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.

 

 

 

 

Specifics of the British Regime

Regime Change Az Theatre 2

Having focused for some years on projects with an international dimension, I decided earlier this year (2016) to turn my attention to what was happening in the UK. A lot of talk during the Iraq invasion and the 2011 popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere was about the idea of ‘regime change’. I set out to see what this might mean here. What was the story of the UK regime? My research took me back to what I considered to be its founding moments in the revolutionary movements of the English Civil War (1641-1660) whose final act might be considered to be the constitutional settlement of 1688. I was setting out to create theatre but I knew it might take a long time. I have started writing drama but also I am accompanying this work with a blog that would outline my thinking as the project moved forward.

Specifics of the British Regime

A regime is a set of organisational processes that come together at a particular place at a particular time. We can imagine that they are like components or practices or institutions or even images.  Some combining factor arises on the basis of local human settlement that holds together a particular version of human society.  What holds a social formation in place is not separate from the elements that, in one way or another, give it a constitution.  It is difficult to come to terms with the nature of this entity which in our imagination can appear to be like a body, a culture, a machine or a system.  In social theory it can be called ‘an imaginary’ (1) or an ‘assemblage’ (2) though I don’t want to ignore the distinctions between these different theoretical notions.

The roots of a regime appear to be in geography or ecology:  these people living on this particular part of the earth at a particular point in time, a variation on, and in interaction with, the human species.

So what account can be given of the one that has arisen on the British Isles.  We cannot be as definite about the time-scale as we can about the location.

The British Isles are relatively easy to identify on a map though the borders between the different nations may not be obvious. England describes the area of the main island that was subject to the Roman invasion of 2000 years ago.  All other major migrations or invasions have been determined by its frontiers.  The domination by London of England, and by England of the British Isles, is due to the extraordinary harbourage offered by the Thames estuary. This is a significant determinant of the regime

As for time-scale, the present determines the way we look at the past. So, for example, if we were facing the extinction of human life on these islands we would tend to start our story with the arrival of human beings here after the last ice age some 11,700 years ago.  However, at the moment, there are more human beings living here than there have ever been.

What is happening now and to what initial processes is our attention drawn?

In general terms, we are witnessing tensions in relations between the nations that make up the British State, between the role of financial services and manufacturing and between the London and the ‘provinces’.  There are uncertainties about the two party system and the role of political parties, also about the nature of the House of Lords.  The military function of the British State has been radically called into question by the inquiries into the ‘war’ on Iraq. This last may be inextricably tied to British dependence on the United States and this offers another underlying tension.

The institutional components that were drawn together in the period after the English Revolution of 1641-1660, particularly in the period leading up to the settlement of 1688, appear to be those that are in crisis now.

The success of London as a capital was focused on finance and banking. There were the networking benefits and the medium term assurances of a centralised intermarrying ruling elite, enhancing trust and contractual security, that connected landed wealth with mercantile enterprise.  This nexus was centred in London. The relationship of government to the imperialist commercially-driven military expansion, crucially organised through the formation of the Bank of England (1694), sealed the advantages of a communications structure that focused on the royal court but wasn’t dominated by it.

Within 20 years of the foundation of the bank the new regime had fought a successful war against the French in North America and Europe, climaxing with the Treaty of Utrecht (1714), had unified Scotland with England and Wales (1707) and had secured the Hanoverian protestant succession and began to construct ‘British’ identity.

Anglican Protestantism offered the basis for a unique national ‘loyalty’ test as well as an ethos suited to capitalism. The unique combination of a monarchic head of state who was both the military commander-in-chief as well as head of the Church of England fastened and refined the regime-building project. The ideological underpinning of a state religion sustained the new regime through the first founding period until, for example, in the earliest years if the 19th century, the need to avow the protestant religion as well as allegiance to the monarch for members of the volunteer militia was dispensed with

The fertile ground made up of financial fluency, protestantism and co-ordinated military and commercial enterprise bred a functioning and compelling model of the human in the figure of the English gentleman and this gave personality and moral coherence to the regime.

War as a profitable venture and as a ‘keynote’ national unifier has played a unique role throughout, from Blenhiem (1704), to Waterloo (1815), to the Somme (1915), to Dunkirk (1940), to D-day (1944), to the Falklands (1982) and to Iraq (2003).  Apart from the massive destruction of the Blitz the wars have always been fought elsewhere. This doesn’t diminish the loss of life and the concentration of production effort.

The country was never invaded and therefore never faced the decisive crises that invasion brings.  Victory was something that was brought home and delivered rather than fought for at home.  This distinguishes the history of the British Isles since 1066 from most other locations.

The development of the British regime has at its core the development of the British state.  State-making and war-making are synchronous. (3) The effect on the administration and style of government of the ‘seniority’ of the British Navy, rather than the continental ‘army’-based regimes is considerable.  The sustained coherence of the British ‘officer’ class in delivering ‘successful’ military adventures abroad has, up until recently, been formative for the regime.

I am only intending here to give some broad and general markers or headings of where my research has taken me. The books that have been central are Britons by Linda Colley (4) and The Enchanted Glass by Tom Nairn (5).

Notes:

(1) This term was developed by Greek French philosopher Castoriades see The Imaginary Institution of Society [IIS] (trans. Kathleen Blamey). MIT Press, Cambridge 1997 [1987]. 432 pp. ISBN 0-262-53155-0. (pb.)

(2) This term was developed in Deleuze and Gattari’s A Thousand Plateaux see Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 14, 26–38, 135–139, 149–166, 195, 198, 235–236, 240, 241, 259, 390, 534, 539, 559. ISBN 0-8166-1402-4.

(3) See the work of Charles Tilly 

(4) Colley, Linda Britons, Forging the Nation 1707-1837 Yale University Press 1992

(5) Nairn, Tom  The Enchanted Glass, Britain and its monarchy Century Hutchinson 1988

Is regime change like a paradigm shift

Regime Change Az Theatre

Having focused for some years on projects with an international dimension, I decided earlier this year (2016) to turn my attention to what was happening in the UK. A lot of talk during the Iraq invasion and the 2011 popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere was about the idea of ‘regime change’. I set out to see what this might mean here. What was the story of the UK regime? My research took me back to what I considered to be its founding moments in the revolutionary movements of the English Civil War (1641-1660) whose final act might be considered to be the constitutional settlement of 1688. I was setting out to create theatre but I knew it might take a long time. I have started writing drama but also I am accompanying this work with a blog that would outline my thinking as the project moved forward.

 

Is regime change like a paradigm shift?

The human being’s desire for justice seems unquestionable. It is an aspect of our behaviour at the earliest stages of our lives. We assert on our own part and on the part of others the need for things to be fair and for nobody to be left out. It’s only later that we recognise that there are limits to what is available, that sufficiency is acceptable, and that the world’s resources have, to some extent, already been allocated.

You never know what is really going on inside other people’s heads. The most deceptive thoughts, those that arise from objective observation, are those that appear to be obvious. It is difficult to believe that people really do have a different way of thinking about themselves, though, of course, this is evident in clear differences of behaviour and preferences.

One is never quite sure whether human differences come from different life circumstances or whether there are what might be described as deeper more essential characteristics that determine how we are in the world. The estimation of the impress on the human being of early experience, from the moment of birth or before, is a matter of conjecture but has to be taken into account, an account that adds to the issue of nature versus nurture that of the unconscious and repression.

Given this complexity, it is easy to see how difficult it is likely to be for human beings to come up with social structures that accord with those early aspirations for justice. The observation that human beings are characteristically rational and political is met almost simultaneously by the observation that they are mimetic (1) and that this latter quality is more powerful because it is unconscious and irrational.

Human groups are more likely to gain cohesion due to the deliberate or spontaneous occurrence of fear than loving rational agreement. This would seem to suggest that fear makes more sense. It resonates at many different levels of experience. For example, the experience of our own deep vulnerability as infants, our dependence on our immediate kin relations, the contradiction between the encouragement given to be self-sufficient and the constant affirmation of our dependence on others, the rivalry that is engendered by the needs of survival, the development of splitting between good and bad, edible and inedible, friend and enemy all contribute to the effectiveness of fear.

Although there have been attempts to form groups and institutions that have strategies to countervail this ‘fear’ tendency, at a certain moment of their development they can be successfully influenced by rivalrous structures and become, through various defensive/protective and conformist impulses, thoroughly infected by ‘fear’. This is generally evidenced by the growth of hierarchy.

The problem of human organisation touched on here becomes exacerbated by the size of the human group. For relatively short periods of time, selfless, loving behaviour can be sustained by small human groups. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the size of the group and the prolongation of cohesion brought about by feelings other than fear.

In the recent period of human history, there have been examples of mass participation in social transformation in France, Russia and China. But the problem has been that in the last instance the liberation from oppression has been militarised and the new arising social forms have been displaced by older ‘fear-based’ structures.

The general pattern of movement in human social construction has been determined by human productivity. Capitalism, the accumulation and investment of social surplus according to private ownership, has been technologically expeditious and massively productive but the social structures, for which it has successively laid the basis, have been problematic. This is to do with the contradiction between private benefit and public good.

The very large units of production and distribution that have begun to dwarf human political organisation have placed it in a position of dangerous subservience. Political states have themselves come to resemble corporate entities whose role in the human system is to supply cheap labour and to provide consumption services.

The danger to human life mainly lies in the inability of human governmental organisation to react responsibly to the ecological consequences of the activities of corporate entities.

There has never been a prolonged process of political control that has regulated and limited economic activity.

Usually, the ruling group are the richest sector of society and they find themselves unable or unwilling to limit their own wealth. More often they are building institutions to communicate how their enrichment is good for everybody.

The world faces unprecedented problems due to the development of productivity and it may be an act of faith to suppose that humanity will come up with an, as yet unimaginable, solution. The signs are not encouraging.

Human beings can comprehend very large social units but they are not able to easily imagine them creatively nor find ways of working coherently with them.

There are theories that reckon the number (150) of human beings with whom a human being can maintain a stable relationship (2). Also, there are credible ideas about how larger human groups are held together because they are ‘imagined’ (3). There are people who have studied smaller non-family groups who have postulated ‘basic assumption’ as the determining structure (4).

Although in our daily lives we constantly project onto larger group from observation of individuals and small group behaviour, there is no reason to be sure that humans in large groups are substantially different from humans in small groups.

There are ways of looking at the particular biology and physiology of human beings and coming up with ideas about our social development. Physiology can tell us about the high complexity of the interrelationship between our brain and our activity making us creatures who are ‘intentional’.(5) Also, our vulnerability during the first years of our life exacts protective social structures.

Wisdom seems to lie in the view that human society is itself a manifestation of what human beings indeed are, in all its variety and difference. There is no theoretical formulation or set of ideas that can be generally true of human beings. This view doesn’t really help to understand change or to offer any helpful hints to those who think change may be a good idea.

It is very difficult to escape the observation that, in the last instance, the forms of human society derive from the ways in which human beings come into relationship with one another in the course of producing those things or circumstances that they deem to be desirable and necessary.

This basic thinking influenced and supported the only real alternative to capitalism that has ever been offered.

Our problems lie in our inability to institute a way of distributing wealth and resources that accords with justice. Capitalist organisation pushes for the reduction of cost of the production of all goods. This goes for the products that make up the productive infrastructure itself. The cheap production of human labour (or labour power) is balanced only by the generation of demand for goods amongst the masses of people. The state’s role in this provision under globalised, financialised, predatory capitalism is clear. It is for this reason that the modernisation project of capitalism has genocidal tendencies (6). In other words, it can only hold itself together by creating a ‘war’ against ‘the other’. This is a transposition of the competitive impulse. At the same time, the state must conceal this process in order to maintain its credibility.

This means that the modern state constantly appears to offer something that it cannot deliver. It thus absorbs social energy and in so doing protects the system which gives it its structures. The state is a transitional human structure which in the current period is a conduit for social change and an obstacle to it.

Movements and institutions that are not completely absorbed into the state structures may unblock the contradictory situation of the state. Social movements cannot be totally separate from state institutions so there may be hybrid organisations that maintain their tone as social movements and do not become completely organised into the political party structure.

What seems to be needed is something similar to a paradigm shift. (7) However, this phrase has been used in a very restricted meaning for revolutions in science. The idea of paradigm has two aspects. One is a sense of the interconnectedness of a whole system or world. Two is the particular ‘example’ that has a prevalence in a given system or world. In Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolution, the idea of paradigm is connected to the idea of ‘anomaly’. Credibility deteriorating because of the accumulation of anomalies in the political scene, at one level, has a very different feel than the process that happens in the scientific community. For a paradigm shift to gather momentum and become a new ‘common sense’ might happen as a consequence of the mimesis that holds traditional social structures in place.

It’s very difficult to predict. The oncoming human revolution will take a different form from previous revolutions. It is really no longer possible to envisage change happening in one country and then being ‘spread’ by means of various strategies, mostly military, as has been experienced so far in recent human history. Also, it is no longer possible to see change being delivered through a single electoral system.

This is what makes what is happening in the Labour Party so emblematic. It is a crisis in the identity and functioning of a political party.(8)

I have set out to understand a story of the development of a regime and tried to follow this logic through as if the end of this regime would in some way be ‘like’ its beginning. In other words, we would see the elements that came into being at the beginning of the regime there in a deteriorating condition at the end.

This would be as if this political entity had a kind of life-cycle rather like that of an individual animal. This cannot be the case. It is a metaphor. Likewise the idea that a particularly population, a species, may undergo extinction because the ecosystem of which it is a component no longer provides the material support, the carrying capacity, for its continued existence is another similar case, a metaphor.

These metaphors have provisional truths. The particular circumstances, geographical position, soil quality, river systems, raw materials (wood, tin, iron, coal), particular beneficiary productive impact of migratory regimes (Romans, Saxons et al., Normans) that led eventually to the basis for the current regime here in the UK were brought together by a political form that could unite various nations within one state and create a unique form of imaginary national identity (9), would not necessarily reveal themselves in a critical condition as this regime comes to an end. However, it has to be said that some of these initial features do show up.

The instance of human development on these islands is a complex and interconnected version of human development in general. Particularly in this instance where so many productive, military and political forms have been exported there has been an almost unfathomably complex interaction between the development here and human development globally. So what will happen here will not be isolated, though ironically it may be for short periods (10). This will not be an even process. This is because it will be influenced by external as well as internal movements.

 

(1) Mimesis. The idea that human beings are mimetic beings belngs to Aristotle but the development of this theory in the modern period has been at the centre of the work of Philosophical Anthropologist, Rene Girard see his Violence and the Sacred (Grasset Paris 1972: John Hopkins University Press 1977)

(2) 150 is known as Dunbar’s Number. Robin Dunbar was an evolutionary anthropologist. see Dunbar, R.I.M. (June 1992). “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates“. Journal of Human Evolution. 22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J

(3) See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso (1983).

(4) See Experiences in Groups and other papers W. R. Bion Tavistock London 1961)

(5) See Man on his Nature Charles Sherrington Penguin London 1940. Sherrington was a professor of Physiology at University of Oxford

(6) See Genocide as Social Practice by Daniel Feierstein Rutgers 2014. Feierstein is an Argentinian social scientist and is Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. He asserts: ‘Genocide is endemic to modernity’

(7) See The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S.Kuhn University of Chicago 1962.

(8) This refers to the struggle over the leadership of British Labour Party current at the time of writing.

(9) See The Enchanted Glass by Tom Nairn Radius London 1988.

(10) This refers to the Brexit vote recent to the time of writing