in the strictest meaning of the word. This is as I understand it: genocide is, according to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who invented the word and defined what it meant, the destruction of a human group. This idea of ‘human group’ often refers to an ethnic group, a ‘people’ but it can be any identifiable group. This means that the group has to be capable of being identified and the process of identification must be an integral part of the genocide itself. The victim group in a genocide, as such, may not exist as an identifiable group before the genocidal process begins. It may lack definition and a part of the genocide is to clarify this definition.

Understanding why genocide starts with the identification of the victimised ‘human group’ and does not start with the scale of the killing (the actual physical destruction of the group) is important because it clarifies the fact that the process does not start from the attributes of the victim group but rather with the requirements of the perpetrator group.

In the first movements of the operative definition of genocide when it was incorporated into the United Nations Convention on Genocide framework Lemkin struggled to maintain the political rather than only the ethnic definition of ‘human group’. In the wake of the Second World War when this process of formulation was undertaken considerable pressure (yes, an early example of the Israeli ‘lobby’) was brought to bear to ensure that the ethnic definition was primary.

This political consideration makes us mindful of the requirements of the perpetrator group rather then the characteristics of the victim group and brings attention to the fact that identification is a key part of the genocidal process. I believe it is this specific understanding of genocide that has been developed by the work of Daniel Feierstein. In his book Genocide as Social Practice he outlines five stages of Genocide.

Two main things are important in this. One is that mass killing is only one phase of genocide. It may be the final phase. The most important overall objective is the ‘imposition of the national pattern of the perpetrator group on the victim group’. Secondly, this work draws attention primarily to the characteristics of the perpetrator group. These characteristics amount to a need for social cohesion and the genocidal process provides a means of social reorganisation for the perpetrator group or society.

So there can be emerging or proto-genocidal movements. For example, during the Thatcher government years there was move towards a kind of ‘genocidal’ mentality when she designated the miners (or at least the active resistant sector of the National Union of Mineworkers) as ‘the enemy within’. This is like an internal declaration of war. Similarly, during the regime of the Argentinian junta there was an internal war against ‘subversive’ and political opponents of the regime. Daniel Feierstein draws attention to the parallels between the practices of this regime and the national socialist regime in Germany in his book.

Whereas I would resist the definition of genocide as simply and solely mass killing it is difficult to accept a definition that excludes killing or excludes the tendency towards mass killing. Processes of exclusion, the creation of ‘the other’ or of an enemy, appear to be endemic to human society so when does an exclusionary process of social organisation become genocidal?

One significant factor is the cohesion a group gains from considering itself more advanced or superior. It has to do so in relation to another group. It is this distancing itself from the other human group that is a crucial moment in the genocidal movement. The erasure of the other human group ‘as a group’ becomes the means of securing the identity of the genocidal group. What occurs is a specific relationship between different specific technologies of power, or techniques of social organisation, imposed on one group and the impacts, in terms of social cohesion produced, for the other group. Each stage of erasure is co-ordinate with each stage of cohesion.

It might be true that the moment of actual mass killing is the moment of self destruction for the perpetrator group. There has to be survivors of the victim group for the perpetrator group to have the ability to impose its ‘national pattern’.

The mass killing is an end game. This is the significance of Feierstein’s devastating observation that genocide is endemic to modernity. After all, modernity must be the point of arrival for advanced human groups as they distinguish themselves from those less ‘modern’ than themselves.

This brings our attention to another important aspect of what Ilan Pappe is saying. Having replaced Occupation with Colonisation, Two-State Solution with One-State Solution, Peace Process with Decolonisation he goes on to argue for Regime Change. He connects the need for regime change to the apartheid and settler-colonial nature of the Zionist regime.

This brings me back to the exploration of new activism with which I started. I said that Ilan Pappe concerns himself with changing the narrative and thus making an intervention with the power of his ‘pen’ in relationship to the Israelis powerful ‘sword’. What does the counterposing of these two forms of human power bring to our attention?

Why does the turn or change that he is pointing to open up key tactics and key strategic demands? What perspectives are opened up by BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) and the co-ordinate emphasis on the Right of Return. These are aimed at Regime Change

He is saying that the core of the current regime in Israel needs to change. It is not just a question of changing government policy. Policy change does not go deep enough. It is the basic premise on which the policy is constructed that needs attention.

Feierstein describes the genocidal process as consisting of a number of stages. Though these stages are chronologically ordered, some of the stages could take place at the same time. One of the stages, the last, is ‘symbolic re-enactment’. He describes this as the portrayal of the events of the genocide as composing the two absolutely distinct groups (we know from the historical record that such distinctions are not so absolute): innocent victims and diabolical perpetrators. These two groups, manifesting as absolute opposites of each other, assume a symbolic function as they enact a basic mythic story. And thus this story impels and motivates correlative action.

All ‘national patterns’ or national stories, narratives, are symbolically enacted in the construction and institutionalisation of the instruments of policy. For the symbolic enactment to take place the figures or characters in the story have to be recognisable and therefore both specific and general.

Augusto Boal says in his book The Rainbow of Desire, enacted stories can be related to in modes of varying qualitative intensity. He gives the key points in an array of perceptual responses from identification, to recognition and to resonance, pointing out that elements of these appropriative reactions can be fired simultaneously. It could be said that responses to a symbolic enactment of a genocide may have to operate at multiple levels for the actions that correspond to it to have effective force.

Several stories with different but related personages may reformulate and play out a basic mythic pattern, rather in the way that Ted Hughes in his book, Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Being, tells us that Shakespeare, along with other poets, articulate a key mythic formulation through a multiplicity of narratives.

If the basic story that the Israelis are able to tell, which is a symbolic re-enactment of a genocidal process in which they cast themselves as absolute victims, then what is the basic story of the UK national pattern? What are the components of this story?

From where can regime change emerge? The sense that I get from Ilan Pappe’s work is that the process of regime change must be accompanied if not preceded, by a new narrative. From what well-spring does this restructured narrative come?

It must come from profound and basic needs felt by the human beings who participate in such movements. Of course material circumstances such as appetite, hunger, need for shelter and so on may well play a part but it is demonstrable that these material exigences can equally work against the renewal that is envisaged in a change of regime.  The needs must exceed these material requirements.

Human beings are creatures whose actions are intentional. We hold ourselves together through the intentions that we formulate for ourselves. Thus we are creatures, but creatures who are political and mimetic. We formulate our intentions through language and this is a social tool. We collectivise our intentions but only so long as the mimetic processes, that hold us together as a group, can operate effectively. These understandings of the nature of human group behaviour have been explored by writers as diverse as Elias Canetti, Wilfred Bion and Rene Girard.

In order to co-ordinate and form our intentions, which are always experienced individually though formed collectively, we must engage in the organisational processes of symbolic enactment. How precisely symbolic enactment operates and is effective in social organisation may, at first sight, seem complicated.

It is perhaps by understanding how this structuring of stories takes place that new narratives can begin to be developed. It is at times when the old stories send us round in circles that this restructuring feels necessary. When the restructuring feels necessary we start to reject the old story and begin to look with interest not just at new stories but at how these stories operate. This, in turn, leads us to looking more closely at the basic parameters of human experience and at the sources of desire. To understand the way in which stories operate on us, we need to look at how we are in that stage of our lives that is pre-verbal.

This may be taking us too far from Ilan Pappe truly enlightening essay.

Does this new activism have implications for Regime Change here in the UK? We can compare the foundation of the state of Israel with the foundation of the UK state. One is immediately met with differences. The Israeli state was founded in 1948 through an armed land grab, a military appropriation of territory. This securing of occupied land is the prevailing raison d’etre of the state. Although the initial land grab and the subsequent land grab in 1967 were sudden and dramatic, the building and sustaining of the Israeli state project is a long-term venture. The sudden moments of change may give rise to, or make more apparent, a prevailing narrative or sustaining myth. This may have a relationship to the ‘national pattern’ that Lemkin refers to in his definition of genocide. Does the UK have a prevailing narrative, sustaining myth or national pattern that is comparable with Israel’s?

Many questions arise from these thoughts. Is the regime that reigns over the major part of Palestine comparable to the regime that reigns over the British Isles? They are very different in size. One started in 1948, the other could be said to have started in 1688. This last detail is, for example, open to question. Did what we can identify as the UK regime not start before that date? How much of the basic institution-building took place during the Tudor period. Certainly the Reformation and the political break with Roman Catholicism could be considered to be the starting point for the regime. Also the arrival of the Norman institutions in 1066 might similarly be considered thus. Equally, the advent of the 1832 Reform Act or that of 1867, or the battle of Culloden in 1745 or the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 may mark major points of no return or major starting points.

In fact, what you consider the key characteristic of the regime will determine what you believe the starting point might be. To some extent what you consider to be the starting point is dependent on your sense of what is happening in the current situation. Isn’t this to do with the fact that the social formations we are describing are not static entities? They are combinations of processes that are unfolding and developing.

On the one hand, this seems to be true and, if it is true, it must apply to both the regime in Palestine and the regime in the British Isles. On the other hand, it seems to be actively and immediately true in the case of the Zionist regime that it is facing a more violently contradictory situation.

Is this to do with the relationship of forces working on the internal development of the country and those working on the external development. By all accounts, Israeli society is held together by a deliberately engendered state of fear. This means that the whole society is constantly in a state of war. So the level of intensity and fragility of the social processes aimed at cohesion and security is very high. This is reflected absolutely in the level of dependence on external support. This means that there is a direct relationship between these internal and external tensions.

Both regimes are client states of a larger political entity but the level of dependence of Israel is much higher. Both regimes are colonialist. The colonial processes in one are ongoing and have yet to stabilise themselves whilst in the other, the colonialism is more of an historical factor. In this sense they are at different stages of development. The Israeli Zionist state project may be historically short-lived. The British state project has been sustained for at least 400 years (depending on your definition). There is also a relationship of what might be called precedence. Britain was the former colonial ruler of Palestine and before that the Ottoman ruled there. As Israel’s star waxed so Britain’s waned.

This reminds us of a kind of succession in the movement of history. The political forms are transposed from one player to another in a movement of variation on a theme of conformity. One state becomes like another state in order to match it. Then there are movements when one ‘model’ of statehood has hegemony and other states conform. This also must be to some extent the case with the relationship between Israel and the UK but more so with the relationship of Israel to the USA.

This means that all states are held in place in relationship to all other states and, once in a while, a state or group of states breaks away and forms a new movement. In this sense the internal constitutions of states appear to arise, at best, from the will of the people but are as much determined by the structure of the states with which they are in relation.

This dynamic between external conformity and internal aspiration is the tension that holds the structures in place. Both the regimes in Palestine and in the British Isles are ‘structured’ or held in place by their relationship to the hegemony of the USA. Of course these relationships are very different. You might think, at first sight, that Israel is more dependent on the USA than the UK is. However this may not be simply the case. This interconnectedness also means that regime change in one related political entity can be causally related to regime change in another. Regime change in one country can trigger regime change in another and it might also be true that regime change in one country is unlikely without regime change in another.

What Ilan Pappe is saying is that effective resistance starts with resisting the narrative that the dominant power is effecting or enacting. This potentially avoids the reciprocal structures that can lead to the emerging social movements being incorporated and stifling resistance. It involves ‘moving the goalposts’ or creating a new paradigm. This is why he is concerned with ‘replacing’ occupation with colonisation and peace process with decolonisation and so on.

Isn’t there an equivalent paradigm shift warranted by the politics of the UK? Is there a way of expressing it that is as simple and clear? Is there a tactical equivalent to BDS? Since these political regimes are connected isn’t the struggle for BDS indirectly a movement of resistance to the regime in the UK? Resistance is connected to regime change through a keener mode of activism: refusal.

I am grateful to Ilan Pappe for his provocative essay, to the editors of Gaza as Metaphor. We clearly need to seize on what is at the core of our problem in our own society and this will give us the breadth of perspective necessary to change the narrative and re-write history.





Activism and Az Theatre

Recently I led a session for Leading Edge, a series of talks that Dr Gottfried Heuer curates for the Association of Jungian Analysts. I did a participatory interactive event that invited the participants to look at the relationship between dramatic space, therapeutic space and everyday space. See the notice for this event

This has made me reflect on why it was that we have created a new mission statement for Az Theatre: Performing Arts, Inspiring Activism.  What exactly was intended by associating theatre with activism?

I did not intend that this means that the work of the company should always be directed towards issues that can be resolved by the achievement of some immediately attainable goal. I didn’t imagine that we should be involved in campaigns where theatre was an alternative to leaflets or public meetings or online petitions. Neither did we envisage that our work should be a public display of demands on a demonstration.  Though none of these possibilities is out of the question. So what kind of activism do we have in mind?

When we were struggling to define this outcome of the company’s work I used the word ‘activisation’.  Until it was pointed out that this sounded robotic and mechanical. However, I did want the sense that the work should activate people and make them disposed towards taking action. There didn’t seem to be any word that could describe the sense of revitalisation and animation that I had in mind. I recalled Hannah Arendt had used the word ‘praxis’ to describe the activity of involvement and participation in public and political life. She counterposed this to the passivity of totalitarianism.  But this word seemed too academic and the word ‘practice’ was too connected to preparation.

My thinking derived from simple observation about the human life with which I was surrounded.  The economic system, the transformation of the Earth’s resources through production, distribution and exchange, had become more unified and globalised.  This movement had become more and more dominated by financial operations which circulated values in almost unimaginable quantities.  The sheer size and complexity of the interconnections between supply and demand, between the extraction of natural resources, their transformation and consumption, had become hard to comprehend, even mesmerising.  This meant that individuals and relatively small human groups, including governing entities such as nation states, seemed to have little control.

At the same time, people became more and more conscious of the impact of the material transformations on the environment.  Knowledge could be produced through scientific measurement and extrapolation that could confirm people’s instinctive feeling, based on day to day observation, that unforeseen consequences of economic (mainly industrial) growth were creating circumstances with which human social organisation appeared not to be able to cope. Because of the massive inequalities that are endemic to the system amongst the more affluent societies there was a tendency towards distribution and consumption rather than production.  Consumption itself was made to appear like a productive activity.  The accumulation of wealth due to the sheer volume of transactions benefitted the rich countries and exacerbated inequalities. The domination of consumption and distribution was creating enormous dependency at the same time as giving the illusion of autonomy.  All of these developments were creating the conditions in which people were likely to feel overwhelmed, confused and passive.

This passivity was further complicated by the disablement of the political institutions that interfaced with masses of people.  These government entities have become more and more enslaved to the apparently impersonal needs of the system for the cheaper and cheaper provision of human labour.  At the same time major corporate and financial entities (the front organisations for the plutocratic elites) started to prey, through privatisation, on public and common goods, like welfare systems and other public services.   The nation states, as well as being taxed by the corporate plutocracy and made to pay vast sums in assuring the functioning of the system, were constrained to move their operations from that of caring for, and educating, their respective populations to policing them. This has further weakened people’s ability to envisage how the can exert control of the vital processes of their lives.

Furthermore, when the system exhibited major malfunctions because nobody could determine what money or goods were worth and the there was a breakdown in the financial systems, the nation states were put in the position of footing the bill and the deprivation of public goods continued at an even higher rate through austerity-based policies.  The outcome of this pressure on national entities has been the growth of  demagogic discourses promising to create safeguards and protection but in fact being little more than another illusory front behind which the robbery continues.  This continues the process of disablement and though the apathy is now accompanied by a raucous desperation, it further divides people who, in their best interests, should unite against their common oppressors.

In a situation where the further paralysis of fear is being added to the deep sense of marginalisation and loss of control, it seems even more necessary for us to become at least as deeply active as the surrounding passivity.

But the question remains, what kind of activity will give us the keys to the future?  All political processes consist of resistance and there is no doubt that resistance has to be a major element in the activism that we are proposing.  But resistance itself rarely goes beyond the parameters determined by the powers that be and therefore cannot be the only element in the activism that is needed. The danger is that resistance can be incorporated into the system itself, particularly when it ranges itself against it in a like-for-like way.  For example, forms of violence can very quickly transpose themselves across lines that appear to distinguish two sides in a conflict or a struggle. The tendency for opposition to become similar to that which it opposes is a major human problem exemplified by considering the fix that arises when fear is counterposed by fear.

This encourages us to think that we must have the ability to engage in resistance at the same time as being able to enact a different story, a story that exhibits different human qualities than those installed in the current institutions of power.  The refusal to accept the definition of power that is affirmed by the established order, a refusal to believe that this power can be apportioned in our favour, or that it has been overcome or changed when it appears to allow us entry into its glamorous orbit, is increasingly necessary.

So the activism that we are proposing is far from the simply mechanical, resistant version that can be so effectively subsumed by the system. It is paradigmatically different from the institutionally mimetic forms of oppositional activism that have become traditional.

One way of expressing this is to say that the activism needs to be internally as well as externally vital.  Can we realistically and practically call for an activism that is philosophically and imaginatively mobile, that is quickened by the capacity to deny the dominant narrative and world view? Of course we can and it is clear that the emerging social movements have precisely this capability but of course nothing arrives in its pure form.

So why was I provoked to review exactly what we meant by activism at this session delivered as a part of the seminar series organised by the Association of Jungian Analysts?

We set out to investigate what might be the relationship between these different spaces.  We started by comparing the process of transference and counter transference in the psychoanalytic therapeutic space with ‘catharsis’ in the dramatic space. Elements, in the form of references, representations, states of being and feeling, are carried into both these spaces by the participants. They are reconstructed and transformed and, in the souls and lives of those taking part, they are carried out again into the everyday space.

I have been influenced by Augusto Boal’s work in my thinking about theatre since I first came across Theatre for the Oppressed in the early 1980s. In the theatre that Boal proposes, the participants are able change roles and engage in processes of control and loss of control. This enables them to see the consequences and implications of their imaginative activities and leaves them ready for action. He describes his proposed theatre as a ‘rehearsal for life’.  This is a good and fruitful way of looking at the relationship between the dramatic space and everyday space.  Boal, and his progenitor Paulo Freire, were quick to see that passivity was key problem facing human beings in modern societies.  When he was asked to endorse our War Stories project in 2002 his message was clear: ‘Peace, yes: passivity, no!’

When the theatre is working, neither as a peep show nor as a display of physical ability, when it is achieving its true potential, it makes visible the invisible. Can this space where we lose ourselves and are subject to processes of confusion (or just fusion), where things are what they aren’t, where we catch sight of things that are not really there, where the magic of invisibility is conjured, be somewhere that generates activism and political change?

I have already said that the quality of activism I am working to define is more like a process of ‘activisation’, of drawing people into action rather then proposing a set of activities that we already know as activism.  Also, I have said that this is not only mechanical and practical (as it were, external) but is driven by thinking and imagination and is consciously aimed at stimulating inner processes.

During the Three Spaces session I started by using exercises to create a sense of relaxed concentration and presence that a full sense of being can give. I described this as being the basis for the work of creating the dramatic space.

Another way of describing this sense of being is to relate it to what the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu calls ‘the uncarved block’. This is described as being nameless and without desire and is associated with the state of being like a new born babe. I associate the ‘uncarved block’ with the first period of our lives before we have words.  It is the fundamental condition of humanity.

Certainly we can only remember this state of being indirectly, through other related experiences.  During this period we live in an undifferentiated world of feeling.  We notice everything and absorb all tensions and impressions.  It is the basic material condition of our lives.

If some shock occurs in later life, some pain or upset, this can resonate in the ‘uncarved block’. Energies that are contained there may be released.  Fissures and deep movements can occur that are like subterranean volcanic events.  Things may settle down or the basic instabilities may persist and we are unseated, disturbed, deranged.  Equally, our sense of what is true and what is real is connected to this deep movement of feeling in us. I believe that social change is charged by the energies that derive from this sense of being. Without connecting with this basic human condition we cannot overthrow the dominant narratives of the powers that be.

If the major consequences of the forms of social organisation, that have become more and more prevalent in the modern period, are feelings of passivity, lack of control, a kind of infantilising dependency, an inability, at a profound level, to be able to take care of ourselves then resistance and refusal and activism have to be effective at the most profound levels of our human experience. The current system, literally presents us, as human beings, with a existential crisis.

One obvious indication of this is the use made, by our political institutions, of fear as a means of social organisation. The key co-ordinating strategy that links ‘home’ policy with ‘foreign’ policy in many countries is the ‘war on terror’. Fear and terror are contagions that cannot be counterposed by the production of even greater fear and terror.  The promise of security so often looks and feels like a threat and is based on corrupt idea of strength.

The realisation, articulation and restructuring of stories in the aesthetic space has a power and an energy that resonates deep in us in a way that music can.  It can shatter us and mend us.  This is to do with the nature of symbols and the power of metaphorical transpositions.  Symbols reflect the objects of the world of the senses but also connect these impressions to deep patterns in our inner life.  This is not a sacerdotal or mystical process but an ordinary part of how we discover meaning.

Symbolic enactment could also be described as story or narrative.  But stories and narratives are never without context. They are embedded in ideologies.  It is a commonplace that the dominant ideology of a given society is the ideology of the dominant social group.  If it this is true of ideology then it is also true of the dominant narrative or story. Is it possible to unseat and replace these narratives?

The theatre of activism is a microcosm of social change because, in this theatre, stories are changed as they are enacted. They are tested against the deep resonances they meet in the participants and altered accordingly.  Theatre work can be both a reflection and a part of social change if it connects with an activism that refuses to accept the terms and parametres set by the dominant narrative. This means it can activate the core energies of the participants and bring into play the deep realisation of their humanity.

Also, during the Three Spaces session we worked at forming a group as a way of creating different spaces.  Group formation was necessary as a way of working to understand the spaces we were dealing with but it is important in its own right.  Successful group work is a crucial transitional space between the individual and society.  This seems to me to be another attribute of the activism I am proposing. I am attempting to extend my understanding of this by engaging with the Art of Hosting.

Many of the projects that Az Theatre is now undertaking are influenced by these preoccupations.

Our UNFORESEEN project is forming an online community of young creatives in the UK and Palestine. Our recent work, bringing together a group of creatives in London to produce work to send to our colleagues in Gaza, was a good example of activism and group work.  In a weekend, the group of ten people researched, devised, and shot a short drama, I MUST LEAVE, I MUST RETURN for release later in the year at an event that will link via Skype to Gaza, Palestine. See video of our last UNFORESEEN live exchange with Gaza

Our production plan for THE CANNIBALS by George Tabori involves a consensual casting process that is design to build an acting ensemble to produce this astounding modern classic.

Our development of the world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for production later in the year by Theatre for Everybody in Gaza will be accompanied in London by an installation/exhibition space, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, that will be created by a group of artists involving interactive and participatory activities aimed at social engagement.

Our new local project, the ISLINGTON NORTH DRAMATIC ARTS GROUP will be a company formation project that will involve activism and group work.

A trans-disciplinary group that has come together to explore the mentalities that hold together the Israeli state project is another example of this tendency in our work. Our participation in this group arises from a conference on Trauma and Political Violence in November of 2015 where I presented Az Theatre’s work.