Category Archives: Politics

The First Attack on the Independents: Albanese Hobbles the Crossbench

It did not take long for the new Australian Labor government to flex its muscle foolishly in response to the large crossbench of independents and small party members of Parliament.  Despite promising a new age of transparency and accountability after the election of May 21, one of the first notable acts of the Albanese government was to attack the very people who gave voice to that movement.  Dangerously, old party rule, however slim, is again found boneheaded and wanting.

The decision, delivered with an arrogant casualness before another international sojourn by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, centred on the staffing arrangements for the newly elected independent members of parliament.  Prior to getting on a plane, Albanese sent a letter to independent members promising to cut the staffing allocation for crossbench MPs and Senators from eight to five each. Of the five would also be one advisor, down from four in the previous Morrison government.

On the surface, the government did not see it as problematic, because those in government tend to see the absurd as entirely normal.  Albanese himself was found defending a series of spurious positions, citing “fairness and equity” and lack of sustainability.  In a classic conceptual misunderstanding, the Prime Minister seemed to think that a government backbencher was somehow equivalent to an independent representative.  It was not fair, for instance, that the independent MP Zali Steggall “should have double the representation in terms of staff of electorates in the same region.”

Indeed, Albanese went so far as to toffee coat the new arrangements.  Independents, he told Radio National’s Sabra Lane, “will have more staff than major party representatives.  And the additional staff will have travel rights that major party backbenchers won’t have.  They’ll be on higher salaries.”

Then, as if suggesting something sinister, the PM noted “a circumstance whereby I didn’t know, and I can’t find any great record of any publicity, for the fact that some crossbenchers had double the staff that other backbenchers had.”  Had Albanese bothered to consult documents tabled in Parliament, Steggall has pointedly remarked, he could have easily seen what those arrangements actually were.

It seems to have eluded the member for Grayndler that Labor members of parliament, and those of the Liberals and Nationals, do not need as many staff members because the party itself decides the various policy positions and arguments.  Independents, precisely because they do not call upon such an apparatus, need to exercise judgment that is more informed and, if necessary, sceptical.  Nor can they, not being either members of government or the official opposition, call upon advice from ministerial departments.

What Albanese and his ministers have also suggested is that more resources will be given to the Federal Parliament Library, as if that somehow cures staff shortages.  There will also be access to clerks responsible for drafting legislation, “in addition to personal staff.”

Groupthink, or non-think, are not imperatives of the responsible independent MP.  They, as the newly elected independent Senator for the ACT, David Pocock has noted, must traverse a number of fields of enormous complexity and detail, requiring research, consulting with experts and people legislation would affect.  “This isn’t about parliamentarians or staff,” he insists, “it’s about listening to and respecting our communities.”  To do so, one had to be accessible, consult widely and make “politics about people.”

The newly elected senator for the United Australia Party, Ralph Babet, is also of the view that the cuts placed “the brakes on our ability to scrutinise the government and the legislation they may propose.”  A spokesperson for One Nation also smelled a rat lurking behind the decision.  “If you’re not adequately staffed that means this government expects legislation to be rammed through without proper consideration.”

Leaving aside the needs of such representatives, the staffers themselves, notably for those attached to smaller parties and non-aligned parliamentarians, endure a job described by one as “bloody” and “excruciatingly hard.”  Such a staffer faces any number of threats to life and limb in addition to confronting dozens of government amendments to lengthy bills, backed by the opposition, with only a day’s notice.

Having created a needlessly suicidal storm, the government now faces the prospect of “going slow” approaches to the passing of legislation, notably in the Senate.  Another view, one expressed by One Nation, is to adopt a default position of rejecting legislation that has not been properly scrutinised. The Albanese government has done wonders to return to the orthodoxy of a broken system by attempting to consolidate the power of the two-party duopoly.

Beyond the immediacy of impending parliamentary business, graver consequences may face Labor, with the freshly victorious giant slayer, Kooyong MP Monique Ryan, promising a second wave of independents to target Labor marginal seats in Melbourne at the 2025 election.

Having kicked them in the proverbial teeth, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher is hopeful that “respectful and constructive engagement” will be possible with the freshly enraged crossbench.  Even before the first sitting of Parliament, things promise to be rowdy.

The post The First Attack on the Independents: Albanese Hobbles the Crossbench first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Booming” Economy Leaves Millions Behind: Part Ten

The top-down assault on living and working standards continues unabated worldwide. This is coupled with the growing pressure on everyone to fend-for-themselves like animals, which is engendering greater insecurity and instability with each passing month. Even worse, no meaningful and lasting relief is on the way, only more suffering. Major corporations, however, are having a field day.

To add insult to injury, the ruling elite are becoming more irrational and putting forward the destruction of the economy as the way out of the crisis, while also openly admitting that they have no idea what to do. They publicly say things like “we are doing a controlled demolition of the economy” and that “we will likely have a hard landing,” referring to the 50 bubbles deflating in the stock market, which has already lost trillions in real and paper wealth in recent months. Who thinks destroying a massive complex economy that millions built, operate, and rely on is the way forward? Why is more devastation and waste the only option?

Below are 50 facts, some new and some updated, that continue to paint a grim picture of the past, present, and future. New disturbing records continue to be set. Links to all previous nine parts in this series can be found at the end of this article. Together they provide hundreds of facts from numerous sources.

*****

U.S. Conditions

Nearly half of all Maine tenants cannot afford rent, new study says.”

“The average transaction price (ATP) of new vehicles sold by dealers to retail customers in June [2022] hit a new breath-taking record high of $45,844, up by 14.5% from a year ago, and beating the prior record set in May, according to estimates by J.D. Power.”

“US consumer sentiment hit a new record low in June [2022] amid growing concerns about inflation.”

“Interest costs on national debt are up 30% this fiscal year and could increase more.”

“US oil reserves running low – Bloomberg.”

“The price of diesel went above $5.50 a gallon in the beginning of May [2022], and has stayed there ever since, a 70% increase from just a year ago.”

“The U.S. could soon experience a severe shortage of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), impacting U.S. drivers already hit with soaring fuel prices. DEF is a solution made up of urea and de-ionized water that is needed for almost everything that runs on diesel.”

“The retail industry is facing a potential wave of bankruptcies.”

“Stock market’s fall has wiped out $3 trillion in retirement savings this year.”

“Well over half of people surveyed expect their standard of living to decline in retirement.”

44% of workers are worried about a layoff or job loss, CNBC’s All-America Workforce Survey found. Some 84% are concerned about a recession.”

“Netflix cuts 300 employees in new round of layoffs.”

“Tesla is laying off workers who only just started and withdrawing employment offers as Elon Musk’s job cuts begin.”

“United Airlines will cut 12% of Newark flights in effort to tame delays.”

“Starbucks used ‘array of illegal tactics’ against unionizing workers, labor regulators say.”

“Roughly 1 in 4 American expatriates is ‘seriously considering’ or ‘planning’ to renounce their U.S. citizenship, according to a survey from Greenback Expat Tax Services.”

“Elon Musk says Tesla’s car factories are ‘gigantic money furnaces’.”

“Minnesota State colleges, universities raise tuition 3.5% for nearly all students.”

“27 of America’s top 30 universities are raising tuition and fees for the next academic year.”

“Why health-care costs are rising in the U.S. more than anywhere else.”

“For Native Americans, justice is still far out of reach.”

“Since 2010, at least 15 big U.S. cities registered more than 1,000 killings of homeless, official statistics reveal.”

Almost half of the people serving life without parole are 50 years old or more and one in four is at least 60 years old.”

International Conditions

“We face a global economic crisis. And no one knows what to do about it.”

“Fight against inflation raises spectre of global recession.”

“Food insecurity and hunger have doubled since 2019, according to experts. The threat of famine is faced by nearly fifty million people around the world. Levels of less severe hunger have doubled since 2019.”

“The world’s bubbliest housing markets are flashing warning signs.”

“Metal prices are headed for the worst quarter since the financial crisis.”

“Airports around the world battle long lines, canceled flights.”

“Europe’s travel woes deepen as strikes add to scrapped flights.”

“Sri Lankan prime minister: Island’s economy ‘has collapsed’.”

“According to ACORN Canada nearly one in two Canadians are living paycheck-to-paycheck making them vulnerable to predatory banking practices.”

“Majority of C-Suite Execs thinking of quitting, 40% overwhelmed at work: Deloitte Survey.”

“Cazoo to cut 750 jobs in UK and across Europe amid recession fears.”

“UK economy ‘running on empty’ as recession signals mount – PMI.”

“UK retail sales fall in May [2022].”

“UK pushed 100,000 people into poverty by lifting pension age.”

“7 out of 10 people in the UK want government action on soaring executive pay.”

“French energy giants urge consumers to cut energy use.”

“France sees nuclear energy output plummet at the worst possible moment.”

Belgian workers march against cost-of-living crisis.”

“Food basket [in Iceland] increased nearly 17% in last seven months.”

“Australian central bank aims at real wage cuts for years.”

“German business climate drops more than expected.”

“Germany looks at potential rationing of natural gas after Russia cuts supply.”

“New poll reveals 51% of Dutch consider Israel an apartheid state.”

“Residents across Israel move into tents to protest steep housing costs.”

“Cost of food in Kenya increased 12.40 percent in May of 2022 over the same month in the previous year.”

“Inflation inducing extreme poverty [in Zimbabwe].”

More poverty and misery ahead for most Argentines as food prices soar.”

*****

While people want a human-centered alternative to the misery and anarchy that has been worsening for many years, they do not trust the politicians in the cartel parties of the rich (democrats and republicans) to bring about such an alternative. People have been dissatisfied with the political representatives of the rich for decades. A new report (June 2022) from the Pew Research Center (PRC), “Americans’ Views of Government: Decades of Distrust, Enduring Support for Its Role,” shows that “65% say most political candidates run for office ‘to serve their own personal interests’.” The report stresses that:

Americans remain deeply distrustful of and dissatisfied with their government. Just 20% say they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time – a sentiment that has changed very little since former President George W. Bush’s second term in office. (emphasis added)

This inevitable distrust and dissatisfaction has grown more over the past 30 months and will increase in the coming years. Imperialists are not interested in sharing power and wealth. They are not interested in the dignity and humanity of all. On the contrary, all their actions and policies further degrade the social and natural environment. It cannot be otherwise in the final and highest stage of capitalism. Parasitism, reaction, and decay increase in this retrogressive period and take a heavy toll on the social and natural environment.

The majority clearly have little to be satisfied about when it comes to the direction of the economy and society. They want to know how and why we are in the abysmal mess we are in today and why it is so impossible for the rich and their political representatives to solve even small problems. Why is there no stability and security centuries after the scientific and technical revolution empowered humankind to easily meet the needs of all many times over?

Experience has also taught people that constantly begging politicians to do the most basic simple things has left millions exhausted, disillusioned, and humiliated. People do not want to fight for years just to secure minor changes that favor them. It is clear that voting once every four years for the lesser of two evils has not stopped economic, social, cultural, political, and educational decline. It has not empowered people to become the decision-makers in society. It has not given people a real voice. It is no surprise that about 100 million eligible voters boycott the presidential election every four years because they feel so disillusioned, ignored, devalued, and marginalized by an obsolete political set-up that has long served a privileged minority. The situation is not much better in the rest of the Anglo-American world.

The fact that the financial oligarchy is a historically superfluous force that is a huge drag on society means that only working people and their allies can usher in a new human-centered alternative. Relying on old structures, frameworks, and arrangements stopped working long ago. Those things do not work anymore because they are not taking people where they need to go. The necessity for new thinking, a new outlook, a new politics, new leadership, and new arrangements is sharper than ever.

Concrete, sustained, collective action with analysis is needed to move forward. A government that upholds a public authority worthy of the name must come into being so as to affirm the public interest. Such a government will provide human rights with a guarantee in practice. It will not privilege narrow private interests or use disinformation to deprive people of an outlook and politics that advances their interests.

There is an alternative to the barbarism of the current conditions engendered by the rich and their outmoded system. New forms of ownership, new social relations, and a new human personality are necessary and possible. History is forcing such ideas, thinking, and topics on human consciousness.

Part one (April 10, 2022); Part two (April 25, 2022); Part three (May 10, 2022); Part four (May 16, 2022); Part five (May 22, 2022); Part six (May 30, 2022); Part seven (June 6, 2022); Part eight (June 13, 2022); Part nine (June 17, 2022).

The post “Booming” Economy Leaves Millions Behind: Part Ten first appeared on Dissident Voice.

In the Crevices Between Submission and Revolution: Disguised and Public Resistance in Caste, Slave, and Feudal Societies Part I

PART I

Orientation

Simplistic notions of Domination and Resistance: Polarized Dualities

When we examine the relations between those in power and those who are subordinate, a typical way of framing these relationships is as a duality. On one hand, those in power are ruling using various power bases such as force, coercion, and/or charisma. The impact of these power bases keeps people passive. In fact, some claim that that powerless people come to agree they deserve to be in the position they are in. At the other extreme are open insurrections where the powerless temporarily rebel or even enact a revolution to overthrow those in power. The problem is that there are no in-between stages or a spectrum between pure submission on the one hand and revolution on the other.

From force to coercion

The ultimate basis of domination in complex state societies is force. However, the use of constant force only works in times of conquest or open rebellions. When domination acquires a kind of social continuity, other forms of dominance are set in motion. James C. Scott, in his book Domination and the Arts of Resistance uses his experience as a sheep herder to compare the situation of sheep penned in by an electric fence with the dominant relations in human society.

If sheep are pastured in a field surrounded by a powerful electric fence, they will at first blunder into it and experience the painful shock. Once conditioned to the fence, the sheep will graze at a respectful distance. Occasionally, after working on the fence, I have forgotten to switch on the power again for days at a time, during which the sheep continue to avoid it. The fence continues to have the same associations for them despite the fact that the invisible power has been cut. (48)

In human affairs, this captures the movement from the use of force to coercion or the threat of force. However, the analogy breaks down when we compare the difference between the motivations and actions of sheep and humans.

With sheep we may only assume a constant desire to get to the pasture beyond the fence – it is generally greener on the other side of the fence since they will have grazed everything on their side. With tenants or sharecroppers, we may assume both a constant testing through poaching, pilfering…and a cultural capacity for collective anger and revenge. The point is that the symbols of power, provided that their potency was once experienced may continue to exert influence after they may have lost most or all of their effective power. (48)

The problem with social scientific understandings of power dynamics is that there is not much explanation of what is in between submission and revolution. But James C. Scott argues that rarely can we see a case where an individual slave, untouchable, or serf is being either entirely submissive or entirely insubordinate. In between submission/acceptance and open revolution there are other states of power.

Barrington Moore widens the spectrum between complete submission and revolution by arguing there are two other grades of resistance before the third stage of revolution:

  • lower classes criticize some of the dominant stratum for having violated the norms by which they claim to rule;
  • the lower classes accuse the entire stratum of failing to observe the principles of its rule;
  • the lower classes repudiate the very principles by which the dominant stratum justifies its dominance. This would be to identify with alternatives to the dominant system.

Scott argues that the historical evidence clearly shows that subordinate groups have been capable of revolutionary thought that repudiates existing forms of domination. However, subordinate groups are not born with revolutionary consciousness. They prefer squatting to a defiant land invasion. They prefer evasion of taxes to a tax riot. They would prefer poaching or pilfering to direct appropriation. It is only when these behind-the-scenes measures fail that they might be open to more drastic measures. Scott argues that there is a whole spectrum of resistance that occurs before even the first of Moore’s three gradients, as we shall see shortly.

My presentation of Scott’s work has five parts. In this introductory section, I will discuss three theories of submission, “thick”, “thin” and “paper thin” states of submission. Then I will probe into Scott’s three dimensions of submission including material, status and ideological dimensions. In the second section I will cover what Scott calls the “public transcript“ which is dominated by elites. These forms include things like parades and coronations and control of language. There are also forms of resistance such as the gathering of crowds and how terrifying they were to elites because they were public gatherings of subordinates without authorization. Interpersonal forms of resistance include mocking body language and verbal language including voice intonation and sarcasm. This will conclude Part I of this article.

In Part II I describe Scott’s notion of the hidden transcript. Hidden transcripts require secret social sites in which to discuss, rehearse and resist elites. Elites attempt to minimize this hidden transcript by taking away social sites and attempting to atomize individuals. In the second section of Part II, I discuss two forms of resistance that come out of the hidden transcript. One is social-psychological strategies and the other is the cultural strategies of resistance. In the last section of Part II, I describe Scott’s analysis of how the process of resistance turns into open insubordination. This is the electrifying time when the hidden transcript goes public. The general movement of both articles goes from the public transcript controlled by elites, to hidden transcripts controlled by subordinates to a return to the public transcript, this time controlled by subordinates who are now becoming insubordinate.

Theories of submission

When the upper class has power in everyday life, force is not used directly to keep the lower classes continuing to produce a surplus but by enacting a public display of their submission though speech, gesture and manners. How do we make sense of how this can happen? For liberal pluralists, the absence of significant protest or radical opposition is taken as a sign of lower-class satisfaction with the existing order. John C. Scott disagrees.

Thick and thin forms of submission

At the other extreme of the political spectrum, “fundamentalist” Marxists contend that on a deep level, perhaps on an unconscious level, the lower classes are aware that their position is unjust and in revolutionary situations  will discover what has been buried inside them. According to them, in revolutionary situations the lower classes will become a “class-for-itself”. How do these Marxists explain the consciousness of the lower classes in non-revolutionary situations? They contend that in these times the working class has been convinced that the upper-class justifications for their power are legitimate – and they actively believe in those values. They consent to their position. This is what Marx called “false consciousness” or class-in-itself mind-set. Scott labels these Marxist depictions of the lower classes as a “thick forms of consciousness.” This means that as people become socialized, the mask that they wear to do their job and reproduce hierarchical relations grows slowly onto their face and over the long-haul the face becomes the mask.

I find this term “fundamentalist” useful to describe a scholastic approach of some Marxists to socio-historical issues which rely too heavily on original texts to explain new events in the world and resist dialectical incorporation of new research which has emerged since the text was  written. In addition, there is a denial of the fact that some of Marx’s predictions were simply wrong.

Both liberals and fundamental Marxists agree that the lower classes in their normal conditions are satisfied or have “bought” the existence of class society. More skeptical of this are those left-wing critics who think the lower classes are unhappy with their situation but they think it is natural and inevitable. Instead of being satisfied or yielding consent, they are resigned to their situation. Scott calls this theory “thin” forms of lower-class submission. This is close to what Gaventa calls intimidation or the rule of anticipated reactions. This means the lower classes elect not to challenge elites because they anticipate the sanctions that will be brought against them. It is an estimate of the hopeless odds which discourage a challenge. Zygmunt Bauman sees power relations as being kept intact because alternatives to the current structure are excluded. He says “The dominant culture consists of transforming everything which is not inevitable into the improbable.” Here there is still a mask but it is thinner. The lower classes are less “snowed”.                                                           

Scott’s super-thin forms of submission

From Scott’s research, he thinks there is little evidence for the ideological incorporation of the lower classes and much evidence that the dominant ideology gives support and cohesion to the upper class rather than the lower classes, similar to pep rallies.  For Scott, what both thin and thick forms of consciousness don’t explain is how social change could ever originate from below. Instead, he argues that all these theories miss the disguised and public forms of resistance which are the subject of this essay. Scott says that these “in-between” forms of resistance are predominant in caste, feudal, and, slave societies.

Besides historical study, Scott draws from social reactance theory. Social reactance theory works on the assumption that there is a human desire for freedom and autonomy. When subordinates feel that their subordination is freely chosen, they are most likely to comply. When subordination is perceived as not freely chosen, there is resistance. In persuasive communication studies, when threats are added to a persuasive communication, they reduce the degree of attitude change. In fact, threatened choice alternatively tends to become more attractive. For Scott, there is little chance that acting with a mask will appreciably affect the face of the actor. If it does, there is a better chance the face behind the mask will, in reaction, grow to look less like the mask, rather than more like it. Nevertheless, Scott specifies 3 conditions under which a “paper thin” mask metaphor may be apt:

  • when there is a good chance a good many subordinates will eventually come to occupy positions of power. This encourages patience, emulation and explains why age graded systems of domination have such durability; and
  • when subordinates are completely atomized, kept under close observation and have no opportunity to talk things over or engage in either public or disguised resistance. This might occur when subordinate groups are divided by geography, culture and language.
  • When there is a promise of being set free in return for a record of service and compliance. 

Scott’s work is the study of forms of resistance which exist in everyday life and are not revolutionary but exist as a kind of guerrilla warfare. His studies are drawn from pre-capitalist hierarchical societies including the reports of slaves, serfs, and untouchables. He ignores the specific differences between slave systems in North America or South America as well as differences between agricultural civilizations in China and India and European feudalism. He claims that his analysis has less relevance to forms of domination in industrial capitalist countries such as scientific techniques, bureaucratic rules or capitalist forces of supply and demand. Scott’s work is an attempt to track how struggles of lords and serfs, slave owners and slaves, Brahmins and untouchables are played out under coercive, rather than force conditions in everyday life.

Scott’s three-dimensional theory of subordination and resistance: material (technological and economic) status and ideological

James Scott divides the political economy of domination and submission into three dimensions: material domination and material resistance; status domination and status resistance; and ideological domination and ideological resistance. Please see Table 2 for an overview of how these dimensions play themselves out in dominance and resistance situations. Material domination includes the appropriation of grain, taxes, and labor by agricultural elites. Status domination consists of forcing subordinates to enact their subordination through ritual humiliations, etiquette, demeanor, gestures, verbal language such as “my lord,” or “your highness”. Soft speech levels include who speaks first to whom, codes of eating, dressing, bathing, cultural taste, and who gives way to whom in public.

Status indignities form a social-psychological bridge between the subordinates’ material condition and cultural ideological justifications for why they are in the state they are in. Status indignities are the subjective and inter-subjective experience of being poor and landless. For example, they are in psychological despair because they cannot afford to feed guests on the feast of Ramadan; they are upset by wealthy people who pass him on the village path without uttering a greeting; he cannot bury his parents properly or their daughter will marry late, if at all because she lacks a dowry. The worst indignities are suffered by audiences of those who form the social source for one’s sense of self-esteem – that is closest friends, families, and neighbors. Ideological domination includes whatever religious justifications exist for why the upper classes deserve to be in the position they are in. Scott calls all three dimensions the “public transcript”.

Material resistance is divided into two types, public resistance and disguised resistance (cells 2 and 3 of table 2.) Public material resistance is what you might suspect. The usual tactics used by subordinate groups in reformist or revolutionary situations include petitions, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, and land invasions. Public status resistance includes insubordinate gestures, postures, and open desecration of status symbols. This might include the victim’s pleasure at seeing superiors dressed down by their superiors. Once this occurs, things are never the same. Public ideological resistance includes counter ideologies which propagate equality, such as liberalism or socialism. They might also include religious heresies of spiritual equality.

The three dimensions of public dominance correspond to what most sociologists and theories of power address. Scott might call this “high politics”. Formal political organization is the realm of elites where resolutions, declarations, and laws are enacted by politicians used in written records, news stories, and law suits.  In countries with a liberal industrial capitalist orientation, an exclusive concern with open political action will capture and normalize some forms of resistance such as petitions, demonstrations, boycotts and group organizing to make them ineffective. Political liberties of speech and association have lowered the risks and difficulty of open political expression.

But in conservative, dictatorship, industrial capitalist societies or in the slave, caste, and feudal societies most people are subjects, not citizens. If high politics is considered to be all of what politics is, then it appears that subordinate groups in these societies lack a political life, unless they engage in strikes, rebellions, or revolutions  – that is, “resistant” politics (second cell).

“Infrapolitics” is the circumspect struggle waged daily by subordinate groups and is like infrared rays, beyond the visible end of the spectrum. If formal political organization is the realm of elites, infrapolitics is the realm of informal leadership of nonelites, of conversation and oral discourse. “Infrapolitics” provides much of the cultural and structural underpinning for the more visible political resistance that may come later. Infrapolitics is a kind of guerrilla warfare where one side advances to see if it its tactics survive or are attacked and if so, with what strength? This is the subject of Scott’s work. He argues that to focus on the visible coastline of high politics misses the continent of infrapolitics.

Forms of disguised infrapolitics fall into three dimensions, material disguised resistance, status disguised resistance and ideological disguised resistance. Together all three are called “the hidden transcript.” Scott’s interest is in the status and ideological dimensions rather than the material dimension of infrapolitics because the material dimension has already been covered by Marxist fundamentalism.

Direct resistance by disguised resisters includes masked appropriations of food or land and anonymous threats. Practices of material disguised resistance include poaching, squatting, desertion, evasions, or fraudulent declarations of the amount of land farmed. In addition, direct resistance can include simple failures to declare land, underpayment, delivery of paddy spoiled by moisture or contaminated with rocks and mud, and foot-dragging. The lower classes can use gullibility and ignorance that are elite stereotypes of them such. These may incluede “laziness” to do less work and resist taxes, land dues, conscription and grain appropriation. In playing dumb, subordinate make creative use of the stereotypes intended to stigmatize them. Refusal to understand is also a form of class struggle.

Status disguised resistance includes what subordinates say and do with each other behind closed doors to counter status insults. This includes rituals of aggression, tales of revenge, gossip, rumor, and the creation of autonomous social sites. Gossip and rumor are designed to have a double meaning. This applies also to folk tales, jokes, songs, rituals, codes, and euphemisms.

Ideological, disguised resistance includes the development of dissident subcultures, millennial religions, myths of social banditry, and the return of the good king, carnival and world-upside down arts and crafts, which was also very powerful. Ideological disguised resistance also has a double meaning such as jokes, euphemisms, and the Br’er Rabbit stories of slaves. Altogether, there are six forms of resistance, three forms of public resistance, and three forms of disguised resistance. The table below helps to differentiate them.

The Public Transcript of Domination and Resistance

The public transcript is the open interaction between subordinates and those who dominate them. The public transcript is the self-portrait of the dominant elites as they would have themselves seen. This can take the form of collective performances such as public displays with little interpersonal interaction and interpersonal performances where there is actual dialogue.

Dominance performances: parades and coronations

Formal ceremonies such as parades, inaugurations, processions, and coronations celebrate and dramatize the rule of dominators. They are choreographed in such a way as to prevent surprises. All parades imply a hierarchical order, a precise gradation of status, with the king at the head and the lowliest at the rear. They are authoritarian gatherings. In formal ceremonies, subordinates only gather when they are authorized.

Rather like iron filings aligned by a powerful magnet, subordinates are gathered in an arrangement and for purposes determined by their superiors…

In a parade, there are no horizontal links among subordinates. Without the hierarchy and authority that knits them into a unit they appear as  mere atoms with no social existence….subordinates are nothing but potatoes in a sack (61-62)

Who are these performances for? At first guess, you might think that coronations serve the purpose of displaying to their subordinates the might and coordination of the dominant. But according to Scott, they are not very successful in doing this. He claims that this domination performances is a kind of self-hypnosis within ruling groups to buck up their courage. The authorities want to create appearance of unanimity among ruling groups. This is why it is very important that ruling classes suppress members of their own class from disagreeing publicly.

Public Transcripts of Domination: Interpersonal

Deferential behavior by subordinates in public interactions includes encouraging smiles, appreciative laughter and conformity in facial expression and gesture. Gender differences in language are interesting here. For example, women use tag questions and a rising tone at the end of a declarative sentence, including the use of hyper-polite tones, linguistic hedges, stammering, and no public joking. (Scott says it is interesting to consider that there are few women comedians.) Subordination and domination are built into the different usages in terms of bodily functions. Scott sites the following examples: “Whereas commoners bathe, the Sultan sprinkles himself; while commoners walk, the Sultan progresses (assuming a smooth, gliding motion); while commoners sleep, the Sultan reclines.” In slave societies, slaves are referred to as boys, whereas whites are referenced as “mister”.

The upper classes also use euphemisms, that is verbal language, gestures, architecture, ritual actions, and public ceremonies to obscure the ultimate force-basis use of rule. For example in terms of language,  “pacification” is used instead of “armed attack and occupation”; “calming” for “confinement by straightjacket”; “capital punishment” for “state execution”; “re-education camps” for “prison for political opponents”; and “trade in ebony wood” for “traffic in slaves”. Scott says when bosses fire workers they say “we had to let them go”, as if workers in question were mercifully released like dogs straining on their leashes.

On the other hand, the practices of their opponents are vilified and presented in categories which delegitimize their opposition. Authorities deny rebels the status of public discourse and try to assimilate their acts into a category that minimizes the political challenge by calling them bandits and criminals, hooligans, or mentally deranged. Religious practices that challenge the corrupt practices of the authorities are labeled heresy, Satanism, or witchcraft.

Public transcripts of resistance: crowds

An unauthorized gathering was potentially threatening. It is so threatening to the upper classes that they call such gatherings “mobs” or “rabble”. In other words, they think people run amok because they have no authorities ruling over them. A gathering is an unauthorized coordination of subordinates by subordinates.

In an agricultural bureaucratic state in the East or a feudal society in the West, the presentation of a petition to the ruler to redress peasant grievances was itself a capital crime.  Gatherings of five or more slaves without the presence of a white observer were forbidden. The authorities were uneasy about the holidays because they lacked the structure of work and brought together large numbers of slaves. This is why there was a law in France in 1838 forbidding public discussion between work peers.

Pubic transcripts of resistance: interpersonal

Those in subordinate positions may refuse to enact submissive facial gestures, make way for elites on the street, or addressing them with mock intonations or exaggerated submissiveness, refusal to laugh at jokes of the upper classes.

Public transcripts of resistance: ideological

Holding the elites’ feet to the fire

Elites cannot do just as they please. Because much of their power is legitimized, they must at least make a passable attempt to perform some valuable social functions. This requires that it must:

  • specify the claims to legitimacy it makes;
  • develop discursive affirmations it stages for the public transcript;
  • identify aspects of power relations it will seek to hide (its dirty linen);
  • specify the acts and gestures that will undermine its claim to legitimacy;
  • tolerate critiques that are possible within its frame of reference; and
  • identify the ideas and actions that will represent a repudiation of profanation of the form of domination in its entirety.

Elites are vulnerable to attack if these conditions are compromised.

For example, in feudalism, honor, noblesseoblige, bravery, and expansive generosity are expected from the aristocrats. The feudal contract would be negated by any conduct that violated these affirmations such as cowardice, petty bargaining, stinginess, the presence of runaway serfs, and failure to physically protect serfs. In the case of the Brahmins, elites would need to possess superior karma, vital ritual services, refinement in manner, presiding at key rites of birth, and observance of taboos are expected.

Return of the Just King

Very often the lower classes play off the king against the aristocracy. It is the king who represents the true interests of the serfs, untouchables, or slaves against the abuses of the nobles. Scott argues that, Lenin notwithstanding, there is simply no evidence that the myth of the Czar promoted political passivity among the peasantry. Furthermore, there is a fair amount of evidence that the myth facilitated peasant resistance. When petitions to the Czar failed, instead of turning on the Czar, serfs then suspected that an imposter, a false czar was on the throne. Under the reign of Catherine II, there were at least 26 pretenders. Pugachev, the leader of one of the greatest peasant rebellions, owed his success in part to his claim to be Czar Peter III. The myth of the czar could transmute the peasantry’s violent resistance to oppression to any act of loyalty to the Crown.

Fundamentalist Marxists, using thick forms of subordinate consciousness, claim that the myth of the kind czar is an ideological creation of the monarchy, then appropriated and reinterpreted by the peasantry. Scott argues that these myths were the joint product of a historic struggle rather like a ferocious argument in which the basic terms – simple peasant, benevolent czar – are shared but in which interpretations follow wildly divergent paths in accordance with vital interests.

Throughout Europe and southeast Asia there are long traditions of the return of a just king. Indian untouchables have imagined that Orthodox Hinduism has hidden sacred texts proving their equality. Slaves have imagined a day when they would be free and slave owners punished for their tyranny. Contrary to Gramsci, radicalism may be less likely to arise among disadvantaged groups who fail to take the dominant ideology seriously because they haven’t yet constructed an alternative.

Summary

Subordination requires a credible performance of humility and deference, while domination requires a performance of haughtiness and mastery. Transgresses of script have more serious consequences for subordinates, and subordinates are closer observers of the dominant because there is more to lose. The same is true for women in relation to men and children and in relation to their parents. People in dominant positions think characteristics of subordinates are inborn, rather than staged for them.

Coming Attractions

Up to now all the resistance offered by subordinates does not include any systematic interpersonal discussion by them. There must be a specific social gathering site, usually in secret where subordinates can speak freely. Secondly, those subordinates must be trustworthy, often members of the same slave master family, kin or neighbors, and have very specific working conditions as we shall see in Part II. We will explore two forms of disguise. Disguising the message and disguising the messenger. What is the place of myth and folktales? Are these stories diversions from revolution or rehearsals for it? Is smashing statues or reversing roles in carnival cathartic releases which then make people more docile or do they provide people with a structure for systematic revolt? Finally, what are the conditions when the hidden transcript of resistance finally turns into a public transcript of insubordination or revolution?

All of this will be covered in Part II.

 

 

The post In the Crevices Between Submission and Revolution: Disguised and Public Resistance in Caste, Slave, and Feudal Societies Part I first appeared on Dissident Voice.

U.S. Senate: From Partisan (GOP) Swamp to a Bipartisan Graveyard for Democracy

Since January 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed 412 bills (See: Congress.gov) and sent them to the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate hasn’t acted. “What?” you say, “don’t the Democrats control both Chambers of Congress?” Sure, by the barest of margins. Handcuffed by the filibuster, a Senate rule (not a federal law) requires 60 votes to pass legislation in what Senators of yore called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

“Nonsense,” says veteran Rep. John Larson (D-CT). The Democrats can hold public hearings, report bills to the Senate floor and then make the Republicans filibuster. Let the GOP sweat a days-long filibuster of a bill establishing a $15 minimum wage. Imagine the national TV coverage with Democrats rebutting the cruel or lying orations by megamillionaire Senator Mitch McConnell and his minions.

As has been the practice for years, the Republican minority members in the Senate merely sent the majority leader an email threatening a filibuster (“extended debate” is the euphemism) and the majority leader placed the bills from the House in limbo.

Make the GOP filibuster” is a rising private cry of Democrats in the House led by Cong. Larson. Let the GOP show its cruel fangs, its opposition to the long-overdue necessities for workers, the elderly, consumers, the environment and equal rights for women. Many House bills passed “bipartisanly,” meaning they had more than nominal numbers of Republican votes.

The filibuster can be turned into a boomerang against the Republicans. It could become a form of public education to strip the GOP of its sugar-coated propaganda and make Republican Senators explain why they are against fair play, justice and the righting of past wrongs, which are harming all the people, not just Democratic voters.

Fierce debates draw large audiences in politics. Pretty soon, the GOP will realize that their filibustering is hurting them in the polls and diminishing their all-important vacation time from congressional work that will break the coerced unanimity and let some Republicans dissent from the Party line.

Remember the Senate has plenty of time for filibustering. Like the House, it works a three-day week, plus many weeks called “recesses,” including a recess for the entire month of August. If the Republicans were forced to filibuster to stay lucrative with their corporate paymasters, they would also make Democratic Senators work full time and maybe some evenings.

Rep. Larson recalls that the most extensive past use of real filibustering was by Southern segregationist Senators bent on blocking civil rights legislation. Now, the filibuster threat blocks all kinds of legislation on behalf of all the people at one time or another.

Filibuster excuses are even used in the House by right-wing Blue Dog Democrats whose small number hold the balance of power there. Using the excuse that a bill couldn’t get through a Senate talkfest, conservative House Democrats, in essence, veto bills with large popular support, such as Medicare for All. You got your free Covid-19 vaccines by showing your ID at a drug store. This is an example of the benefits of a single-payer system, which gives you free choice of doctors or hospitals.

The popular overdue bill (Social Security 2100) is updating social security, which hasn’t seen an increase in benefits for over 50 years! Cong. Larson calls his bill one that “preserves the #1 anti-poverty program for seniors and children.” Retirement, disability and survivor benefits are vital for many people. Mr. Larson wants to fully pay for these overdue increases by “making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share” of taxes from their long-time, ridiculously low real payments.

Fed up with Senate obstructionism, a group of House lawmakers, I am told, are finally going public, challenging the Senate leadership to rise to the occasion and consider legislation demanded by the American people. A top priority for Mr. Larson and his fellow Democrats is strengthening voting rights to bolster the fort of democracy from increasing Trumpian assaults.

Going public joins the issue in explicit ways that will attract mass media and citizen attention. To make Republican Senators put their mouths where their corporatist ideology is will require the Democrats, under leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to have a sense of public urgency for fair legislation that overrides the stale pretexts for the bipartisan procedural, stagnant status quo. These pretexts have too long gone unrevealed and unexamined.

Take note: filibustering with all hands present on Capitol Hill disrupts convenient schedules and scheduled conveniences. A couple of televised ferocious public contests on the Senate floor will make the solons consider other arrangements to unclog the world’s most pompously unproductive legislative chamber.

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Empire’s Fleeting Leadership in its Yard

The just concluded Summit of the Americas is nothing but a show of the Empire’s fleeting leadership in a region that the Empire considers as its backyard.

Mr. Biden, the US President, expressed his hopes as he said: “I think I find no reason why the Western Hemisphere, the Western Hemisphere over the next 10 years, does not develop into the most democratic hemisphere in the world, most democratic region in the entire world.”

He identified important factors in the region: “We have everything. We have the people, we have the resources and we have more democracies in this hemisphere than any other hemisphere.”

So, the US leader expressed hope: “This is a lot we can do, but a lot of it matters in the private enterprise side equation.”

He mentioned “enormous ideas and opportunities” in the region.

But a few stark facts went absent: imperialist exploitation, intervention, dictation, bulldozing of peoples’ aspirations, endeavors and dignity. None can expect democracy while democracy is defined by external bosses, not by people. Imperialist interest and democracy are in perpetual conflict where democracy gets killed by imperialist interest as the interest denies people their rights and spaces in economy and politics. The region in discussion goes through this reality. The summit itself is the evidence: countries were arbitrarily excluded from the summit. With this practice, dictation, how can one dream of democracy or patronizing of democracy? Whatever patronization will go there in the name of democracy is patronization of the forces that serve the patron: imperialist interest.

Now, the problems the Empire is facing in the region are two: (1) Peoples’ increasing struggle for democracy and dignified life, and (2) China – the emerging economic power’s increasing assistance in the area of economy in countries. The Empire finds China as its powerful contender there in the region, as it finds China in the Indo-Pacific and in Africa. Probably, it’ll find China in some parts of Europe and the Middle East also. Amazing! It seems China is haunting the Empire everywhere and all the time!! Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member, this week warned that China poses a real threat of dominance in Central America, which he called “our own backyard”. (Fox News, “Biden touts Western Hemisphere ‘opportunities,’ democracies at summit that excluded Latin American dictators”, June 9, 2022)

But the Empire has already begun losing its strong position in the region. Carrie Filipetti, executive director of the Vandenberg Coalition and a former deputy special representative for Venezuela at the U.S. Department of State told Fox News Digital: “The fact that many leading nations in the hemisphere refuse to participate in the Summit of the Americas — and that the United States has refused to allow the participation of the legitimate government of Venezuela — shows how weak our relationships have become.” (ibid.) A reality is emerging.

A Reuters report (“Biden unveils new Latin America economic plan at reboot summit dogged by dissent”, June 9, 2022) describes something about the summit:

“[A] regional summit marred by discord and snubs over the guest list.”

“[N]agging concerns that Washington, at times, is still trying to dictate to its poorer southern neighbors.”

“The line-up of visiting heads of state and government in attendance was thinned down to 21 […]”

Mr. Biden’s “agenda has been undermined by the partial boycott by leaders […]”

Mr. Biden “found himself welcoming a larger-than-normal contingent of foreign ministers sitting in for their national leaders […]”

This is not all. A Los Angeles, June 10 datelined AP report (“Salvadoran leader rebuffs Blinken effort to bolster summit”) tells another story:

“It was the sort of diplomatic rebuff a small country like El Salvador generally can rarely afford to make.”

“[S]enior U.S. officials frantically worked the phones seeking to boost attendance […]”

“Among those efforts, the State Department sent a message that Secretary of State Antony Blinken wanted to speak with President Nayib Bukele last weekend, a rare show of comity from a Biden administration that for months had been blasting the Central American leader as a power-hungry populist.”

“‘Participating in the Summit is a very good opportunity for President Bukele to explain his perspective to the Salvadoran community in LA and Joe Biden,’ Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols wrote in a message to Bukele’s ambassador in Washington.”

“In the end, Bukele didn’t take the bait and the call never happened […]”

“Another request to set up a call with Blinken, made through the US Embassy in San Salvador, was similarly rebuffed, according to the two people, one of whom showed The Associated Press a copy of the messages.”

“The concerted effort by Blinken to reach out to one of the Biden administration’s frequent targets in Latin America underscores the lengths to which U.S. officials went to avoid an embarrassing flop at the summit.”

Bukele was one of 11 Western Hemisphere leaders who have stayed away from the summit.

“Bukele’s lack of a response to Blinken’s request for a phone call”, the report said, “convinced US officials there wasn’t much they could do to improve relations and the US eventually dropped the diplomatic outreach […]”

More of the story is there in Time, the famous weekly.

Time writes (“The Summit of the Americas Was Meant To Counter China’s Influence. Instead, It Showed How Weak the U.S. Is”, June 10, 2022):

“A gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders in Los Angeles […] gave President Joe Biden a rare and vital opportunity to mend burned bridges and counter growing Chinese influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Instead, analysts say, the Summit of the Americas has achieved neither.

“Much has changed in the Americas in the nearly three decades since the U.S. last hosted the triennial summit. In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton met with all but one of Western Hemisphere leaders […] At the time, leaders were clamoring for a seat at the table with Washington.

“[….]

“The event — which Biden said would showcase ‘bold ideas and ambitious actions’ — was soured by snubs and diplomatic tensions before it even began. [….]

“The hotly-anticipated first ever meeting between Biden and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also almost didn’t happen, with reports that Bolsonaro was also planning to skip the summit.

“For these reasons, Biden was worried that ‘no one would come to the party,’ says Thomas Traumann, a political consultant and head of communications under former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Washington had in turn dispatched an adviser to convince the far-right leader to attend. Bolsonaro later insisted that Biden had agreed not to raise longstanding points of contention between the two men — including growing deforestation in the Amazon — a claim that Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, denied to US reporters.

“Just two days before Thursday’s meeting, Bolsonaro […] once again spread false claims around the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 election win. Biden didn’t publicly acknowledge the comments, as he was ‘desperate’ to salvage the summit in the wake of Mexico’s snub, Traumann says.

“‘The need to get Bolsonaro there made the United States look weak,’ says Christopher Sabatini, senior Latin American research fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House. But at a time of waning US influence in Latin America, Sabatini says Biden had few options.”

These reports and observations from the mainstream narrate a certain reality: The Empire’s leadership is fleeting in the region considered by imperialists as their courtyard. But, a lot has changed there in the so-called backyard. Like Trade Winds, a Change Wind is blowing throughout the continent. Statements a number of leaders from the hemisphere made in the summit in presence of the US President are unimaginable. The leaders are from geographically, and in terms of economy, small countries. How does that force of bold utterances originate, and what does that signify? A Change Wind is blowing, and it’ll blow with setbacks, but it’ll continue blowing, and enrich and embolden the region, and the Empire will find its leadership is gradually fleeting away.

Despite this trend of time, there’re a few utterances that sound arrogant. The above mentioned Reuters report said: “Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters the choice by some leaders not to attend reflected their own ‘idiosyncratic decisions’ […]” It may happen that that was “idiosyncratic”, or it may happen that those decisions were symptoms of a political trend, and the political trend has grown out of a few economic-political questions that are related to the Empire, at one end, the peoples in the region, at the other, as imperialism has bled Latin America, the people in Latin America, a lot and since long. A cessation of the practice is the requirement in the region.

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New Brooms, Old Stories: The Australian Labor Party and Julian Assange

After having a few lunches with Australia’s then opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, John Shipton felt reason to be confident.  Albanese had promised Assange’s father that he would do whatever he could, should he win office, to bring the matter to a close.

In December 2019, before a gathering at the Chifley Research Centre, Albanese also referred to Assange.  “You don’t prosecute journalists for doing their job.”  In December 2021, he also expressed the view that the “ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange” served no evident “purpose” – “enough is enough”.

That said, prior to winning office, the Labor opposition was hardly making disruptive ripples on the subject.  “As an Australian, he is entitled to consular assistance,” came the anaemic remark from Senator Penny Wong and opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs in April.  “We also expect the government to keep seeking assurances from both the UK and US that he’s treated fairly and humanely … Consular matters are regularly raised with counterparts, they are regularly raised and this one would be no different.”

The problem with these assurances is precisely why such a stance is woefully, even disgracefully, inadequate.  These have no weight or bearing in law and can be ignored.  Power lies, and absolute power lies absolutely.  Such a crucial point was blithely ignored by Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, in their December 2021 decision.  In reversing the lower court decision, the justices thought little of questioning the bad faith of Washington’s guarantees that Assange would not spend time in the ADX Florence supermax, or face special administrative measures (SAMs), were he to be extradited. These might have been made at the initial trial, but the prosecutors decided, after the fact, to change their tune on appeal.

Within the new government, there are Labor members who insist that Assange be freed.  Julian Hill MP is one, convinced that Albanese, as Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, would be a “man of integrity” and be true to his “values”.  Within his own party, there were members “who have had an active involvement in the Assange group based on these critical principles – press freedom and fighting against the chilling effect on the media that this persecution would have – and would hope that our government could achieve an outcome.”

A number of voices outside politics have also urged the new government to make urgent representations to Washington to change the prosecutorial, and persecuting tone, against the WikiLeaks founder.  Guy Rundle insists on “some form of official representation” to the US to end extradition efforts which would see Assange charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.  “It should also make representation to the UK government to refuse extradition immediately, and release Assange.”

Rundle is also correct to note that Labor’s form on Assange is pure in its rottenness.  Given the chance – as in 2018 and 2019 –  it has generously exploited security leaks used by journalist Annika Smethurst to attack the proposed expansion of surveillance powers.

Stuart Rees, founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, senses a new form of politics “in the air.”  Citing Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s remarks that there could be no future without generosity and forgiveness, he sees any intervention to free Assange as “a next step towards recovery of national self-respect.”  The only thing for Albanese to do: get on the phone to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel the extradition.

Despite the changing of the guard in Canberra, it should not be forgotten that it was a Labor government, led by the country’s first female prime minister, Julia Gilliard, who accused Assange of illegality in publishing US State Department cables in 2010.  Gillard, impetuously and inaccurately, tried to impress her US counterparts in tarring and feathering WikiLeaks.  “Let’s not try and put any glosses over this,” she stated in December that year. “It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.”

All zealous and afire with premature purpose, Gillard sent in the Australian Federal Police to investigate the matter, hoping that it would “provide the government with some advice about potential criminal conduct of the individual involved.”  The priority here was identifying any Australian laws that might have been broken, since she did not feel up to the task.  And there was, she claimed perversely, “the common sense test about the gross irresponsibility of this conduct.”  Not a fan of exposing state illegality, notably by the US, was Julia.

Such conduct, at the time, did more than raise eyebrows.  Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis failed to identify any relevant law that might have been breached, either Australian or US.  Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak was “astonished” that a lawyer of presumed competence could have made such remarks.  “There is no charge, there is no trial, there is no properly constituted court, and yet the Prime Minister deems it appropriate to say that Mr Assange has committed a criminal offence.”

Within less than a fortnight, the AFP, in concluding its investigation, informed Attorney-General Robert McClelland that “given the documents published to date are classified by the United States, the primary jurisdiction for any further investigation into the matter remains the United States.”  After evaluating the material concerned, the federal police had failed to establish “the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction”.

How the publisher’s fate is handled will be revealing of the new government’s attitude to traditional alliances.  Albanese, when asked this week how he would approach the Assange case, had removed the hat of candour.  “My position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer.”  Now more embedded than ever in the US security framework, crowned by the AUKUS alliance, the length Australian politicians and officials will go to rock the boat of cordial understanding on the issue of Assange is unlikely to be extensive.  Even if Albanese prefers to put the loudhailer aside, the prospects of seeming supine and looking ineffectual are brutally real.

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The Social Anatomy and Dynamics of Power: Bases, Depth, Scope, and Dimensions

Orientation:

Question about the where, when, what of power 

Is power something inside a person (an attribute) or a relationship between people? Is power a neutral concept, or does power have a positive or negative charge?  Is power vertical or horizontal? Most of the time it seems that power is hierarchical and can be called power over people. But can there be horizontal power, that is power with people? What is the relationship between power and politics? Is politics a specific form of power or is power a particular form of politics? What is the relationship between power, persuasion, and control? Are they interchangeable? Are they three completely different categories or are they related and overlapping?

What is the relationship between power and authority? Are power and authority opposites? Is power a form of authority or is authority a form of power?  Is all power intentional or can power be exerted unintentionally? What is the relationship between power, wealth, and prestige? Can you be powerful but not be wealthy and prestigious? Can you have wealth and prestige but not have power? What is the difference between potential power and latent power? What is the range of power in terms of the number of people it affects, the variety of tactics used or its depth of intensity?

Resources for this article

The field of political sociology has many very good theories of power. G. William Domhoff has written about how power is produced and distributed in two books about how the ruling class rules Yankeedom.  These books are The Powers That Be and Who Rules America? W. Lawrence Neuman has covered much ground in his textbook Power, State and Society. The Italian Gianfranco Poggi has identified three types of power in his book Forms of Power. Michael Mann has written three volumes on power that have demonstrated a deep historical grounding.  They are called The Sources of Social Power. Peter Morris has developed a theory of power from a philosophical standpoint. Stewart Clegg has written three books on power that I devoured. His work would require way more space than a single article. Robert Alfred and Roger Friedland have developed the richest theory of power from the point of view of six sociological schools. However, for purposes of just getting our feet wet, I will only draw from two books, one by Dennis Wrong, and the other by Steven Lukes.  Wrong’s book is titled Power: Its Forms, Bases and Uses. Lukes’ book is called Power: A Radical View.

This piece will focus on vertical power: when a person or class has power over people to harness energy and labor to get work done. How exactly do they do this?  My article is divided into three parts. The first is the delineation of eleven power bases. The second is a description of the three dimensions of power – pluralist, elitist, and class. I will close by answering the questions that I first posed in the orientation. At least as important, how does it get to be that people come to accept their own submission to power? This will be the subject of my next article.

I Range of power

We need to be able to access the range of power. What is the scope of power? In other words how far in breadth and depth does it cover? How long does it last?  Dennis Wrong identifies three areas of extensiveness, comprehensiveness, and intensiveness.

  • Extensiveness has to do with how many people are involved.
  • Comprehensiveness is the variety of strategies the powerholder can employ to achieve their outcome.
  • Intensity is the range of how far it can used before it loses control over people. This has to do with the degree of coordination (in the case of power with) and subordination (in the case of power over).

Let’s use some examples. In the case of the sadist and masochist, power relations are narrowly extensive but highly comprehensive and intensive power relations. While dictatorial-tyrannical power will wield extensive and intensive power, the difficulty of maintaining the visibility at all times of the behavior of subjects sets limits to the comprehensiveness of its power.

There are three reasons why greater extensiveness of a power relation sets limits on authoritarian comprehensiveness and intensity. The first is the greater the number of subordinates makes for greater difficulty supervising all of their activities. Secondly, the more people it subordinates the more differentiated the chain of command is necessary to control them. Thirdly, the more people are involved the greater the likelihood of wide variation of the population’s attitudes toward the power holder.

II Power bases

By what means does the dominator achieve and maintain power? Let’s begin with the typology of power bases provided offered by Dennis Wrong.  I’ve added a few of my own from some of the sources listed in the orientation section.

1) Force With force, an individual or political group achieves their objectives in the face of another group’s noncompliance by stripping them of the choice between compliance and noncompliance. Force is treating a human subject as if they were a physical object or a biological organism subject to pain or injury. There are two kinds of forces – physical force and psychic force.

  1. a) Physical force includes the use of violence, damaging the body. Its purpose is to eliminate people from the scene or prevent them from taking any action at all. Violent force can also involve the denial of food, sleep or on a larger scale, employment. Force can also be non-violent by those resisting to domination. In the case of civil disobedience, resisters use their bodies as physical objects.
  1. b) The use of psychic force involves the damages of ideas, emotions, such as verbally insulting, degrading, or the deformation of character. On a group level, this would be ritual degradation, engaging in sorcery or casting a spell. On a less severe scale, nagging and browbeating are instances of psychic violence.

2) Coercion This is a term that is mistakenly used interchangeably with force. Coercion is a threat of the use of force. For example, I am driving on a city street and I see a cop’s flashing lights go on, indicating for me to pull over. I pull over not because I respect the cop’s legitimate authority, but because he has a gun. A man involved with a woman having a domestic quarrel stands up and begins shouting and pointing. This is not force because there is no physical contact. However, there is clearly a threat of force.

Coercion can take the form of symbols such as “Beware of Dog” signs, or gestures such as shaking a fist, swaggering walks, or verbal statements such as “your money or your life”. It can take place as displays such as in military parades or the flourishing of nightsticks. Coercion can succeed without force, such as robbing a bank with a water pistol. In the short run this is the most effective form of power in terms of extensiveness, comprehensiveness, and intensity while requiring the least amount of communication. However, it is high in the cost of material and human resources.

3) Politics This is the control people exert over what, when, where, and how people can and can’t act. An example is parents controlling their kid’s behavior as long as the kid lives at home: “my house, my rules” say the parents. Nation-states control their populations with passports, laws, and statutes.

4) Economic power This kind of power involves control over material resources such as commodities, wages, salaries, tools, natural resources, money, and stocks. The power of a capitalist over a worker is a typical example.

5) Symbolic power As a college teacher I can control my students by the power I have over their grade. Symbolic power is control over certificates, grades, and diplomas.

6) Information control/persuasion This is control over communication, whether face-to-face or through media. This control can be over information content, information sources or how or when information is presented. Propaganda is hard-liner information control, while rhetoric (debate) or dialectic (classroom) are softer means of communication control.

Persuasion deals with changing attitudes (minds) and/or changing actions through the use of rhetoric. Face-to-face persuasion is more up-front rather than behind the scenes.  Persuasion presents itself as an implicitly egalitarian relationship that leaves intact free choice without resorting to either tacit or overt threat to a group. As with all the forms of power before information control, it is irrelevant who the individual is, what the situation is, and the time and place of its occurrence. With information control, persuasion involves far more sensitivity to time, place, and circumstance. Mass persuasion using mass or internet communication is much closer to propaganda.

7) Charisma This form of power is based on the personal qualities of an individual such as charm, theatrical skills, oratory power, being articulate, or having spiritual vision. When applied to cults, charisma is the most unstable form of power because when the leader dies or is revealed to be fallible, whatever has been built falls with him.

8) Sexual resources Here we have the exchange of sexual favors for money, power, or fame. Sexual resources also involve the promise of sex and the manipulation of the other person with the prospects of having sex. So much of dating relationships is all about this.

9) Manipulation Manipulation is one of those words which is over-used and meant to refer to everything from news manipulation, advertising manipulation, or relations between equals. I will define manipulation as exclusively what happens between friends. It involves getting an equal to do something through exposure, distraction, deception, exaggeration, or guilt. In his book Influence, John Cialdini named many of these forms of manipulation which he called exploitation of reciprocity, foot-in the-door, foot-in-the mouth, door-in-the-face, and low-balling.

10) Legitimation This form of power involves the power holder having formal training, degrees, official clothing, badges, and reputation. What makes this form of power so powerful is that those in subordination have internalized the right of a legitimate authority to rule. Legitimacy means authority sanctioned by social structures and respect is given by subordinates (at least initially.) Authors of books and some political figures are examples. Legitimacy is the untested acceptance of another’s judgment.

All forms of power up to legitimacy require that those holding vertical power expend energy. In one case it involves the use of weapons, jails, and concentration camps. In the other wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, as in doing marketing research or advertising campaigns. In the case of mass persuasion, it involves studying how to write a successful political speech. But all these forms of power require constant replenishing of resources.

Using legitimate power may require initial external input through training or schooling, but over the course of generations the authorities can go long stretches without input because the subservient have internalized their authority. The initial input of authority involves the production of ideology of obedience through mass media, education, and religious socialization which people internalize. Once subordinates have internalized this ideology, this form of power is more or less set. Legitimate power is in some ways the most interesting because here the dominated have come to believe that the dominator deserves to be in this position. The extensiveness of legitimate authority is more limited, but it is most reliable in controlling the anticipated reactions of power subjects. Legitimate authority is most efficient in minimizing the need for keeping watch.

Most workers report to their jobs every day because they need the wages (economic power). But their attitude towards their bosses is mostly that their bosses also have legitimate authority. Many have come to believe that their bosses deserve to monopolize tools, resources, and property. When workers are upset, most of the time they demand better working conditions, more pay, and more benefits. They don’t challenge capitalist authority over what gets produced, how much, or by when. This 500-year-old system appears to be eternal and only rarely in revolutionary situations can workers imagine any other way of organizing production.

11) Competency This last form of power involves getting others to do something because of the powerholders demonstrated skills or know-how. The best example of this in the relationship between a doctor and her patient, a lawyer and his client, or a pilot and her passengers.  On the one hand, all these forms of power are legitimate. But unlike most forms of power there are neither guns nor goods that are shown to command obedience. Unlike in persuasive forms of power, with competent authority no evidence is needed. A patient may listen to a doctor’s advice without understanding the rationale. Their authority is imputed, rather than demonstrated. In competent authority, comprehensiveness and intensity are low. Knowledge is not depleted with use, and costs have more to do with equipment. Its basis of knowledge is utilitarian.

An even better form of competency is a hunting leader of an egalitarian hunting and gathering society. Here the leader has no desire to lead but their leadership is insisted upon by the group because of their skills. A story is told by an anthropologist that the prospective leaders have to be dragged out of the bushes. Oftentimes the captain of a baseball team is chosen by the players, the first among equals because of their competency.

III Multiple power bases are used and morph into each other over time

Human motivation is almost always a heterogeneous mix of different, often conflicting impulses which play themselves out over time. Because of this, a stable power relation of some comprehensiveness and intensity is rarely based on a single form of power. Each form of power usually has more than one power base. For example, a college teacher will use symbolic power as primary force but will support it through politics and legitimacy. An employer will use economic power primarily but combine it with political power and information control.

In addition, power bases tend to change over time as relationships develop over time and routine sinks in. For example, in a cult the charismatic power of love for a leader can deteriorate into a simply authoritarian political bureaucratic power when the leader dies. Prison guards initially use force and coercion but over time some prisoners become attached to the guards (the Stockholm syndrome) and might even see the guards as having legitimate power. An occupation that is chosen initially for financial gain (economic power) but may be maintained out of pride of craft (competency) even when the person is making less money. It is in the long-term, self-interest for the powerholder to try to transform might into right, force, and coercion into legitimacy. On the other hand, the dependence of the subordinates’ position in the power relationship will motivate them to come part way to meet the powerholder.

IV Three dimensions of power: pluralist, elite and Marxist

Pluralist

In liberal theories of power, such as that of the political scientist Robert Dahl, the way power is measured is that different actors and different interest groups compete in different areas of interest. Power is purported to be diffused across situations and there is “nothing going on behind the scenes”. Power is neither unstructured nor systematic.  Power is identified with the issues that agenda has set, for example, at a city council meeting. Power is subject to constant dissipation because of the push and pull of different veto groups. The exercise of power is strictly behavioral and observed and the word power is used interchangeably with persuasion.

Contrary to either elitist or Marxist theory, all power does not involve conflict because people gain power through accidents, unintended consequences, or just stating the issue more clearly. At the same time, those successful in a conflict of interest may involve more of their capacity to do things or more consent from others. There may be no struggle at all.

For the pluralists, the wielding of power is decentralized most of the time into several separate and single issues. This is different from elite theories that argue that the issues are connected. The wielding of power is overt and can be seen, as in the action of the leaders at a city council meeting who are limited in deciding on concrete issues in front of everyone. The preferences in a local participation have to do with the uniqueness of particular individuals rather than underlying class interests. Jeremy Bentham argued that preferences are the same as interests and are revealed by market behavior. Everyone is the best judge of their own interest and people are not seen as having illusions about their interests or being short-sighted about them. Interests are more or less revealed by participating in politics. For pluralists, political parties adequately make room for the interests of everyone because class conflict is the exception, not the rule for pluralists. Pluralists have complete confidence that voters are consciously aware of them and can articulate them. For pluralists it is too cynical to propose that people’s interests can be unconscious or that they can be inarticulate and politicians may have to express their interests for them. On a larger scale, pluralists think representative democracy works pretty well. Workers know what they want, can articulate what they want, and their representatives listen to them and carry out their will.

Politically and sociologically pluralists are rooted in the work of Emile Durkheim who believed that the state in capitalist society could allow democratic participation. When the masses explode, revolt, or create revolutionary situations it is a sign of group pathology rather that that the system isn’t working. For pluralists 40-50% of those who don’t vote do so because their will is being carried out by politicians, with their consent. It is not because there was anything wrong with the system or the candidates. Both the parties and the state are socialized to balance group demands and public interest. The image of the state is as a thermostat or referee between competing groups.

Elitist theories of power

Pluralist theories of power are clearly liberal. Class theories of power are straightforwardly Marxian socialist. Elite theory is considerably more complicated. For example, the Italian political theorists of politics – Pareto, Mosca and Michels – are all conservative. They explain political power as a battle of elites and dismiss the masses as apathetic, ignorant, and superstitious. On the other hand, theorists in the centrist tradition of Max Weber are more interested in explaining power in terms of the autonomy of state bureaucracies. On the left, theorists of power like C. Wright Mills, William Domhoff, Bachrach and Baratz analyze the ruling class much more critically than the Italian theorists and they are more hopeful about the power of the lower classes to assert their power. For the most part, we will focus of the elite theory of Bachrach and Bartaz because they directly challenged pluralist Robert Dahl’s description of power.

Elitist theories of power think there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than pluralists do. For both elitists and Marxists, issues are not diffused across social life, and many issues are interconnected. For example, both elitist and Marxist theorists will say that capitalists allow disagreements to be aired publicly around cultural issues of sexuality and religion but the rulers keep economic issues of the viability of capitalism and the gap between the rich and the poor off the table. For elitists and Marxists, there is not a plurality of different issues and different interest groups. Behind the scenes, there are the same few actors and the same few interest groups that prevail across all issues.  The full thrust of power is not exhausted on the floors of city councils over real issues. For example, a city council will argue about where the next place will be that the homeless are dumped off. However, they will not discuss in public why real estate companies have the right to buy up as much property in a city as possible. For elitists, power is not diffused but stored and concentrated in the circulation of elite groups and is not lessened through the push and pull of competing groups.

For elitists, whether competing groups are more or less competent in what they are trying to do or more or less the subject of accident, all power involves conflicts of interests – whether they are overt or covert. Power and persuasion are not interchangeable. For elitists, all power involves force or fraud, as Machiavelli said. Power for elitists involves limiting the decision-making publicly, while political issues are consciously decided upon by individuals behind closed doors. For elitists, interests are far more important than preferences and they are not likely to be revealed publicly, most especially conflicts of interest in politics or economics. Interests are most deeply human, deep, and dark and are far more important than people’s preferences which are guided by conscious motivation. Elite theories allow that people can be mistaken about their interests and often conflicted about their preferences. For elitists, people who don’t vote do not do so because they assent to the available choices. It is because they are apathetic, ignorant and can’t think beyond their own self-interest.

For elite theorists, the state is more concerned with ruling than with governing, and in managing its bureaucracy (in the case of Weber) rather than ensuring the voices of its citizens are heard. While for pluralists’ society is the state, for elitists the state has independence from society and protects its own interests. For elitists, power is not situational, rising and declining. Power is structural and independent of situations, serving its own interest. Power is stored and concentrated in deep state institutions which stay in place as local regimes move in and out. Power is about politics, force, and the threat of force. The population doesn’t steer its own course but is manipulated. Exploitations come from the bottom of the class structure. Because the population is not seen as capable of self-organization, disturbances are short-lived because the lower classes cannot keep their attention focused. Unlike pluralists, those in power do not govern with consent but rule through competition between elites. For elite theorists, the state both manages the interests of the middle and upper classes, but also has an interest of its own.

Marxist theories of power

For Weberian elitists, power rests in the internal bureaucracy of the state, rather than social classes or interest groups. For Marxists, power is wielded by the capitalist class which controls the state and society and exploits the lower classes. Marxist theory is also cultural and psychological in how it distracts the working-class from defending its own interest.

For the capitalists, power would never be shown either at the city level or even at a state level. Capitalists wield power at the national level in the control of both political parties. Marxists argue that while the capitalist class may have differences in foreign policy, within the domestic sphere capitalists agree to keep any third political party from forming and suppress any workers’ movements for higher wages and better working conditions. Both political parties are anti-communist.

How are disruptions of the lower order treated? This depends about whether capitalism is expanding or contracting. If capitalism is developing in prosperous times, capitalists will attempt to entertain, distract, and present reified images of life to get lost in. Here workers will have false consciousness. If the productive forces are contracting capitalists may be more repressive, neglecting infrastructure and begin militarizing the police. Elitists will claim conflicts exist between themselves which eventually subside. For Marxists conflicts are endemic because there are terminal crises in capital which do not subside but spread to other social sectors. For Marxists, unlike liberal elitists, the state cannot manage conflict in the long run because the conflict between the capitalists and workers is much broader and deeper than anything the state can manage. When it comes to local expression of power at the city level the pluralist will fight over the plays of the game, elitists will fight over the rules of the game, while Marxists will challenge the game itself.

Unlike elitists, Marxists don’t think all conflict involves force. Conflict can express itself through smoldering class conflicts which may not require the use of force. In the areas of decision making, the bias of the system can be manifest without any meeting of capitalist minds. For example, many years ago I was on an economic justice committee at a Unitarian Church and we decided to do a campaign to “buy nothing” on Black Friday. We wanted to place an ad in a city newspaper. The first newspaper refused our ad. We went to another one and the same thing happened. When we were turned down for the third time, one member on our committee claimed the newspapers were conspiring against us. Someone else pointed out that there didn’t need to be a conspiracy. Each newspaper separately would be threatened by advertisers with withdrawing their ads if our ad ran. Since advertisers knew what the competing ads were before the paper was published, we could understand that we would be rejected by all capitalist newspapers without any of the copy editors contacting each other at all.

In terms of interests and preferences. Marxists’ theories suggest that working class people are not conscious of their interests (false consciousness) and their interests are shaped by advertisers behind their backs. Marxists must point out to workers what their real interests are because workers have illusions about their interests, such as the prospects of becoming millionaires.

For pluralists, power is exercised through what is resolved on each agenda item. For elites, power is controlled over the decision-making process, of which items are not even on the agenda. For Marxists, power is exercised in convincing the population to take sides which go against their class interests. For example, recognizing that the funding for the police serves their interest more than low-cost housing. Workers are blinded by false consciousness which comes out of TV shows in which cops are brave and heroic individuals. They fail to understand that the police are a domestic state-terrorist organization mobilized to beat up and kill the working class. For Marxists, what it means to have power is to keep people from even articulating grievances which will threaten the economic interest of capitalism. Capitalists, through sports, movies, and nationalism shape workers’ very cognitions and perceptions so that they express their interests in superficial topics that have nothing to do with their own lives. Like elitists, Marxists think that non-socialist political parties cannot seriously improve life for the working class and that political participation in these parties is a waste of time. Capitalists control workers not primarily through force and coercion but through hegemony, in which the workers consent to be ruled through reactance theory. Reactance theory convinces workers that they are freely choosing. Marxists treat social explosions not as signs of pathology as pluralists do. Rather, they are treated as workers breaking through false consciousness and recognize their real interests lie in overthrowing capitalists.  Please see the table at the end of the article for a summary of these and other contrasting points. 

V The what, when, where, and how of power

Now that we have gone through the eleven power bases and the three dimensions of power, we are in a better position to answer the questions initially posed at the beginning of this article.

Is power individual or social?

On the surface, it appears that when it comes to power, one group has it and the other group doesn’t. But this is a mechanical way of thinking about how power is held. Powerholders can be weak and subordinates can be strong. More importantly, in most power situations those who are subordinate are many and those with power are few. This means we must explain how it is that those in a subordinate position allow those with power to rule. When most people are passive, we have to say that those people have some degree of complicity in allowing the small group in power to have their way. This is why power is a social relationship rather than an individual one. Pluralists and Marxists will agree that power is social. Elitists are more likely to think of power as mechanical with elites active and the masses passive. How subordinates allow those with power to rule will be the subject of my next article.

Is power neutral or is it negative or positive?

It is best to think of the word power in a neutral or even positive way rather than as strictly negative or a relationship that could somehow be avoided. After all, power is a collective and necessary process. Power is neutral in the sense that it is a collective exerted action to harness energy to do work in order to: a) mine resources (economic and sexual); b) confer prestige (status); c) coordinate action; and d) plan future collective action. Pluralists are uncomfortable admitting power exists and see it as negative. Elitists will see power as negative but inevitable. Marxists are more likely to see power as negative and positive and hold out that in communist society power will be used positively.

Is power over people or with people?

Most people use the term power to mean power over people. What this leaves out is the possibility that people can organize social relations without hierarchies, as the anarchists have pointed out. In this article the power bases and the dimensions of power have been used to have power over people. However, the power base of competency can be used to promote horizontal power relations. To be clear I will define two kinds of power:

  1. Horizontal power—harnessing energy to do work in a way in which all groups control all dimensions of society – technology, economics, politics, and culture. This is most prevalent in egalitarian tribal societies and in some kinds of relationships in industrial capitalist countries. Examples are relations among friends or comrades or collaboration at work between people on the same level. This is power with
  2. Vertical power – harnessing energy to do work in a way where one group monopolizes most or all dimensions of society. Vertical power goes with power over

The pluralists of one-dimensional power will think that power is over people and will try to substitute persuasion in their ideal city hall political engagements. For them, the political is situational. Elitists say there is only one kind of power and that is vertical, power over people. Three-dimensional class theorists see power as potentially power with people as part of the emergence of classless societies.

Is politics a specific form of power or is power a particular form of politics

Power and politics are very closely related but they are not interchangeable. As we have seen earlier in this article, politics is one of eleven power bases. Power is the end and politics is the means. Power is collective, exerted action to achieve outcomes. Politics is a means to control what, when, where, and how people move or don’t move throughout time and space. But other forms of power are necessary in order for politics to be successful. This includes force, coercion, legitimacy, and economic incentives. One-dimensional theories of power, being liberal politically, think power is a form of politics and are less willing to consider that power is pervasive so as to include all the other power bases. Two and three-dimensional theories of power claim politics is a means to power.

What is the relationship between power, persuasion, and control?

As we have seen in the section on power bases, persuasion is a particular form of power, and though its methods are less intense than other power bases, all persuasion involves power. However, not all power uses persuasion. Power can use force, coercion, and sexuality in which no appeal to reason is operating. Control is a particular form of power, specifically political. But as I said earlier, politics requires other power bases for it to be successful. Only pluralists hold out for the prospect that persuasion alone can win people over.

What is the relationship between power and authority? Are power and authority opposites? Is power a form of authority or is authority a form of power?

Again, power is the more general category. Authority usually involves the power base of legitimation. However, authority by itself is not enough. As a college teacher, my students might see me as legitimate, yet without the threat of the symbolic power of a grade, I cannot be assured they will listen to me. In addition, power can be asserted without authority. Ten other power bases can be operating in which the power holder will not have authority yet will be successful. Since pluralists tend to be more optimistic about social relations, they are more likely to think the public will listen to legitimate authorities than elitists or Marxists.

Is power intentional or can it be unintentional?

All power is intentional, but there is a difference between acting in order to achieve a certain outcome and achieving it and recognizing that other effects will unavoidably result. However, so long as the effects were foreseen by the actor, even if not aimed at as such, they still seem to count in the theories of Wrong and Lukes as constituting an exercise of power. This is in contrast to unanticipated and unintended effects which are instances where the situation is no longer under the command of those with power.

Some may object and say that intentional efforts to influence others often produce unintended as well as intended results. Unintended results of power should still be the responsibility of the person or group utilizing power. After all a dominating and overprotective mother does not intend to feminize the character of her son, yet this is what often happens. Isn’t she still responsible, regardless of her intentions? The effects others have on us, unintended by and even unknown to them, may influence us more profoundly than direct efforts.

To insist that power can be validly imputed to an actor only when she produces intended and foreseen effects on others does not consider that she may so also produce a wide range of far more significant unintended and unforeseen effects. Effects that are foreseen but not intended count as exercises of power. Those events which are unanticipated and unforeseen are not the responsibility of the power subject. To claim full responsibility for all effects, intended, anticipated and foreseen, unanticipated and unforeseen is to attribute a divine, all-knowing power to the powerholder and make the concept of power strident and unrealistic. Pluralists are most likely to attribute to powerholders good intentions and the negative consequences of their power to accidents or misunderstandings.

Power wealth and privilege

Having power is deeper than having wealth and prestige. Power uses wealth and prestige to maintain itself and achieve its ends. Wealth is a form of economic resources and privilege will usually go with legitimacy or sexual resources. But power can certainly be successful without them, by using some combination of the other power bases.

Potential vs latent power

Potential power and latent power are also very close, but valuable distinctions can be made. Potential power may or may not be used. When it is not used it has no impact on the anticipated reactions of others. An example is a wealthy miser who chooses to conceal his fortune. Another is someone who has a secret arsenal in his cupboard but does not use it. Latent power has anticipated reactions built in which it may have on others without the power holder having issued a command. Both elite and class theories are more likely to be sensitive to these subtleties.

• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post The Social Anatomy and Dynamics of Power: Bases, Depth, Scope, and Dimensions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reactionary Succession: Peter Dutton, Australia’s New Opposition Leader

The devastation wrought on Australia’s Coalition government on May 21 by the electorate had a stunning, cleansing effect.  Previously inconceivable scenarios were played out in safe, Liberal-held seats that had, for decades, seen few, if any, challenges from an alternative political force.  But the survival of one figure would have proved troubling, not only to the new Labor government, but to many Liberal colleagues lamenting the ruins.  The pugilists and head knockers, however, would have felt some relief.  Amidst the bloodletting, hope.

As he has done before, Peter Dutton, former Queensland policeman and failed university student, high priest of division and shorn of compassion, the face of Fortress Australia, survived the electoral challenge.  Earlier in the night, it did not seem that he would hold on to the Queensland seat of Dickson.  His opponent, Labor’s Ali France, looked ready to assume the reins.  But survive, he did, as he has done previously at several ballots.  His rival and obvious successor to take over the Liberal Party, Josh Frydenberg, did not.

Dutton, Australia’s new opposition leader, is a reactionary, though he must couch his ascent to the leadership in more accommodating terms.  He is a reminder of a brand of politics that Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard made the norm: callous, self-centred, free of vision and hostile to outsiders. Under Howard, illegal wars were launched, a national security state created, and torturous offshore detention centres established in Pacific outposts.  His time in office was characterised by an oleaginous, ignorant smugness.

It was Dutton who seemingly wanted to stay on this mummified path.  In the tribal wars affecting his own party, which saw an ongoing battle between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, both eventually having spells as Liberal Prime Ministers, Dutton played his dagger’s hand. Towards Turnbull, he was particularly vicious, cultivating hard line support for his own leadership credentials.

It was Dutton who finally saw off the meeker and unsuspecting Turnbull in August 2018, signalling his own leadership challenge with the subtlety of a hangman and the graciousness of a prison escapee.  But his time to be leader had not come.  Within the Liberal Party, Dutton was seen as electoral bile in various seats in Victoria and New South Wales, an extreme and extremist’s choice.  He may have engineered the assassination in favour of conservative values, but the profits of leadership would go to Scott Morrison and his deputy Josh Frydenberg.

In his autobiography, A Bigger Picture, Turnbull explained why, in the palace coup, he preferred Morrison as his replacement.  “Dutton, were he to become prime minister, would run off to the right with a divisive, dog-whistling, anti-immigration agenda, written and directed by Sky News and 2GB.”

Turnbull’s reading of politics, for all his qualities as a legal advocate, seemed cock-eyed.  Morrison had his own penchant for division, dog-whistling and anti-immigration.  And the former merchant banker, intellectually superior as he was, never saw Dutton as a viable threat, having “assumed people have a reasonable amount of self-awareness”.  Given such awareness, Dutton never struck the defeated Turnbull “as being so self-delusional and narcissistic as to imagine that he could successfully lead the Liberal Party. More relevantly, it had never occurred to me that others would think he could either.”

Under Morrison, Dutton became all that is terrifying about the national security state and corrosive to democratic accountability.  He ruled over Australia’s new super Department of Home Affairs and showed every sign of loving it.  More national security legislation was passed, privacy protections eroded, surveillance encouraged.

Dutton also became the dour face of anti-China jingoism and bellicosity, often making spurious historical comparisons.  (The 1930s has been something of a favourite.)  When he found his way to the role of Defence Minister, he began trumpeting arguments for war, making it clear that Australia would unconditionally commit troops to a conflict against Beijing over Taiwan.

The process now is one of cosmetic tinkering: a nip here, a tuck there.  Unlike other leaders who speak of discovering inner steel, Dutton is keen to promote an inner, non-existent softness.  In a statement released to the press, he threatened to show Australians “the rest of my character, the side my family, friends and colleagues see.”  His wife, Kirilly, irrelevantly informs us of his remarkable skills as a father, his “great sense of humour” and his “incredible passion”.  His defenders claim to know a New World of intellect lurking like newly discovered permafrost.

West Australian premier Mark McGowan, and former Australian prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating, see things rather differently.  For McGowan, Dutton is an “extremist”, incapable of listening, “extremely conservative” and not “that smart”.  Rudd sees an “idiot” who believes that more shouting and stitching of hair on the chest in the morning somehow improves “your overall strategic circumstances with China and the United States”.  Keating detects a “dangerous personality” intent on “injecting Australia into a potentially explosive situation in North Asia”.

In terms of where he sees his party going, Dutton is proving gnomic and unconvincing.  “We aren’t the Moderate party. We aren’t the Conservative party.  We are Liberals.  We are the Liberal party.  We believe in families – whatever their composition.”  He tautologically claimed to back businesses “small” and “micro”, while standing for the “aspirational, hard-working ‘forgotten’ people across cities, suburbs, regions and in the bush.”

Media hacks are doing their bit to suggest a more nuanced man behind the thuggish visage.  Miraculously, veteran journalist Michelle Grattan can spot a “complicated” figure.  There are “two Peter Duttons: the public sword carrier and the mask-like face and the non-public person, who is routinely described as charming, with a sense of humour, and politically more granular than you think.”

Such a profile could be applied to many: the dedicated war criminal with a love of family, sunsets and fine wines; the concentration camp guard who went about his work with diligence and returned back to hearty stews and his rare stamp collection.  Look more closely, and there are always two sides.  But which one wins out in the end?

The post Reactionary Succession: Peter Dutton, Australia’s New Opposition Leader first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics

Israel’s coalition government of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is on the verge of collapse, which is unsurprising. Israeli politics, after all, is among the most fractious in the world, and this particular coalition was born out of the obsessive desire to dethrone Israel’s former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu was successfully ousted in June 2021, Bennett’s coalition has been left to contend with the painful reality that its odd political components have very little in common.

On April 6, Israeli lawmaker Ildit Salman defected from the coalition, leaving Bennett and his temporary allies wrangling with the fact that their Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) coalition no longer has a majority. Now that the Knesset count stands at 60-60, a single defection could potentially send Israelis back to the voting booth, which has been quite habitual recently.

Two current Bennett allies, Abir Kara and Bir Orbach, are possible defectors. Even Bennett’s old Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) partner, Ayelet Shaked, could ultimately betray him, once his coalition ship begins sinking. And it is.

Both Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home in 2018 to form Yamina. Although the latter won only seven seats in the March 2021 elections, the far-right party proved to be the kingmaker, which allowed the anti-Netanyahu coalition to be formed. The only alternative to this current coalition would have been a government in which Netanyahu and Bennett would alternate the prime minister post. Though Bennett is a protegé of Netanyahu, the current prime minister knew too well that his former boss cannot be trusted.

So, instead, Bennett opted to join a hotchpotch coalition of political desperados, each joining an unlikely government for simply having no other option. For example, Yesh Atid (17 seats), and Kahol Lavan (8 seats), once part of the Blue and White center-right coalition, betrayed their political base by joining far-right Yamina and, consequently, leaving behind Telem of Moshe Yalon, which now has no Knesset representation.

The same can be said of Labor (7 seats) and Meretz (6 seats) who, earlier, were the backbone of the Israeli political establishment – in 1992 they had 56 seats combined. Losing faith in their own political base, they opted to join their supposed ideological nemesis, instead of enduring the painstaking process of breathing life into a dying camp.

The captivating part of the story is the United Arab List of Mansour Abbas, which is rightly perceived to have betrayed its Arab base in Israel and its own Palestinian people everywhere else. As the Israeli army is cracking down on Palestinian communities throughout historic Palestine, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Naqab – Mansour Abbas’ own base – this strange political creature remains committed to Bennett, though nervous about future possibilities, especially that the nature of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians are increasingly shifting towards a religious war.

Consequently, it is hard to imagine that Bennett’s government could realistically survive till 2025. In fact, it is quite rare in Israeli politics that any government coalition has served its full four-year term. Still, Israel’s historic political instability is worsening. In fact, Bennett’s government is the outcome of an agonizing political process that saw Israeli voters cast their votes in four different general elections in only two years.

Perhaps, what is keeping Bennett’s coalition together, though precariously, is the menacing image of Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, sinisterly watching from across the Knesset aisles while waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. Some Israeli analysts even argue that the defection of MK Salman was largely instigated by the abuse and intimidation she received from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which saw her as a traitor to their right-wing agenda.

Regardless of the fate of Bennett’s government, Israel’s political crisis will continue indefinitely, and there are reasons for this.

Though the Israeli right has dominated the country’s politics for many years, especially since 1996, it remains fractious and opportunistic. The constant need to feed the insatiable appetite of the country’s powerful right-wing constituency keeps pushing Israel’s right-wing parties further to the right. They are merely united around such values as the racial and religious supremacy of Israeli Jews, their hate for Palestinians and Arabs, the desire to expand the illegal Jewish settlements and the rejection of any mediated solution that would provide Palestinians with their basic human rights.

The left in Israel is, frankly, not a left at all. It is recognized as such, largely because of its ‘peace-process’ legacy, which died with the assassination of Labor Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Tellingly, Rabin was not a peacenik but one of Israel’s most militant and violent leaders. However, the erroneous association, linking any Israeli leader with the ‘peace process’, automatically classified that individual as a ‘leftist’. According to Israeli analyst Oz Aruch, this also applied to Ariel Sharon. The name of the late notorious Israeli prime minister and Army General is associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, along with other horrific episodes.

Without a real ideology and without a ‘peace process’, or even the desire to engage in one, the Israeli left has become irrelevant.

The same applies to the center which, by definition, is the political camp that occupies the space between the right and the left. With the right being in constant redefinition and the left having no strong ideological base, the Israeli center has proven equally hopeless. The outcome of the April 2019 elections, when the center coalition Blue and White obtained 35 seats, should have been a watershed moment for Israel’s political center. This ultimately culminated to nil, and eventually led to the collapse of Blue and White itself.

While this is taking place in Israel, the Palestinian body politic has been slowly reanimating. Though Palestinian Arab parties in Israel remain divided, and Palestinian groups in the occupied territories are yet to find their common ground, Palestinian communities, especially the younger generations, have been articulating a new political discourse. With grassroots leaderships, they are coordinating their actions from occupied Jerusalem to Gaza, to the Naqab to the West Bank and to Palestinian communities in Israel itself.

For the first time in many years, Israel finds itself in a position where it is no longer the only party that is shaping events or determining outcomes in the country. Therefore, Israeli political instability will worsen. Contrastingly, Palestinians are finally becoming a factor in Israeli politics and, through their popular resistance, can mobilize to put pressure on Israel as has been the case in recent years.

Israel is now facing the dilemma of either ignoring this new Palestinian factor, at its own peril, or accepting the inescapable fact that Israel can never enjoy stability while Palestinians remain occupied, confined and oppressed.

The post Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Letters from Moscow: Education, Health Care, Unions, and Political Parties Across the Class Divide

What follows is a series of emails from a comrade, HCE. He is a Russian citizen and has lived and worked in Moscow for many years. He is a Marxist-Leninist. The questions we asked him are in bold.

Dear Bruce:

Before I start answering more of your questions, I would like to make a comment on the very complicated situation concerning access to data which affects both my three previous letters and as well as any future letters.

Rocky times in the political economy and computerized and digital world

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia embarked on an extremely complicated process of switching from one political economy to another. This coincided with another drastic change, the computerization, digitization, and data organization of the whole state apparatus. This includes administration, health, education, defense, and industry. This process was difficult. We went through what I would call a “hybrid” stage in the late 1990s and up to the early 2000s.

A large number of the technical, medical, and administrative state employees were new to computers then and there was an urgent need to digitize a huge amount of data. At the same time, state facilities still had to function. The state cadres by the 1990s – 2000 were no spring chickens. They were around 45 years of age and were slower to learn about the computerized, digital world. I remember the problems of the customs. It was a real headache.  Older doctors had to learn to use computers and databases, and all this did not come easily. Computers had become a necessity that accompanied a person everywhere. Nevertheless, Russia made a leap forward and covered a lot of ground rapidly in the digital world. This was true especially in programming due to the solid mathematical background offered in schools and universities established during Soviet times.

How much does each social class pay to go to grammar school, high school and college in the public and private sector?

The constitution of the Russian Federation clearly states that preschool, primary, high school or vocational schools are free of charge and compulsory. Higher education is also free of charge, and acceptance is on a competitive basis. Parallel to state sponsored education, there is private education that is available from kindergarten until university. The classes that have the luxury to pay for their children’s education are the upper middle-class and the upper-class. Many of the children of the upper-class study abroad in the US and European countries.

In spite of all the advantages and benefits of n facilities and equipment in private schools, their performance is not better than state budget schools. This is because there are still traditions and quality remaining from Soviet times in state budget schools. There is a feature in Russian cultural history that defies elite education. Occasionally from the far regions come working-class nuggets that with their talent and persistence are able to reach the heights of the academic and artistic world.

What about the cost of healthcare for each social class?

The Soviet Union had an immense health care system that included general hospitals, specialized hospitals, hospitals for children and babies, and clinics tied to factories and universities. All this was inherited by Russia. Every Moscow resident is tied to a hospital in his administrative district. There are children’s hospitals, too. According to the constitution, everyone has a right to health protection so medical care in state and municipal health care institutions is free of charge. The cost of healthcare if the patient goes to a state-owned hospital will be one and the same for all classes.

The private health care system is much smaller and cannot be compared to the state system. In my opinion, the private system has carved themselves a niche for upper-middle class and upper-class people. This is because there are no queues, accommodations are better, and for your money the doctor is willing to listen to your complaints not for 10 minutes but for 30 minutes. Otherwise, the doctors are the same.

The problems of the state health care system are more organizational than anything else (as mentioned at the beginning of my letter). There were some attempts to make changes according to western management practices. These were failures and much disliked by the majority of the people trying to innovate, digitize the data base, and streamline the administrative apparatus. Instead of having innovation that would serve the healthcare system you have innovation for its own sake. Gradually the system already in place is adjusting.

Let me give a human face to these dry facts:

“Two months ago, my wife fell ill and was feeling very bad and since we are both elderly (80+ years of age), I called for an ambulance.  It arrived in 10 minutes. Two young men arrived who checked my wife’s blood pressure. They had a portable device for checking her heart after placing sensors on her. They received the result on graph paper. The doctor checked her and called the hospital telling me that tomorrow a specialist would arrive to check her again, but for now she was ok. The next day we got a call from the doctor and asked if that time was ok to come over. When the doctor arrived she carefully checked my wife over and wrote a lengthy prescription.  We declined hospitalization, and I promised the doctor that I would take care of my wife. She agreed but warned me that if my wife did not feel better in two days, they would want to hospitalize her.”  

All of this was free of charge.

What is the status of unions? How militant or not are they? What percentage of working-class people join them?

A couple of words regarding the history of the unions in Russia are necessary in order to understand their present status. Very briefly, unions began to appear with the rise of capitalism in Russia. They were dynamic and revolutionary, and played a big role in the February and Great October revolutions of 1917. After the formation of the USSR, the employers and the employees were both working-class and the unions became part of the state serving the working-class in health, education, recreation, and many other functions. It was called the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (AUCCTU) – the central body of trade unions, it functioned from 1918 until 1990.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the switch from socialism back to capitalism, this entity remained in the same role although politically much weakened, but still had significant assets, organizational ties, and funds. The working-class did not have a militant organization. They were not created for organizing and fighting the capitalist employers. The name of this organization is The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR).

To date, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia is still the largest public association in Russia. As of January 1, 2020, the FNPR had 122 member organizations, including 40 all-Russian (interregional) trade unions. This included 5 trade unions cooperating with the FNPR on the basis of agreements. It also included 82 territorial associations of trade union organizations. The FNPR unites 19.9 million trade union members.  It has its relations with the government and its party, United Russia, capitalist employers, as well as having its members in the State Duma (Russian Parliament).

The second trade union of importance is The Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR)  (English version available). It was formed in 1995 and has about 2 million members. It is militant. It has to be said that it faces immense difficulties, and its victories are few and far between. Still, they are developing and learning. The Confederation of Labor of Russia is an independent trade union and does not follow the official government line. Its struggle is not only for purely economic benefits. It has an agreement with the Communist Party since 2008.

Besides the above-mentioned trade unions there are many others, but these two are the most prominent

How many political parties are there? How strong are they? What about the Communist Party there?  

There are fifteen parties in Russia. The results of the last State Duma (Russian Parliament) elections in 2021 resulted in the following top five parties.

United Russia (the government party) – 49.2%

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) – 18.93%

Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) – 7.55%

A Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth – 7.46%

New People – 5.32%

The Communists (CPRF) in Russia came in a very strong second in spite of the harassment, arm twisting, slander, and cheating. The Communists (CPRF) in Russia are not like the communist parties in most parts of Europe and the US.  They are not on the fringes of society. Of all the parties mentioned above, they are the oldest and have deep roots in the people. This was clearly demonstrated in the conflict in the Ukraine, where many soldiers and people raised the red banner besides the official government flag. The parties at the lower end are mainly those that have a strong pro-western ideology and are closer to social democrats and liberals.

I often remember the American saying “When the going gets tough the tough get going”. As soon as the conflict in the Ukraine started the Russian government quickly found out that the baggage they had picked up from the West was useless. It could not consolidate the people, and a big number of the so-called celebrities left Russia. They found out that the Soviet culture, films, and song was what brought the people together and lay in their collective memory. The official media was forced to somewhat change its tune in its negative portrayal of nearly everything related to the Soviet period.

The Communists have a strong presence, and the people see that they have a clear and comprehensive program for the economic development of the country. The Communist ideology has a solution for the problems related to nationalism. In any TV talk show, were they invited (this is not often), they dominate simply by their logic. I find especially encouraging the fact that young people (not older than 45) are occupying important positions in the party’s hierarchy and being given the responsibility to become Duma members and governors. The CPRF has three governors out of the 85. Please note that I am using an approximation here, since the administrative configuration is not one but of several types.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) is a nationalist, right-wing party. Their charismatic leader, Zhirinovsky, on whom the party depended, passed away recently. In my opinion there could be a decline in their influence depending on how the party deals with their loss. A Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth is a coalition of three parties, the biggest is A Just Russia, with socialist-democratic views.

The New People party was formed and is still headed by a businessman, Alexei Nechayev, owner of the cosmetics company Faberlic. This is a party oriented towards the young managerial type. It has a right leaning capitalist ideology that reminds one of Ayn Rand ideas.

In reply to your inquiry of whether there are parties backed by the US, my opinion is that parties that are influenced or backed by the US are not on the right. The right in Russia is most probably nationalistic. The parties that are more likely to be on the “democratic liberal” side, are those that began their career with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and actively participated in the economic upheavals that created the oligarchy. Since those times of the 1990s, they have been steadily declining until in our times they cannot meet the quota for getting in the Duma. They still are present on the political stage due to the support from the West and the way the West exaggerates their presence and influence and the noise they make. By carefully observing the representatives of this phenomenon we notice that they were rubber-stamped by the same hand, from Venezuela, throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia. What gathers the right and the ‘liberal democrats” together is their hatred of socialism, communists and anything related to the Soviet Union. The US and the West directly and aggressively have backed parties or their representatives through NGOs. However, a law has been passed recently declaring any NGO receiving financial or other kind of support from a foreign country to be a foreign agent and will be treated accordingly.

How do each of the social classes line up in terms of religious affiliation?

Dear Bruce,

Allow me to begin this part of my letter with a quotation from no less an authority than historian Edward Gibbon:

“…but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.”

Orthodox Christianity is the prevailing branch of Christianity and does not depend on class. It is the religion for all classes from the upper-class to the working-class.

There are other religions as well. According to the Levada Centre (not official source):

Christian Orthodox believers — 63%

Atheists — 26%

Muslims — 7%

Protestants — less than 1%

Jews — less than 1%

Catholics — less than 1%

The overwhelming number of Christians are orthodox. Religion had an intensely strong comeback after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This is manifested not only by the number of believers, but by the wealth, opulence, and the close ties between the state and the church. The official point of view is trying to bring back some of the ideology of tsarist Russia, of tying nationalism and religion to the state. The church now is ubiquitous, imposing its presence in education, the army and general public. Churches are built everywhere. However, if immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, religion had a certain appeal to the Russian population, it is now rapidly declining. All of what I have said about Christianity is true for the Muslim regions and republics where Islam schools and mosques are present in large numbers. Laws have been passed to guard the church and religion.

With affection and respect

HCE

The post Letters from Moscow: Education, Health Care, Unions, and Political Parties Across the Class Divide first appeared on Dissident Voice.