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(en) Anarchist Studies - Vol. 12 #1 - 2004 Anarchism, Marxism and the Bonapartist State by SAUL NEWMAN II (2/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 27 Jul 2004 07:10:48 +0200 (CEST)

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The classical anarchist critique therefore showed that Marxism
was incapable of grasping centralised political power in its truly
autonomous dimension. The major theoretical achievement of
anarchism was precisely to unmask this autonomous dimension
of power and authority, as well as highlight the dangers of their
reaffirmation in a revolution if neglected. In other words, political
power was now seen as a phenomenon that could no longer be
reduced to its different class articulations. Rather, it was to be
seen in terms of an abstract position or place in the social, and as
having its own structural logic which articulated itself in different
ways. Anarchism therefore exposed the limitations of Marxist
theory in dealing with the problem of power. Blinded as it was by
its economic determinism, it failed to see power as an
autonomous phenomenon that was irreducible to economic
factors and that required its own specific forms of analysis.

It is precisely this need to examine power as a separate and
autonomous phenomenon that is reflected in contemporary
poststructuralist theory, in particular that of Michel Foucault.
Foucault also criticised the economic and class reductionism of
Marxism, precisely because it prevented one from examining
power relations on their own terms: `So long as the posing of the
question of power was kept subordinate to the economic instance
and the system of interests which this served, there was a
tendency to regard these problems as of small importance'
(`Truth and Power' in 1980: 109-133). For Foucault, power
cannot be reduced simply to the interests of the bourgeoisie or
capitalist economics: power does not flow from the bourgeoisie,
but from institutions, practices, and discourses that operate
independently of it - such as the prison, the family, psychiatric
discourse - which have their own specific logic.

Foucault would agree, then, with the anarchist position that the
Marxist revolution is only a changing of the guard: it only
changes the form and distribution of power in society, rather than
subverting it. For Foucault, a Marxist revolutionary politics that
neglects the autonomy of state power by reducing it to an
economic analysis is bound to perpetuate this power:

One can say to many socialisms, real or dreamt: Between the
analysis of power in the bourgeois state and the idea of its future
withering away, there is a missing term: the analysis, criticism,
destruction, and overthrow of the power mechanism itself (1976:

Like the anarchists, then, Foucault believes that power must be
studied in its own right, not reduced to a mere function of the
capitalist economy or class interest. If it is continually
subordinated to an economic analysis, then the problem of power
will never be addressed and will continue to perpetuate itself.

However, Foucault's reconfiguration of power went not only
beyond Marxism, but also beyond anarchism itself, undermining
the paradigm of sovereignty that not only inscribed anarchist
theories of power, but those of classical political philosophy
generally. That is to say, that, according to Foucault, not only
was power irreducible to the class position of the bourgeoisie, but
it was also irreducible to the central apparatus of the state itself.
Indeed, Foucault argues that the state is a kind of discursive
illusion that masks the radically dispersed nature of power and
the way it has pervaded social relations at every level. In other
words, power relations can no longer be seen as emanating from
a centralised institution like the state, or indeed from any
institution. Rather, power is a force relationship that is exercised
at the level of everyday interactions, and permeates a multiplicity
of infinitesimal discourses, practices and strategies. Indeed,
government itself is not an institution but a series of practices
and rationalities that Foucault calls governmentality or the `art of
government'. The state, `no more probably today than at any
other time in its history, does not have this unity, this
individuality, this rigorous functionality, nor, to speak frankly,
this importance' (`Governmentality' in Gordon 1991: 103,

Indeed, according to Foucault, political philosophies - including
anarchism - that enshrine power in the state, are part of an
outmoded `juridico-discursive' framework of sovereignty which
is no longer valid today: `what we need ... is a political philosophy
that isn't erected around the problem of sovereignty ... need to
cut off the King's head: in political theory that has still to be
done' (1978: 93). This is because the sovereign mode of power -
symbolised by the right to to take life or let live - has been
superseded by the modern mode of biopower - symbolised by the
right to sustain life or to let die. In other words, in contrast to
sovereign power, biopower has extended its reach over biological
life itself. It is a form of power that takes life as its object and
sustains it, regulating its flows and movements, and intensifying
its capacities and powers, thus more effectively controlling a
dominating it. It is a much more subtle and pervasive form of
power than that previously exercised by the sovereign over his

Now it is precisely this notion of biopower that contemporary
continental philosopher Giorgio Agamben takes up and develops
into a coherent theory of biopolitics. However, where he differs
from Foucault is that, rather than seeing the principle of
sovereignty and state power as having been superseded by
biopower he sees the two modes as coinciding to form the
political nexus of the modern age. As Agamben argues, there is a
hidden point of intersection or indistinction between
juridico-institutional and biopolitical models of power, and that
therefore investigation of sovereignty and state power, rather
than being obsolete, is never more relevant than today: `It can
even be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the
original condition of sovereign power' (1998: 6). Indeed, as
Agamben shows, there is a blind spot in Foucault's work
surrounding the point at which techniques of individualisation
and totalising strategies actually converge. In other words, what
is missing from Foucault's account of power is the question of
how the individualising power of biopolitics is exercised, which
institutions exercise it, and by what principles it is legitimated.
What this refers to is precisely the principle of state power or
sovereignty - and without this Foucault's theory is incomplete.
Moreover, as Agamben comments, Foucault's theory has
neglected any analysis of the exemplary instances of biopower -
twentieth-century totalitarian states (1998: 119).

So it would seem that political theory, if it is to fully grasp the
new ways in which power is exercised today, needs a theory of
state sovereignty. Indeed, rather than dismiss the notion of state
sovereignty, or see it as a discursive illusion, Agamben sees it as
the central problem for contemporary politics. He shows the way
in which sovereignty, in its biopolitical articulation, is the hidden
matrix of the politics of modernity, underlying different political
ideologies and the transformations from totalitarianism to liberal
democracy. There is a certain resonance here with the anarchist
argument about state sovereignty: that it is the secret logic that
underlies its different articulations, from monarchy, to
parliamentary democracy, to the Marxist workers' state.4

At the heart of sovereignty, according to Agamben, is the state of
exception - that is, the principle by which the state can stand
both inside and outside the juridicial order, simultaneously (1998:
15). This is the paradox of state authority: that the sovereign
provides the foundations of the legal order and, precisely because
of this, is also beyond its limits and has the power to suspend it at
certain moments. Therefore the principle of sovereignty consists
in the power of the state to suspend the normal legal system and
declare a state of emergency. The state of emergency is the
exception that proves the rule: rather than being an aberration of
the normal functions of state power, it is where state power
shows its true face, where it can operate with impunity and in a
zone of indistinction in which the normal legal limitations and
protections no longer apply. If this state of exception is the
fundamental principle of state power, then the law no longer
offers us any protection from it. The law has, in other words,
abandoned us to sovereignty. This space of exception is also
marked by a certain violence: `the sovereign is the point of
indistinction between violence and law, the threshold in which
violence passes over into law, and law passes over into violence'
(1998: 32).

This hidden intersection of violence, law and sovereignty was
also unmasked in the classical anarchist critique of the state, in
which the theory of the social contract - which serves as the
standard liberal justification of the state - is shown to be false.
Bakunin thus dismissed the notion of the social contract as an
`unworthy hoax' because it masks a logical contradiction: if, as
social contract theorists claim, people live a savage existence in
the state of nature, without rationality or morality, then how can
they have the foresight to come together for their common ends
(1984: 136)? Political authority cannot, therefore, be based on a
rational and free agreement between individuals; rather it is
based on a founding gesture of violence that arbitrarily brings
into being the symbolic institution of the law, and which is
concealed by the ideological fiction of the contract. In other
words, the social contract serves only to mask the true nature
and function of the state - self-perpetuation and the violence with
which this in ensured: `And since all States, ever since they came
to exist upon the earth, have been condemned to perpetual
struggle - a struggle against their own populations, whom they
oppress and ruin' (Bakunin 1984: 139).

This violence, directed by the state against its own population, is
embodied in Agamben's figure of homo sacer. Homo sacer
means literally `sacred man', and is defined by the act of legal
homicide. According to an ancient principle of Roman law, one
who is declared homo sacer is excluded from normal legal
protections and can therefore be murdered by anyone with
impunity (see Agamben 1998: 7174). This figure is characterised
by an ambiguity surrounding the word `sacred': implying not only
what is holy and consecrated, but also what is untouchable. That
is to say, if one is declared homo sacer, according to this law, it
means that he cannot be formally sacrificed or executed, because
this would confer upon him a symbolic status. Rather, he is flung
into a state of exclusion and abandonment, and left to the mercy
of others. In Agamben's analysis, homo sacer is the ultimate
subject upon whom the violence of the state is exercised with
impunity. For instance, modern examples of homo sacer may be
refugees, who are denied any sort of formal legal protection and
who are at the mercy of governments all around the world. The
Jews in Nazi Germany were perhaps the ultimate homo sacer:
before they could be deported to the murder and concentration
camps, they had first to stripped of their German citizenship and
the legal rights and protections guaranteed by it. Moreover,
because homo sacer is denied any symbolic and political
significance, his status is reduced to that of naked or `bare' life
itself - zoe5 - providing the perfect subject of biopolitics, upon
whom the power over life its can be exercised without limit.
Indeed, as Agamben shows, the camp is the exemplary
biopolitical space of modernity precisely because it provides a
certain extra-judicial zone in which sovereign power can be
exercised without restriction over the body and biological life of
the detainee: `this is the principle according which everything is
possible' (1998: 170). Homo sacer can be seen, then, as
dimension of subjectivity that emerges when sovereign power
coincides with biopolitics, as it has done in an unprecedented
way in the modern age. More alarmingly, according to Agamben,
it is this subjectivity that we are all becoming increasingly
reduced to.

One of the more recent articulations of the biopolitical state has
been the new security paradigm that has emerged in the wake of
September 11. Indeed, it could be argued that the ongoing 'war
on terror' and the obsession with security that is part of this,
provides the new ideological justification for the aggressive
reassertion of the sovereign power beyond the formal limits
normally imposed by law an liberal-democratic frameworks. In
other words, the modern state is showing its true face by moving
closer and closer to a state of emergency or exception. Already
we have seen, in the name of combating terrorism,
unprecedented infringements on civil liberties and undreamt-of
powers of surveillance being accrued by governments and
security apparatuses. This is combined, of course, with an
increasing militarisation of the state, and the preemptive use of
force against external enemies, real or imagined. We have also
seen the emergence of contemporary forms of the biopolitical
space, in the detention camps such as Camp X-Ray in,
Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
These camps are, strictly speaking, outside normal legal
jurisdiction, thus allowing the government almost complete
impunity in the power they exercise over the detainees.
Moreover, the designation `illegal combatant' highlights the
ambiguous status of the detainees - the fact they are beyond
normal legal protections, their subjectivity being that of homo
sacer. According to Agamben, 'The camp is the space that is
opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule'
(1998: 168-169). We can see this clearly in the informal,
extra-legal structures and practices that are emerging as a result
of the `war on terror' becoming a permanent feature of political
life. Agamben suggests that security, which was one amongst
several functions of the sovereign state, has now become its
single, overriding function, the 'basic principle of state activity'
(2002: 1). Central to this security paradigm, however, is not the
prevention of emergencies, but their production: the state has a
vested interest in sustaining a certain level of disorder, violence
and catastrophe, precisely in order to legitimise its increased
incursions into social life. The problem with this new security
paradigm of the state is that, as Agamben argues, 'it can always
be provoked by terrorism to turn itself terroristic' (2002: 1).

Agamben's analysis has therefore unmasked the hidden matrix
of biopolitics, sovereign power and subjectivity that underlies
contemporary politics. In many ways he goes beyond the
classical political paradigm of anarchism, pointing to new
modalities of biopower which anarchism would simply not have
the conceptual language to grasp. However, Agamben's
emphasis on the sovereign power of the state and the way that it
increasingly dominates life today, directly reflects the anarchist
argument that insisted on seeing sovereignty as an irreducible
principle of power and domination that transcended its various
concrete articulations. Moreover, the anarchists argued that the
central division in politics was not between the proletarian and
bourgeois, as Marx claimed, but rather between humanity and
the state, which for Bakunin is `the most cynical and complete
negation of humanity' (1984: 138). This looming conflict is also
echoed by Agamben, who, perhaps pointing to the increasingly
anarchist nature of radical politics, contends that `the novelty of
coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the
conquest or control of the State, but a struggle between the State
and the non-State (humanity) ...' (1993: 84).

Anarchist theory, in its emphasis on the sovereign state as an
autonomous and specific dimension of power, has uncovered
new arenas of radical political antagonism that are no longer
overdetermined by economics or class. To further explore these
new fields of struggle, and the way that political identities arise
from them, I shall turn to the interventions of key post-Marxist
thinkers Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. I shall suggest that
not only does the post-Marxist project have important links with
classical anarchism, but that anarchist theory can itself be
extended through an analysis of the relations of hegemony and
political identification central to the post-Marxist argument.

In their work Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Laclau and
Mouffe attempt to address the theoretical and political crisis of
Marxism, evident not only in the abject failure of
Marxist-Leninist projects, but also in concrete social conditions
of the shrinking working class in post-industrial societies, the
fragmentation of the political domain and the rise of the `new
social movements'. Added to these factors are the cultural and
epistemological conditions of `postmodernity', which entail a
scepticism about the universal essentialist identities and
positivistic categories that Marxism based itself on. The
theoretical premise for the post-Marxism problematic is the
contention that the failure of Marxism as a political project was
due to its general neglect of politics - to its insistence that the
political is subordinated to the economy. Laclau and Mouffe
argue that the potential political radicalism contained in Marxism
was vitiated by its class essentialism, economic reductionism and
blind faith in rational science and the dialectic. Therefore, using
and developing insights from poststructuralism, deconstruction
and psychoanalysis, Laclau and Mouffe have sought to radically
rethink Marxism in ways that are non-essentialist, pluralistic and
avoid the deterministic logic of the dialectic.

For Laclau and Mouffe, economic and class determinism
constitute the central problem in Marxist theory, preventing it
from being able fully to grasp the political - the field of political
identities, power relations and antagonisms - in its specific
autonomy and contingency. They argue that the contemporary
political field is longer held together by the struggles of the
proletariat, and that for some time has been fragmented by a
whole series of different and competing identities and struggles:
those of blacks, feminists, gays, ethnic minorities, students,
environmentalists, consumers, to name but a few. Class is no
longer the dominant category through which radical political
subjectivity is defined. As Laclau and Mouffe argue, `The
common denominator of all of them would be differentiation
from workers' struggles, considered as `class' struggles' (159).
Moreover, these identities are no longer overdetermined by the
struggle against capitalism, but they are rather struggles over a
number of different issues that can no longer be explained in
economic or class terms: for instance, environmental
degradation, differential cultural identity, institutional
surveillance, and welfare rights.

It could be suggested, moreover, that these new struggles and
antagonisms point to the anarchist moment in contemporary
politics. As Laclau and Mouffe argue, these `new social
movements' have been primarily struggles against domination
rather than economic exploitation, as the Marxist paradigm
would contend: `As for their novelty, that is conferred upon them
by the fact that they call into question new forms of
subordination' (160). That is not to say that they do not contest
capitalist exploitation, but rather that economic exploitation
would seen here as an aspect of the broader problem of
domination. In particular, permutations of the state over the past
fifty or so years - from the welfare state and its increasing
bureaucratisation, to neo-liberal state privatisation, to many
contemporary forms of security-driven biopolitical sovereignty as
discussed above - have generated new relations of subordination,
domination and surveillance, as well as concomitant forms of
resistance: `In all the domains in which the state intervened, a
politicisation of social relations is at the base of numerous
antagonisms' (Laclau and Mouffe: 162). In other words, they are
struggles against specific forms of state power and relations of
domination instigated by it. In sense, they are anti-authoritarian,
anti-state - that is `anarchist' - struggles.

Laclau and Mouffe also show the way in which the struggles of
workers and artisans in the nineteenth century tended to be
struggles against relations of subordination generally, and against
the destruction of their organic, communal way of life through
the introduction of the factory system and new forms industrial
technology such as Taylorism. They did not conform to Marx's
notion of the proletarians embracing the forces of capitalism in
order to radicalise it (Laclau and Mouffe: 156). This refusal to
reduce the struggles of workers to the specific Marxist vision of
the proletarian struggle against capitalism would also be
characteristic of the classical anarchist position, which
emphasised the heterogeneity of subaltern subjectivities and
antagonisms (the crucial role of the lumpenproletariat, for
instance, which had been dismissed by Marx) and their primarily
anti-authoritarian character. There is an important theoretical
link here between anarchism and `post-Marxism': both positions
reject the economic and class reductionism of Marxist thought,
insisting that it cannot account for the specificity, complexity and
heterogeneity of political struggles.

Given the theoretical proximity between anarchism and
post-Marxism, it is perhaps surprising that this connection is not
explored by Laclau and Mouffe - particularly since, as I have
suggested above, classical anarchism was able to offer, as a
radical alternative to Marxism, a wholly autonomous theory of
the state and political power. Moreover, while anarchism could
be used to inform post-Marxism, perhaps post-Marxism can also
be used here to inform anarchism. In particular, Laclau and
Mouffe's theory of hegemony could be developed here as a way
of understanding the processes of political identification
characteristic of contemporary antiauthoritarian struggles.

Hegemony is a concept used by Laclau and Mouffe to describe a
radically synthetic political relationship that goes beyond the
confines of the Marxist understanding of class struggle. It refers
to a political and theoretical problematic that emerged from the
central crisis of Marxism - the widening gap, already apparent in
the nineteenth century, between, on the one hand, the empirical
reality of the shrinking of the working class and the
transformations in capitalism, and, on the other, Marx's
predictions about the polarisation of society into two opposed
classes and the inevitable collapse of capitalism. There were
various attempts to patch up this gap through synthetic political
articulations - interventions which seemed momentarily to
invoke the autonomy of the political and the contingency of the
social, only to re-inscribe these once again within the parameters
of economic determinism and class reductionism, thus
foreclosing their radical potential. Indeed, it was only with the
introduction of the concept of 'hegemony' that the political
domain started to be considered in its own right. The solution
proposed by the Russian Social Democrats to the specific
problems in Russia during the nineteenth century was a
hegemonic one: because of the situation of `combined and
uneven development', the proletariat would have to take upon
itself the political tasks of the bourgeoisie. This was extended to
Lenin's notion of the class alliance, in which the bourgeoisie and
the proletariat would unite to achieve common democratic
political ends. In both these positions, there is a conscious
construction of a political unity, which involves one class
`standing in' synthetically for the demands of other classes.
Gramsci took this synthetic political construction the furthest
with his notion of `collective will', in which radical alliances or
`historic blocs' could be formed from different sectors and classes
in society through ideology, intellectual leadership and shared
`values' and `ideas' (Laclau and Mouffe: 66-67).

What is crucial about this concept of hegemony is that it
designates a distinctly political relationship. That is to say, radical
political identities are seen here as being constructed
contingently and strategically to suit the specific situation, rather
than being the inevitable outcome of historical or economic
forces. In other words, it is assumed here that there is no
necessary or essential relationship betwee the proletariat and
other social identities: there is only a synthetic relationship
between them that develops out of political expediency and is
entirely contingent. It suggests that radical political struggles can
no longer be limited to the proletariat alone, and must be seen as
being open to other classes and social identities. This is similar to
the anarchist position, which sought to include other classes and
strata in the revolutionary struggle alongside the industrial
proletariat: peasants, intellectuals, dclasss and the
lumpenproletariat. Indeed, Bakunin preferred the word `mass' to
`class' to characterise this heterogeneous revolutionary idea,
`class' implying hierarchy and exclusiveness (1950: 47).

This notion of hegemony, if it is taken to its logical conclusion,
breaks the link that had always been assumed in Marxism
between class position and political outlook, showing that
identities, alliances and radical positions are constituted
contingently through engagement in political struggles
themselves, rather than being predetermined. Laclau and Mouffe
argue that when a number of different identities are engaged in
different political struggles, `chains of equivalence' can be
formed between them as they become united around a common
struggle or in opposition to a common enemy. For instance, we
can imagine a situation in which there is an authoritarian
government that antagonises different groups in society: a
government that denies workers their rights also denies students
their rights, and so on. Despite their different specific aims and
identities, a certain relation of equivalence would be formed
between workers and students as they become united against a
common foe. In this situation, a certain identity will `stand in'for
or embody the universality of this political struggle, thus
'suturing'6 or temporarily holding together the political field.

To understand this hegemonic relationship more formally, we
can think of in structural terms. For Laclau, the political field is
constituted by two irreducible poles or principles - the universal
and the particular- and the dynamic that operates between them.
Because there is no longer any universal subject - the position
which was once held by the proletariat - this dimension of the
universal is 'empty'; that is, it can no longer be embodied in an
objective content. The universal remains as the empty horizon of
politics - the `empty signifier' - that cannot be filled and yet,
precisely because of this, generates the desire or structural
imperative in political identities (the particular) to fill or embody
it. It is this political operation attempting to fill the `unfillable'
place of politics that is precisely the logic of `hegemony' (Laclau
in Butler, et al., 58). In other words, there is a political dimension
that is symbolically empty and which can only be articulated
through a contingent relation of representation, in which a
particular political identity comes to partially embody it, thus
generating the very contingency in the social and political
identities that are constitutive of it.

Laclau shows that the political field can be reduced neither to
essentialist determinacy nor to a complete `postmodern' dispersal
of identities; neither, in other words, to absolute universality nor
absolute particularity. Both are reductionist paradigms that deny
a properly political domain. Rather, politics must be seen as
involving a contamination of the universal and the particular.
Political identities are split between their own particularity, and
the dimension of the universal that constitutes them in their
particularity. Political identities, no matter how particular, cannot
exist without a dimension of universality that contaminates
them. It is impossible for a group to assert a purely separate and
differential identity, because part of the definition of this
particular identity is constituted in the context of relations with
other groups (Laclau, 1996: 48). For instance, the demand of a
particular minority for cultural autonomy always bears reference
to a universal dimension. The demand for the right to be different
is also a demand for equal rights with other groups. It is also the
case, however, that the universal is contaminated by the
particular. The universal is formally empty, so that it can only
articulate itself if it is represented by a particular political identity.
However, it is also the case that because the universal is formally
empty, no identity can completely represent or embody it. In
other words, the universal, for Laclau, is an `impossible object' in
that its representation is, at the same time, impossible and
necessary. While no particularity can fully symbolise this
universal, its partial symbolisation is crucial if we are to have any
notion of politics at all.

So in this hegemonic relationship of mutual contamination, the
universal is split between its universality and its need to be
represented through a concrete particularity; while the particular
is split between its particularity and its reference to a universality
which constitutes its horizon (see Laclau in Butler et al., 56). As
I have shown, even the most particular of identities, if it is to
engage in any form of political activism or to articulate a series of
political demands, has to refer to some universal dimension and
form `chains of equivalence' with other identities and groups. In
this way, the groups in this chain are increasingly unable to
maintain their own part........

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