Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Leviathan's birth

Last night I was skimming through Liebknecht's Militarism, again, and ran across some wise words with regards to the Marxian notion of the origins of the state.

In the last resort the basis of every social relation of power is the superiority of physical force, which as a social phenomenon does not appear in the form of the greater physical strength of individuals, since as far as this relation is concerned, one human being is worth as much as any other, and a purely numerical majority is decisive. The relation of numbers with which we are concerned does not simply correspond to the numerical relation between groups of persons with contradictory interests, but is determined – since not everyone is conscious of his own real interests, especially not of his fundamental interests, and above all since not everyone recognizes or acknowledges the interests of his class as his own interests – essentially by the level of intellectual and moral development of each class, by which is decided the extensive and intensive degree of class-consciousness. This intellectual and moral level is itself determined by the economic position of the individual interest groups (classes), while the social and political position represents rather a consequence, though of course one which is very strongly retroactive, and an expression of the relation of power...

But even the numerical ratio so determined does not decide absolutely the relation of power. An armed man increases his physical strength by many times through his possession of a weapon. The degree of the increase depends upon the development of the technique of arms, including fortification and strategy (whose form is essentially a consequence of the technique of arms). The intellectual and economic superiority of one interest group over another is turned into a simple physical superiority through the possession of arms, or of better arms, on the part of the ruling class. The possibility is thus created of the complete domination of the class-conscious majority by a class-conscious minority...

Even when the division into classes is decided by the economic position, the political relation of power between the classes is determined by the economic position of individuals only in the first place; in the second place it is determined by the countless intellectual, moral and physical means of power at the disposal of the economically dominant class through its economic class position. The fact that these instruments of power exist cannot affect class divisions, since these are created by a quite independent set of conditions which, with a power like that of nature, forces certain classes, which may well represent a majority, into economic dependence on other classes, which may represent a tiny minority – a dependence which neither the class struggle nor any means of political power is capable of eliminating. The class struggle can therefore only be a struggle to develop class-consciousness among class comrades – which embraces a readiness for the performance of revolutionary deeds and for sacrifice in the interest of one’s class – and a struggle to capture those means of power which are of importance with regard either to the creation or to the suppression of class-consciousness, as well as those physical and intellectual means of power whose possession means the multiplication of physical strength.

A stirling piece of writing,a nd one that emphasises nicely the role of class cosnciousness in revolution along with numbers and force of arms. Perhaps more on class consciousness another time, but do read the whole chapter and perhaps contemplate the relation of these ideas to modern terrorism, and Liebknecht's sadly disproved thesis that technological advancement in slaughter may prevent war.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You describe the passage above as "A stirling piece of writing." Perhaps you were referring to Sir James Stirling, an architect in the 'brutalist' style which would indeed fit the ugly ravings of Herr Liebknecht. More likely, you intended to use the word 'sterling', but I'm afraid, based on this short excerpt, Liebknecht is tin-plate. Consider:

“In the last resort the basis of every social relation of power is the superiority of physical force…”
Rubbish! The relationship between the Tories and the Labour party has nothing to do with “physical force”.

“…since not everyone is conscious of his own real interests, especially not of his fundamental interests, and above all since not everyone recognizes or acknowledges the interests of his class as his own interests…”
And of course, it requires a self-appointed, political elite to teach the proles what their “interests” should be. In other words, a variation on the old theme that *we* know better than *you* what’s good for you! Well, not me you don’t!

“The intellectual and economic superiority of one interest group over another is turned into a simple physical superiority through the possession of arms, or of better arms, on the part of the ruling class.”
Another easily disproved piece of imagination: The Roman Church and its monastries enjoyed huge “intellectual and economic” superiority over princes and aristocrats for centuries without the benfit of so much as a single arquebus.

“…embraces a readiness for the performance of revolutionary deeds and for sacrifice in the interest of one’s class “ and a struggle to capture those means of power…”
In other words, bloody revolution, so how come the English, so-called ‘working classes’ achieved the liberties and prosperity that they currently enjoy without this mass blood-letting?

I don't blame Liebknecht for his potty notions, if I had lived through what he lived through, no doubt I would have entertained similar fantasies. But I didn't, so I don't; and, I suggest, neither should you.

David Duff

9:30 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Hi Dave,

1) Whoever is in Government controls the army, no matter how many Tories may actively want to stop labour, that fact remains lurking behind. Antiu-hunt protestors were met with force by police, if they upped the ante, they would have met the army.

2) The catholic church had armies for centuries, often the armies of kings who found membership of the church advantageous: likewise other barons found church justification useful to their own interests. War was part of the warp and weft of medieval life.

3) Relatively conscious and determined minorities can have a huge effect in dominating majorities who are less conscious. The point is, that a conscious majority would be stronger still. So, no. No self appointed élite but the growth in class consciousness among the workers. That was Leibknecht's position.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, greetings, and thanks for your courteous response to my somewhat acerbic comment; but it simply won’t do, my dear chap. Let me take your counter-points in order:

1. It is a trivial truth that *any* government has all the organs of power at its command. It is the definition of a state that a group of people conjoin to defend a territory, and also defend themselves against violence. The crucial point missed by Liebknecht (and who can blame him given his circs!) is that in a democracy we can throw the rascals out if they displease us. And actually, the government of the day does *not* command the army, the Queen does, and all soldiers swear loyalty to her, not the prime minister. I very much doubt that in the face of what might be called *normal* civic protest, the army would agree to roll tanks through Trafalgar Square!

2. Sorry, but I believe you, and Liebknecht, are factually wrong. Christianity was begun, allegedly, by one man and it did not *conquer* by force of arms but by moral persuasion, succeeding, eventually, in converting the Roman emperor. The church made use of the armies of various princes and aristocrats in such ventures as the crusades but it never had a standing army of any significance itself. So weak was it that at one stage the papacy was driven from Rome and forced to reside in Avignon, and Napoleon once asked dismissively how many batallions the pope had?

But if you would like another more recent example of a group gaining supreme power without the force of arms, then consider the blacks in South Africa. Sorry, Liebknecht was wrong!

3. Your wording in this paragraph is much softer and more subtle than Liebknechts, indeed, you are in effect agreeing with my paragraph 2, that an *idea* spread amongst enough people will have a political result – but you don’t *necessarily* need Liebknechts blood and guts. I still think his words, and the words of just about every communist manifesto or pamphlet, *do* imply the requirement for elite, self-appointed cadres – or, if you like, disciples! And however you wrap it, in essence they are telling us that they know best what is best for us. It is what they do when you tell them to bugger off that then shows them in their true nature. All historical experience of communist cadres, from that psychotic thug, Lenin, onwards, indicates that they are a murdering bunch of single-minded fanatics.

If I may be presumptious, I would advise you to avoid romantics in general, and 19th c. German ones in particular, they are all quite mad, you know!.

(I have deliberately avoided the use of inverted commas which appears to throw your programme into a tizzy!)

David Duff

1:51 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Hi Dave,

yes, the blogger doesn't like quote marks.

1) Tanks on Trafalgar square as as likely as Tanks on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is what happened to the Bonus Marchers back in the '30s, or even the National guard being called out in the 60's. Physical force is the *ultimate* line of defence of privillige. Of course, commanders do swear loyalty to teh queen, but that is neitehr here nor there, the Government is in possession of the military command control centres, and the ruling class in general staffs the upper echelons of the British Army.

2) Christiaanity, if Jesus ever existed, was promoted by the Roman sword of Constantine, and the conversion of Kings around Europe who found it advantageous. And it was Stalin who asked about the Pope's divisions.

3) I think Leibknecht's point stands, determination to struggle can make up for insufficiencies elsewhere. As for Communists, the revolutionary phrase of the manfiesto is that revolution is no longer a matter of a relatively unconscious mass following leaders, but the struugle of democracy. Lenin missed that point, the Spartakus Bund didn't, I can't find the resolution they passed in the middle of an insurrection just now, but they udnerstood that class consciousness is vital.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could go further on those three points, but only at the risk of repetition and tedium. Instead, let me raise another point. The classic Marxist notion of class has always struck me as simplistic. When one considers the intricate web of connections that make up a society, in which individuals are, for lack of a better word, members of this or that *interest*, depending on time, circumstance, age, etc, etc; then to talk of *working* class, or *ruling* class, or *capitalist* class, just seems at best un-sophisticated, and at worst juvenile.

For example, we are *all* members of the biggest class of all – the *consumer* class, one which rarely gets a mention in the communist literature! Perhaps because the interests of consumers may not coincide with that of producers, be they workers *or* capitalists. There are other classes with their own specific and important (to them!) interests, such as *youth*, or *pensioners*, or *hunters*, or *homosexuals*, and so on, and so on. Each person moves in and out of these classes in a lifetime, and such is the complexity of the relationships that it would defy the analysis of the *Big Blue*, let alone some Marxist scribbler.

David Duff

4:14 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Hi Dave,

each of those consumers, before they can consume, must comply with the conditions of consumption, i.e. their means of access to the means of living. For the vast, vast majority of us, that means prostitution. Selling our skills, talents and abilitiues for a wage or salary, in order to get money to consume with. Whether we are black, white, gay, straight, male or female, we are compelled to do this. There are some, who may live solely off their investments, who own enough wealth to not need to prostitute themselves. They are the capitalist class.

Before you can be anything else, you must eat, and that is the way Marxists discern class.

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not often that I'm struck dumb (or dumber!) but your last response left me bereft of thoughts and words; or to be precise, such a jumble of thoughts and words, I simply don't know where to begin. (I imagine debating with Anthony Wedgewood Benn has a somewhat similar effect.) I am away until Monday, by which time I will have sorted out a response.
David Duff

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On consideration, I have decided that your use of the word “prostitution” was not an abuse of the English language, but merely a literary flourish, something in which I indulge myself from time to time.

As (I assume) a Marxist you will know your history, so let us return to our early and primitive ancestors, and contemplate a time in which a man had to do everything; hunt, kill, transport the carcass, make his weapons and tools, and so on. Then one day, ‘Og’ said to ‘Ug’, “I’m no bloody good at this hunting lark, but I can make terrific arrows, so why don’t you go out and hunt, and I’ll supply your weapons and you supply my meat in return.” Thus was born one of the great human institutions, division of labour. From it flowed huge benefits for mankind, and without it, we would still be in the caves.

You appear to be saying that selling your labour is inherently wrong and immoral. I can only ask, what else are you going to do with it? If everyone sat on their arse and ‘waited for Godot’, the dinosaurs would have won hands down.

In modern societies, ie, roughly from city states onwards, it was, and still is, essential to have accumulations of capital – how else are major economic investments to be made. I don’t wish to put words in your keyboard, but I assume that whilst you agree that capital accumulation is indeed necessary, it should be done by the state and not by individuals. That is an arguable proposition that suffers from the fact that most state investment of capital is almost always a total dead loss.
David Duff

9:09 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

1) Prostitution is selling a skill, talent or ability. It is performing an action for mercenary ends. You tell me if refusing to help anotehr human being in need unless you get paid is a good or bad thing.
2) Division of labour: the original division of labour did not derive from the (roughly) different talents of humans, but through warfare, and, cheifly, the practise of taking slaves. Through most of human history, people have lived in peasant communities of roughly interchangeable skills.
3) Capital is not productive resources - which I think should be commonly/democratically controled, not owned by the state - but wealth investedin order to make a profit. Socialism would remove the requirement to 'turn over' investments: i.e. to paralyse society by fictional title deeds.

1:04 PM  

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