Posts Tagged ‘nationalism’

Promises, promises: Turkey as borrower and proxy

December 9, 2014

In 1936, two months after arriving at Istanbul University from Hitler’s Germany, the philologist Erich Auerbach reported back to Walter Benjamin in Paris, offering his first impressions of Kemalist Turkey.

Charmed by his ‘glorious’ new house on the Bosphorus, Auerbach viewed the cultural policies of the ‘sympathetic autocrat’ in Ankara more warily.

Official replacement of Arabic by Latin script, and the ‘purification’ of alien loanwords from the language, seemed to the German scholar to have brought cultural deracination.

The Turkish young had been severed from any link to their Persian, Ottoman and Arabic past:

They have thrown all tradition overboard here, and they want to build a thoroughly rationalized—extreme Turkish nationalist—state of the European sort.

The process is going fantastically and spookily fast: already there is hardly anyone who knows Arabic or Persian, and even Turkish texts of the past century will quickly become incomprehensible since the language is being modernized and at the same time newly oriented on “Ur-Turkish,” and it is being written with Latin characters…

According to official mythology Turks were, indeed, the very originators of human language and spreaders of civilization to the world.

A few months later, Auerbach sketched out the programme of the Kemalist state and its ‘fanatically anti-traditional nationalism’:

Rejection of all existing Islamic cultural heritage, the establishment of a fantastic relation to a primal Turkish identity, technological modernization in the European sense, in order to triumph against a hated and yet admired Europe with its own weapons: hence, the preference for European-educated emigrants as teachers, from whom one can learn without the threat of foreign propaganda.

Result: nationalism in the extreme accompanied by the simultaneous destruction of the historical national character…

Istanbul itself was a ‘a wonderfully situated but also unpleasant and rough city consisting of two different parts’:

The old Stambool, of Greek and Turkish origin, which still preserves much of the patina of its historic landscape, and the “new” Pera, a caricature and completion of the European colonization of the 19th century, now in complete collapse.

A year later Auerbach again complained, this time to Johannes Oeschger, of ‘a purist nationalism that destroys the living tradition, and that bases itself in part on completely fantastical conceptions of ur-times, and in part on modern-rationalist ideas’:

Piety is combated, Islamic culture despised as an alien Arabic infiltration, one wants to be at the same time modern and purely Turkish, and it has gone so far that through the abolition of the old script, through the elimination of Arabic loan words and their replacement by Turkish neologisms and partly by European loan words, the language has been totally destroyed: no young person is any longer able to read the older literature — and there reigns a spiritual lack of direction that is extremely dangerous.

In 1926 Kemal had notoriously imported Mussolini’s penal code from Italy, embracing it as ‘compatible with the needs of our century’.

Abolition of the Caliph, suppression of dervishes, etc., was necessary, Kemal proclaimed, ‘in order to prove that our nation as a whole was no primitive nation, filled with superstitions and prejudice.’ The fez had ‘sat on our heads as a sign of ignorance, of fanaticism, of hatred to progress and civilization.’

Thus spoke the great Gazi (the term itself a religious honorific) in his six-day, 36-hour speech to the Turkish assembly.

He is pictured below at a blackboard marked with the new alphabet.

Kemal 1928 blackboard

By the mid-1930s, placed in European context, Turkish autocracy presented alarming signs to the émigré Auerbach.

What was ‘not yet a certainty for everyone’ in fascist Italy and Germany, ‘steps forth here in complete nakedness’:

The language reform—at once fantastical ur-Turkish (“free” from Arabic and Persian influences) and modern-technical—has made it certain that no one under 25 can any longer understand any sort of religious, literary, or philosophical text more than ten years old and that, under the pressure of the Latin script, which was compulsorily introduced a few years ago, the specific properties of the language are rapidly decaying…

I am more and more convinced that the contemporary world situation is nothing other than the cunning of providence to lead us along a bloody and circuitous route to the Internationale of Triviality and Esperanto culture.

I thought this already in Germany and Italy, especially in the horrifying inauthenticity of Blut und Boden propaganda, but here for the first time it has become a certainty for me.

Such was not merely the familiar tendency of German exiles, easily discomposed, apt to detect worrying similarities to Hitler’s regime in places of refuge.

Across Europe, the invented traditions of late-Victorian nationalism — the ceremony of flags, anthems, rituals and insignia — as well as compulsory schooling in a common language, the fusing of national markets by domestic transport and communication infrastructure, and the assumption by national bureaucracies of administrative and tax-raising power over a henceforth homogenized territorial jurisdiction, had famously converted peasants into Frenchmen.

In both the European metropoles and their colonial possessions, ‘modernization’ proceeded through the dragooning of diverse peoples into a unitary national culture. ‘Annihilate the patois!’ ran the project.

Yet the particular grandiosity and vacuity of Turkish nationalism after 1923 rested on a blank slate, both territorial and cultural, created by erasure and ethnic cleansing.

In the same year that Kemal abolished the Caliphate, launched his Kulturkampf and imposed the Turkish Republic’s enlightened new constitution, he addressed an audience in Adana:

The Armenians have no rights whatsoever in this fertile land. The country belongs to you, the Turks. This country has been Turkish in history, and thus is Turkish and will eternally live as Turkish…

The Armenians and others have no rights in this place. These fertile places are a profoundly and quintessentially Turkish country.

In 1916 the grand vizier Talaat Pasha had issued an edict concerning the ‘Turkification’ of assets confiscated from Armenians deported and killed during the genocide.

Looted wealth was to be assigned to the local Muslim elite, urban merchants and peasantry:

The movable property left by the Armenians should be conserved for long-term preservation, and for the sake of an increase of Muslim businesses in our country, companies need to be established strictly made up of Muslims. Movable property should be given to them under suitable conditions that will guarantee the business’ steady consolidation.

The founder, the management and the representatives should be chosen from honourable leaders and the elite, and to allow tradesmen and agriculturists to participate in its dividends, the vouchers need to be half a lira or one lira and registered to their names to preclude that the capital falls in foreign hands.

The growth of entrepreneurship in the minds of Muslim people needs to be monitored, and this endeavour and the results of its implementation needs to be reported to the Ministry step by step.

The plunder of Armenian property in Anatolia included farms, houses, livestock, factories, workshops, plantations, shops, schools, churches, tools and equipment — all officially designated as ‘abandoned properties’ after the land had been denuded of Armenians, massacred under cover of war.

Confiscated Armenian buildings by province 1Confiscated Armenian buildings by province 2

Under Kemal, agents of genocide were rewarded for services to the fledgling nation, with the president’s own official residence lifted from an Ankara merchant:

[The] family of district governor of Muş, Servet Bey, who in 1915 had annihilated the Armenians of that city, was awarded a composite package of Armenian property.

The family of Cemal Azmi, the murderous governor of Trabzon, was also assigned considerable ‘reparation’, specifically from Armenian properties.

Hafız Abdullah Avni, a hotel owner who had collaborated in the genocide in Erzincan, was executed for his crimes in 1920 by the Istanbul tribunal. His wife, Hatice Hanım, was compensated with a house and a field from the Armenian villages of Şuhe and Kani.

The fanatical district governor of Boğazlıyan, Mehmed Kemal Bey, had left behind a family in Yozgat. They received a large apartment and a house from the available Armenian property in that area.

Dr. Bahaeddin Shakir Bey’s family received a house in the upmarket Şişli district of Istanbul.

The former district governor of Urfa, Mehmed Nusret Bey, had played a key role during the genocide and was executed in 1919 for his crimes. His wife, Hayriye Hanım, was compensated with a shop and a house in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, on Cadde-i Kebîr (the current İstiklâl Caddesi) on numbers 264 and 266. The property was located in the Aznavur Han and originally belonged to a merchant named Bedros.

Cemal Pasha’s heirs and family were compensated with the property of Vicken Hokachian, a merchant in Istanbul. A shop and a strip of land in Beyoğlu across the French cemeteryas large as 1,450 square metres, was assigned to his wife Senice, his daughter Kamran, his sons Ahmed Rüşdü, Hasan Necdet, Hasan Behçet, his big sister Şaziye and little sister Bakire.

The list is long…

All are signed by President Mustafa Kemal Pasha and his cabinet of veteran Young Turks…

Along with the local Turkish population, new Muslim settlers to Anatolia (from the Balkans and Caucasus) picked over the booty left behind in suddenly vacant Armenian villages:

In 1915 the amount of property allocated to settlers was 20 545 buildings, 267 536 acres of land, 76 942 acres of vineyards, 7 812 acres of gardens, 703 491 acres of olive groves, 4 573 acres of mulberry gardens, 97 acres of orange fields, 5 carts, 4 390 animals, 2 912 agricultural implements, 524 788 planting seeds.

Forced expulsion across the Aegean of nearly one million Anatolian Greeks in 1923 was capped off, in 1955, by Istanbul’s anti-Greek pogrom.

The objective, in the words of the Turkish Army in 1922, was that Greek and Armenian ‘material ties to Anatolia will be disconnected.’

By 1924 the non-Muslim population of Anatolia, 20 percent in 1912, was down to 2 percent.

Kemal in Smyrna 1922

Kemal in Smyrna 1922 more

One upshot of this severing was that Turkish nationalism, inheriting razed earth, would be likewise unbound by preexisting constraints or obstacles.

Kemal’s state-led modernization, leaving property relations untouched and making no attempt at agrarian reform, would aim to drive an ethnocultural clean sweep through the smouldering Ottoman ruins.

The fanciful mythology of ur-Turkey, about which Auerbach complained, was both compensation and boast by a new state whose territory had been emptied at birth by the killing of one-tenth of its inhabitants, whose founding act was the expulsion of another tenth, followed by the internal displacement, ‘Turkification’ and bloody repression of Kurds, another one-fifth of the population.

Dersim massacre 1937

While adulation of the national founder remains a mainstay, over the decades other elements of the Kemalist recipe have been trimmed, adapted and discarded according to the exigencies of the hour.

Yet the homogenizing element in the republic’s founding ideology has endured as a bedrock: official pursuit, according to the Interior Minister in 1934, of ‘a country speaking with one language, thinking in the same way and sharing the same sentiment.’

The confessional turn in the electoral scene, most pronounced since the 1980 military coup and the premiership of Turgut Özal, has brought sharp modifications to Turkey’s public life: growing numbers of religious schools, flagrant displays of devoutness, the Crescent rivalling the sword for symbolic preeminence, as a powerful executive branch stamps its mark on all agencies and directorates of the state.

Movement towards EU membership, meanwhile, has obliged some ecumenical gestures and concessions to Kurdish and Alevi cultural rights. Erdoğan lifted the state of emergency in the southeast, and wound back language proscription in 2004.

But the basic formula is unchanged, Copenhagen criteria notwithstanding. Education, bureaucracy and media remain zones free of linguistic or cultural impurity. The Armenian genocide, likewise, is officially a non-topic.

In today’s Turkey, the decidedly post-secular AKP leadership nonetheless vaunts an integralist slogan of ‘one nation, one flag, one religion, one language’, and a notorious penal article that makes ‘insulting Turkishness’ a criminal offence.

This detour through the recent history of Turkish nationalism helps to clarify current arrangements, explaining how matters reached such a pass in the Caucasus, Black Sea and Caspian basin, Cyprus and eastern Mediterranean, Balkans and Levant.

These are the former contested borderlands of Russian tsar, Ottoman sultan and Persian autocracy.

Today, in the words of its prime minister, the AKP’s former foreign minister and eminent grand strategist, Turkey is ‘a country with a close land basin, the epicentre of the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus, the centre of Eurasia in general and is in the middle of the Rimland belt cutting across the Mediterranean to the Pacific.’

Turkey Stratfor

Within elite circles this view, at least publicly, has its detractors.

Turkey, Nicolas Sarkozy once declared on the campaign trail, ‘is in Asia Minor’:

I will not explain to little French school children that the borders of Europe extend to Iraq and Syria.

Once safely installed in the Élysée Palace, Le Pen’s voters having been tossed a few verbal sops, the French president’s pedagogic concerns evaporated.

Sarkozy treated his population to a demonstration of Dassault’s aerial might over North Africa, later striking a triumphant pose atop a Benghazi podium.

His Socialist successor extended the Libyan campaign to Mali and the Central African Republic.

A ‘Europe of values’ (Blair’s oily phrase, found useful by Cameron and Sarkozy) acknowledges few boundaries. If the Maghreb, why not Thrace?

The European continent, the concept a recent invention, may be demarcated however you like. But the frontiers of Christendom are firm. They do not extend to the Euphrates.

Ocean littorals, on the other hand, are free to expand or retreat as required, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization supplemented with whatever ‘add-on’ Washington wishes for its Eurasian beachhead.

Turkey’s frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran thus present NATO with a boundless operational vista in the Mashreq and beyond.

Referring to ‘challenges we’re facing in the east and the south’, today’s incoming secretary-general says: ‘NATO has a strong army after all. We can deploy it wherever we want to.’

US Patriot missiles may thus be placed east of Jerusalem in the name of European and North American security. (The US air base at Incirlik is itself built on expropriated Armenian land. The Air Force’s approved history of the site ends discreetly in 1921).

And, if today’s armed conflict in the Levant threatens Ankara’s security, ‘NATO will be there’, says the secretary-general.

The ‘post-Cold War enlargement of NATO and EU’, said the US Vice President earlier this year, ‘is not complete, in my view.’

What task remains undone, what destiny unfulfilled?

To the post-1923 status quo that had prevailed in the Black Sea-Caucasus-Central Asia region following the collapse of Ottoman and tsarist empires, the retrenchment of Moscow’s power since 1991 has threatened disruption.

Washington’s objective, laid out unblushingly by its strategists, is to hinder the local powers from reaching convivial terms, and to prevent, at all costs, any state outside its own military alliance structure — Moscow, Tehran, Beijing — from attaining regional predominance.

Brzezinski Turkey Russia Iran

There exists, explained Turkey’s current prime minister Davutoğlu to the US Council on Foreign Relations, ‘a compatibility’ between this need of the United States and Ankara’s ‘unique’ ability, arising from its convenient location.

Washington is a non-Eurasian power that hopes to remain the dominant power on the Eurasian continent. Turkey can help ‘close this gap of geographical discontinuity’:

Turkey is right at the center of Afro-Euro-Asia, having multidimensional characters of geopolitics. Turkey is a European country, an Asian country, a Middle Eastern country, Balkan country, Caucasian country, neighbor to Africa, Black Sea country, Caspian Sea… all these geopolitical challenges are in the agenda of American global strategy…

The United States needs allies in Africa-Eurasia, and Turkey needs a cooperation with a global power.

Thus has Europe’s Eastern Question been resolved, if only temporarily and after a fashion.

To the apparent satisfaction of the continent’s elite and with Washington’s benevolent approval, Ankara’s EU candidature was placed in prolonged abeyance, even as Turkey assumed new regional prominence, becoming NATO’s geographic fulcrum for ‘out of area’ missions in the eastern Mediterranean, Caucasus and West Asia.

On its eastern border, the Turkish state acts as faithful proxy in Syria, seeking to overthrow Assad’s Iran-friendly government. In the Black Sea basin, it facilitates continued thrusts and harassing operations against Moscow.

Washington, seeking to conduct a proxy war at two removes in Syria, has relied on its local agents in Ankara and the Gulf monarchies to supply weapons, funds, training and cross-border transit.

Turkey’s intelligence chief was recorded, in conversation with Davutoğlu, musing over how best to ‘make up a cause of war’ with the Syrian government by staging a false-flag operation against Ankara.

Atmospherics from the US Vice President, aimed plainly at a domestic rather than diplomatic audience, convey the nature of Turkey’s helpful efforts in the Levant:

The Turks, who are great friends — I have a great relationship with Erdoğan , whom I spend a lot of time with. The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing?

They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world…

Now they’re sealing their border.

To Ankara’s role as NATO proxy is added that of ’emerging market’ debtor.

Since 2002, under the AKP Turkey has become increasingly dependent on short-term external borrowing, mostly portfolio investment in search of speculative gains. This has increased financial fragility, exposing Turkey to asset-price inflation and the risk of worse if capital is withdrawn.

International borrowing rests ultimately on a promise to pay US dollars. Issues of the Turkish domestic currency are a form of debt: the credibility of the borrower depends on its ability to pay the ‘best’ money: the liabilities of the global hegemon.

hierarchy of money

Should Turkish growth founder, capital inflow cease, and local banks become unable to refinance their debts, international creditors will no doubt be found in a compassionate mood. A stabilization loan, arriving swiftly, will come attached with less onerous conditions than those applied to Cyprus.

Turkey, as a ‘geopolitical pivot,’ is too important for the IMF (behind it the US Treasury) to countenance domestic upheaval on any great scale.

Just as credibility of the Turkish lira rests on a promise to pay US dollars (the ultimate international means of settling debts), behind Turkish arms Washington sits in poised reserve, ready to back up its NATO proxy whenever Ankara’s Ostpolitik in the Mediterranean and Levant goes awry.

In NATO parlance, this is known as ‘extended deterrence.’ US solicitude is manifested in the form of radar installations (since 2011) and (since 1961) nuclear missiles deployed on Turkish territory, aimed at Russia and Iran.

On this foundation, grandiose regional ambitions flourish. The latter focus on Turkey’s strategic potential as an energy corridor, reducing Moscow’s bargaining power in Europe.

Turkey is Iraq’s ‘gateway to the European Union’, Davutoğlu has noted. And ‘Erbil is our gateway to Basra.’

In Istanbul, three months ago, the World Economic Forum held a Special Meeting on Unlocking Resources for Regional Development, the Turkish president and prime minister contributing to that noble cause by demanding, in keynote addresses, armed overthrow over the Syrian government.

There an Emirati oil CEO, with investments centred on Iraqi Kurdistan, suggested that ‘if Turkey became a price-setting centre for the region [that] could really bring on much more supply from Middle East resources, which would not only meet Turkish needs, but go on to meet European needs as well.’

Ankara’s energy minister deplored political difficulties in Iraq and Iran: ‘You can’t have a growing economy and a shrinking energy sector.’

A fortnight ago the Atlantic Council held its Energy and Economics Summit in Istanbul.

There the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, long touted by the Energy Ministry as ‘the natural direction for exports of hydrocarbons from the region [of Iraqi Kurdistan] to the world’s market’, received a boost.

Alongside President Erdoğan in Ankara, the Russian leader announced that Gazprom’s planned South Stream pipeline was to be abandoned, after EU thwarting efforts and US sanctions.

The US Vice President was on hand to salute the news, calling for ‘development of a strategic pipeline from Basra to Ceyhan.’

The Turkish state, its line of strategic credit secure in Washington, has leveraged its momentary good fortune to pursue regional initiatives otherwise beyond its reach. A permanent military presence in Cyprus has been declared not negotiable. EU accession, less urgent, has been allowed patiently to simmer, safe for another day.

Yet what realities lie behind the salesmanship about ‘Anatolian Tigers’ and a ‘boom on the Bosphorus’?

In the past three decades, the Turkish economy’s capital-labour ratio, or capital intensity, rose at a distinctly lower rate (6.6% annually from 1964-1978, compared to an average of 3.7% over the next thirty years).

Capital intensity Turkey

Taking account of the business cycle, there has been a steady fall in the output-capital ratio, or what may be termed ‘capital productivity.’

Capital productivity - Turkey

Technical change has followed a labour-saving, capital-using pattern familiar elsewhere.

Labour productivity and output-capital ratio in Turkey

Turkey’s development, all in all, has been modest. Agriculture retains a high share of employment (24%); female labour-force participation is abysmal (29%, below Sudan and well below Armenia).

State-led modernization by a republic descended from one of Europe’s largest imperial powers, with a population greater than France or Britain at its disposal, has produced unscintillating results.

Not needing to displace a landlord class in any agrarian revolution (small independent farms long predominated), nor did industrialization of the classical modernizing sort follow.

The Turkish army — the most numerous in Europe besides Russia’s, and occupying Cyprus since 1974 — and a traditionally hefty state officialdom absorb much of the investible surplus. The familiar features of the externally indebted economy — credit expansion, consumption growth, speculative bubbles in real estate and asset prices — further discourage productive expenditure. Patronage networks and political clientelism siphon the residue, all impeding local formation of a substantial capital-goods sector.

Small wonder, amid such frustrations, that the consoling appeal of religion plays a growing part in Turkish electoral politics.

Yet not every plan has gone awry.

Kemal’s language reforms were recently described as a ‘catastrophic success’. A linguist noted, amid the general poverty of Turkish expression, that a mere 26 years after it was delivered, Kemal’s great speech already needed to be ‘translated into the present-day language’ so that it could be intelligible to the young.


A weary time

December 4, 2014

Two hundred years ago last month, Hegel wrote contemptuously to a friend about the patriotic vaunting of national identity (Deutschdumm, or ‘Germandumb’) that was sure to follow the Congress of Vienna:

[According] to a few rumours, the era after the Congress of Vienna is — apart from the political aspect, which does not concern us — to be assured by an interesting literary-artistic idea: the erection of the great memorial column dedicated to the Nation along with a comprehensive national archive for the conservation of Old German monuments and patriotic relics of all sorts, including the song of the Nibelungen, Imperial treasures, King Roger’s shoes, electoral capitulations, free constitutional charters, Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, Norica, and so on.

It will be built on a quiet spot, so that its enjoyment will be more secure from the noise of the rest of reality…

The entire Congress, however, is to be concluded with a great ceremony, a torchlight procession with the ringing of bells and roaring of cannons to the ultimate rule of reason in which the German people [Pippel] will be trampled in the dirt.

Behind Pippel there follow, as valets and attendants, a few tame house cats, such as the Inquisition, the Jesuit Order, and then all the armies with their sundry commissioned, princely, and titled marshals and generals.

Romantic nationalism, tricked out with philosophical respectability by Fichte and Schlegel, was one cause for sarcasm.

Another was the conclave itself, where autocrats plotting Europe’s post-Napoleonic order had decorated their arcana imperii with liberal banners:

It is a new, unforgettable experience for the peoples to see what their Princes are capable of when they convene to devote themselves in mind and heart to discussion of the welfare of both their own peoples and the world  all, to be sure, according to the most noble declared principle of universal justice and the welfare of all.

For centuries we have only seen action taken by cabinets or individual men for themselves against others. The present phenomenon, however, is unique and calls for a brilliant result.

Kissinger Metternich

Of the War of Liberation that had expelled the French, Hegel commented scornfully: ‘if by chance I see any liberated individuals I myself will rise to my feet.’

There were ‘still many things to be asked about this Liberation of ours which is said to have taken place’:

I have already noticed that the public hopes that Imperial freedoms will be won back again, and the rabble is convinced. They hope to have back the good old days.

It will then once more be permitted, as one man puts it, to give a box on the ear for sixteen pennies — for that is what it cost under the Old Regime — while a second man thinks he will be free again to have his ears boxed.


Great events have transpired about us. It is a frightful spectacle to see a great genius destroy himself. There is nothing more tragic. The entire mass of mediocrity, with its irresistible leaden weight of gravity, presses on like lead, without rest or reconciliation, until it has succeeded in bringing down what is high to the same level as itself or even below.

Six years earlier, in October 1808, Hegel had appealed in gossipy tones to the poet Karl Ludwig von Knegel, demanding to learn ‘for my personal edification’ about Napoleon’s audience with Goethe at Erfurt:

What did Napoleon talk about at the ball with Wieland and Goethe?…

Tell me about it when you feel inclined. And tell me whether there was any delight in it for you, and whether even some honour slipped in along with it  I do not want to say for the Germans, but rather for those individuals of such great merit.

Goethe and Napoleon at Erfurt

In October 1806 Hegel had famously observed the Weltgeist trotting through Jena on horseback:

I saw the Emperor  this world-soul  riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it.

Hegel’s enthusiastic evocation of the conquering hero is one of the more familiar, quotable, exoteric passages in an otherwise forbidding and obscure output.

So let’s renew our interest by reminding ourselves that, for him, Napoleon’s arrival heralded the onset of military occupation, with all its predictable depredations and rapine.

The latter began just before winter set in, and the philosopher soon complained to friends of French ‘plunder’ of food and timber for fires, along with ‘the inevitable inflation, thievery… Nobody has imagined war such as we have seen it!’

Moreover, the Grande Armée‘s advance had made Hegel’s own financial circumstances suddenly precarious.

In late September 1806 his publisher had imposed a final deadline for delivery of the remaining sections of his Phenomenology of Spirit, which hitherto had allowed Hegel a steady cash flow of 21 florins per page.

Accordingly, two days before the Battle of Jena-Auerstädt began, Hegel had entrusted the manuscript to a mounted courier, instructing him to pass south through French lines to Bamberg.


For the most part, Hegel did not exhibit a giddy Schwärmerei for the person of Napeleon, the military genius.

He warned a student against ‘marvelling speechless at events like brutes  or, with a greater show of cleverness, from attributing them to the accidents of the moment or talents of an individual, thus making the fate of empires depend on the occupation or non-occupation of a hill.’

Rather, Hegel welcomed Napoleon as the ’emanation’, the ‘outward diffusion’ of the French Revolution to the rest of Europe:

Thanks to the bath of her Revolution, the French nation has freed herself of many institutions which the human spirit had outgrown like the shoes of a child. These institutions accordingly once oppressed her, and they now continue to oppress other nations as so many fetters devoid of spirit…

This is what gives this Nation the great power she displays against others. She weighs down upon the impassiveness and dullness of these other nations, which, finally forced to give up their indolence in order to step out into actuality, will perhaps  seeing that inwardness preserves itself in externality — surpass their teachers.

Years later, in his Philosophy of History, Hegel would include Napoleon alongside Caesar and Alexander the Great as ‘World-Historical persons, whose vocation it was to be the agents of the World-Spirit’:

[Thinking] men, who had an insight into the requirements of the time  what was ripe for development.

This was the very Truth for their age, for their world; the species next in order, so to speak, and which was already formed in the womb of time. It was theirs to know this nascent principle; the necessary, directly sequent step in progress, which their world was to take; to make this their aim, and to expend their energy in promoting it.

World-historical men  the Heroes of an epoch  must, therefore, be recognized as its clear-sighted ones; their deeds, their words are the best of that time.

What was Napoleon’s world-historical mission, according to Hegel?

It was to act as a pawn or tool of Reason, spreading abroad by military conquest the achievements of France’s bourgeois revolution.

After its defeat at Jena, the agrarian mainstays of Prussian absolutism had been reinvigorated, rather than overturned, by Stein and Hardenberg’s reforms.

The Bauernlegen (Enclosure movement) seized yet larger manorial estates for the wealthiest members of the Junker class. Consolidation via land sales was especially pronounced east of the Elbe.

Nonetheless, in Vienna Metternich could sniff that the Prussians were ‘German Jacobins’, their military ranks infested with a ‘Jacobin spirit.’

Commons and Smallholder losses under land reforms

Prussian farm structure

Even decades later, writing in the dark European night of the Holy Alliance, having renounced his youthful opinions and reached a philosophical accommodation with the Prussian state, Hegel would recall the great French Revolution as a ‘glorious mental dawn’:

All thinking beings shared in the jubilation of this epoch. Emotions of a lofty character stirred men’s minds at that time; a spiritual enthusiasm thrilled through the world, as if the reconciliation between the Divine and the Secular was now first accomplished.


Objective or Real Freedom: to this category belong Freedom of Property and Freedom of Person. Those relics of that condition of servitude which the feudal relation had introduced are hereby swept away, and all those fiscal ordinances which were the bequest of the feudal law  its tithes and dues, are abrogated.

Real [practical] Liberty requires moreover freedom in regard to trades and professions  the permission to every one to use his abilities without restriction  and the free admission to all offices of State…

Germany was traversed by the victorious French hosts, but German nationality delivered it from this yoke. One of the leading features in the political condition of Germany is that code of Rights which was certainly occasioned by French oppression, since this was the especial means of bringing to light the deficiencies of the old system. The fiction of an Empire has utterly vanished. It is broken up into sovereign states. Feudal obligations are abolished, for freedom of property and of person have been recognized as fundamental principles. Offices of State are open to every citizen, talent and adaptation being of course the necessary conditions.

In 1807, Hegel had written in tremulous anticipation about the Confederation of the Rhine and introduction of the Code Napoléon:

Everyone here awaits the great reorganization soon to break in upon us. I have reported in my newspaper that the land is to be divided into prefectures. There is, moreover, talk of a great assembly of princes and magistrates of the Empire. The crucial decision will surely come from Paris.

Already the crowd of little princes who have remained in northern Germany makes a stronger tie necessary. The German professors of constitutional law have not stopped spewing forth masses of writing on the concept of sovereignty and the meaning of the Acts of Confederation.

The great professor of constitutional law sits in Paris…

Napoleon will have to organize all this.

Thus Hegel’s effusions did occasionally lapse into a certain awestruck fascination with Napoleon.

Tilsit treaties

Later he counselled tranquility in the face of the Restoration, judging its reversals to be transient and minor, with the Prussian reforms largely intact:

I adhere to the view that the world spirit has given the age marching orders. These orders are being obeyed.

The world spirit, this essential [power], proceeds irresistibly like a closely drawn armoured phalanx advancing with imperceptible movement, much as the sun through thick and thin. Innumerable light troops flank it on all sides, throwing themselves into the balance for or against its progress, though most of them are entirely ignorant of what is at stake and merely take head blows as from an invisible hand.

Yet no lingering lies or make-believe strokes in the air can achieve anything against it. They can perhaps reach the shoelaces of this colossus, and smear on a bit of boot wax or mud, but they cannot untie the laces. Much less can they remove these shoes of gods… once the colossus pulls them on.

Surely the safest thing to do both externally and internally is to keep one’s gaze fixed on the advancing giant. To edify the entire bustling zealous assemblage, one can even stand there and help daub on the cobbler’s wax that is supposed to bring the giant to a standstill. For one’s own amusement, one can even lend a hand to the enterprise that is being taken so seriously.

I have anticipated the Reaction of which we presently hear so much…

The Reaction is still far removed from genuine resistance, for it already stands entirely within the sphere over against which resistance stands as something external. Even if it intends to do the opposite, the will of the Reaction is chiefly restricted to matters of vanity. It wishes to place its own stamp on the events it thinks it most vehemently hates, so as to read upon them: “This have we done!”

The essential content remains unaltered. The addition or subtraction of a few small ribbons or garlands changes matters as little as actual injury that is no sooner suffered than healed. For when such injury pretends to a more significant relation to the whole substance than it is capable of having, it proves ephemeral.

Thus  if we largely ignore all the fuss and paltry paper successes of human ants, fleas, and bugs — has this most fearsome Reaction against Bonaparte in essence changed so much, whether for good or evil?

We shall allow these ant, flea, and bug personalities to appear to us just as the good Creator has destined: that is, chiefly as a subject for jokes, sarcasm, and malicious pleasure. If need be, what we can do, in light of this provident design, is to help these poor vermin along to their destiny.

What then happened, amid the conservative post-Napoleonic scene, to this confident vision of the ‘world-historical individual,’ after the established order of dynastic regimes had been reinstated at Vienna and the ageing Hegel was succeeded by his many squabbling legatees?

The philosopher himself was haunted by ‘confused fantasies’ that his work was ‘mere irrelevancies, mere packaging.’ Upon waking from such torrid dreams, ‘it seemed difficult to me to have to go to class and lecture on law.’

Meanwhile nineteenth-century European capitalism, safe beneath the clerical shield of the Holy Alliance, devoted itself to the tame, tawdry, internally pacific business of enrichissez-vous.

Nobody mistook Gladstone, Guizot or Cavour for the World-Soul.

Europe 1815

There matters stood until the mid-twentieth century.

Then, in 1930s Paris, Alexander Kojève appealed to Hegel’s scriptural authority to anoint Stalin, in place of Robespierre-Napoleon, as leader of a ‘universal and homogeneous state’ (enthusiasm he later transferred to the European Economic Community).

Hegel’s sequence of social forms had culminated in Kremlin tyranny, beyond which, for Kojève, no systemic progress was possible: ‘the vanguard of humanity virtually attained the limit and the aim, that is, the end, of Man’s historical evolution.’

In the person of Stalin, once again ‘politics is a tributary of philosophy’, the Georgian seminarian having learnt at the feet of Marx, himself an inheritor of Hegel:

[The] statesman who actualized the first effective step had been educated by a disciple at the second remove from the theoretical initiator… The tyrant who here inaugurated the real political movement consciously followed the instruction of the intellectual who deliberately transformed the idea of the philosopher so that it might cease to be a “utopian” ideal… and become instead a political theory on the basis of which one could give concrete advice to tyrants, advice which they could follow.

Thus, while recognizing that the tyrant has “falsified” the philosophical idea, we know that he has done so only in order to “transpose it from the realm of abstraction into that of reality.”

In 1989, in turn, Francis Fukuyama announced the ‘End of History’, with liberal capitalism now the ne plus ultra of political-economic arrangements. Following the collapse of European Stalinism, all ‘viable systematic alternatives’ to the status quo were henceforth eliminated from the scene.

Benjamin’s ‘storm blowing from Paradise’ turned out to have been but a passing squall. The Angel of History now idled limply in the doldrums, its job complete.

Fukuyama’s conjecture attracted little open assent, smacking too brassily of State Department hubris, if not misguided complacency.

Yet, whether embraced or not, Fukuyama’s dismissal of alternative futures today haunts our Restoration epoch, its tacit assumption so universal that it needn’t be spoken aloud. All the wisdom of the age shares a resigned certainty that socialism was tried once and failed prohibitively, leaving its chastened, disabused epigones with no possibility of progress beyond our existing world of private ownership and paid employment.

In 1977, as French intellectuals underwent full-blown de-Marxification, Jean-François Lyotard had famously announced the death of ‘le grand récit marxiste. From Hegel’s Phenomenology to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag there ran a clear path.

By 1990, tucked in Fukuyama’s slipstream, Lyotard was registering his own reactions to the Persian Gulf crisis and collapse of European Stalinism:

The fall of the [Berlin] wall… provides evidence that the more open the system, the more efficient it is; while on the other hand it shows that closed and isolated systems are doomed to disappear, either by competition or merely by entropy (Brezhnev should have studied thermodynamics a bit).

‘When the Berlin Wall fell,’ it became clear that all competitors to liberal capitalism had ‘failed definitively’:

The bourgeois discourse of emancipation and the communal organization connected with it, that is, liberal “late” capitalism, now look like the only survivors and winners after two centuries of struggle that sought to impose another way of reading and leading human history. This system has good reasons to claim to be the true supporter of human rights and freedom.

In this ‘present historical situation,’ Lyotard felt entitled to indulge in an imaginative exercise, ‘a postmodern fable… the unavowed dream that the postmodern world dreams about itself:’

[It] happened that systems called liberal democracies came to be recognized as the most appropriate for the task of controlling events in whatever field they might occur. By leaving the programs of control open to debate and by providing free access to the decision-making roles, they maximized the amount of human energy available to the system.

The effectiveness of this realistic flexibility has shown itself to be superior to the exclusively ideological (linguistic) mobilization of forces that rigidly regulated the closed totalitarian systems.

In liberal democratic systems, everybody could believe what they liked, that is, could organize language according to whatever system they liked, provided that they contributed to the system as energetically as they could.

Given the increased self-control of the open system, it was likely that it would be the winner in the competition among the systems all over Earth.

Nothing seemed able to stop the development of this system except the Sun and the unavoidable collapse of the whole star system. In order to meet this predictable challenge, the system was already in the process of developing the prosthesis that would enable it to survive after the solar sources of energy, which had contributed to the genesis and maintenance of the living systems, were wiped out…

The natural sciences were ‘thus preparing for the first exodus of the negentropic system far from Earth with no return.’

Why was this demented cosmic fantasy not a grand narrative, and therefore, on Lyotard’s own terms, suspect?

Because, he explained, it did not describe a ‘promised emancipation.’ It was not a ‘narrative of a promise to be kept… an emergence from an initially alienated condition toward the horizon of the enjoyment of selfhood or freedom.’

Rather, in it ‘the contemporary world’ had been liberated from the ‘horizon of history or historicity in which emancipation was a promise.’

Here, in Lyotard’s ad hoc refinement to his theory, arrived a new intellectual prohibition. Hope for an improved world or better society was now the unacceptable element in any philosophy of history.

Henceforth all that remained was the ‘tangible emancipation’ provided for by capitalism itself: ‘programs that improve what already exists are inscribed in its very mode of functioning.’

Emancipation lay not in an alternative social order, but was ‘an ideal that the system itself endeavors to actualize in most of the areas it covers, such as work, taxes, marketplace, family, sex, race, school, culture, communication.’

Time September 1977 - Nouveaux Philosophes

Thus for contemporary opinion, academic and journalistic, the idea of history as a unique linear ordering has fallen out of favour, convicted of assorted lapses and defects.

The four-stage theory, which grew out of the Scottish Enlightenment, held that:

There are four distinct states which mankind pass thro:—1st, the Age of Hunters; 2dly, the Age of Shepherds; 3dly, the Age of Agriculture; and 4thly, the Age of Commerce.

This schema was carried over wholesale by a certain kind of Marxism (though the latter’s view of history was, for the most part, traduced by Cold War enemies like Popper).

Popper, for his part, promoted the explanatory power of unintended consequences and spontaneous order over what he mistakenly saw as Marxism’s belief in ‘inexorable laws of social development’.

This preference for fortuitous cosmos over purposive taxis upheld, thought Popper, his favoured political programme of ‘piecemeal’ tinkering and meliorist reform. It gainsaid, on the other hand, any Promethean, ‘totalitarian’ ambitions to social planning, which relied on accurate prophecy of the future.

Yet  however apt these strictures against historicism and the latter’s presumptuous claims to forecast the future from past evidence  Popper’s arraignment misfired wildly, letting its intended target off the hook. The ‘fundamental idea that it should be possible to predict revolutions just as it is possible to predict solar eclipses’ was no maxim of Marxism, but largely a figment of the Viennese philosopher.

And, as is well known, Hegel’s ‘ruse of Reason’ was itself drawn from the unintended outcome or ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith and the Scots.

To be sure, Hegel’s pre-scientific world of German idealism is separated from our own by a Big Ditch of cognitive style. If ‘every philosophical baby that is born alive is either a little positivist or a little Hegelian’, then sex ratios are increasingly skewed. Hegel’s account of Spirit evolving through successive transitions in the ‘ethical life of a nation’ was indeed, as Popper declared, ‘sheer historicist superstition.’

Yet its commonsense rejection today is, whatever the theoretical rights and wrongs, a symptom of blocked historical imagination, of lowered horizons and world-weary renunciation, an inability to imagine a society fundamentally different from our own perpetual present.

Does such despondency rest  as today is claimed from Paris-Nanterre and the LSE to the US State Department  on a more realistic, hard-headed appraisal of historical possibilities?

Historical reversals are plainly possible: restorations have followed regicide, and chastened ‘post-capitalist’ societies have trudged back to capitalism. Thus disproved is any view of history as a consecutive, strictly ascending sequence, ‘from rudeness to civilization.’ Societies need not progress from the Age of Hunting to the Age of Commerce.

That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t secular evolution, or a preferential path of development, which imparts a bias to history, appearing retrospectively as ‘progress’.

For there to be a secular evolution of modes of production such that mode of production B tends to supersede A (say B = capitalism and A = feudalism), it must merely be the case that the transition probability Pr (A → B) exceeds the reverse transition probability Pr (B → A), and that the latter tends to falls over time.

In the table below, the rows and columns measure the probability per unit of time of a transition from each initial state to each end state. Each state is accessible from any other, but the transition probabilities are asymmetric (i.e. reversions from capitalism to feudalism are unlikely) and non-constant over time, as a system consolidates or undermines itself (e.g. by moulding technology, political or juridical arrangements to fit its purposes).

Transition matrix - modes of production

An eerie stability (juste équilibre européen) prevailed throughout Hegel’s Concert of Powers during the age of Metternich, Talleyrand and Castlereagh, granted ‘perfect security against the revolutionary embers more or less existing in every State of Europe.’ The stultifying continental peace was broken only by the independence of Greece and Belgium, and later the stillborn revolutions of 1848. Outside Europe, imperial bellicosity proceeded unchecked.

Today, following Gorbachev’s Mediterranean conversion to ‘democratic values’, we are similarly stuck without apparent breath or motion on a flat sea, stupefied as capital blares, noisily and garishly, its hour of triumph. A bellum Americanum contra omnes rampages unchallenged. Respectable opinion agrees that development of social institutions and mutations in property rights is forever over.

Political events and social skirmishes would continue to occur, said Fukuyama. But in the advanced capitalist countries there would be no more structural ruptures or capsizals of the sort that transformed society’s basic institutions.

Such illusions in the status quo’s stability are certain to be punctured.

When the July Revolution broke out one year before his death from cholera, Hegel met it as ‘a crisis in which everything that was formerly valid appears to be made problematic… [These are] anxious times in which everything that previously was taken to be solid and secure appears to totter.’

Les quarante-huitards? Postmodernism and French Stalinism

February 6, 2013

In a recent post I described the novelist Saul Bellow’s reaction to the literary review Les Temps modernes, which he encountered in 1948 while living in Paris.

Bellow would ‘scan the local sottises [and] observe with brutal contempt the latest wrinkle in anguish’:

One of the things that was clear to me when I went to Paris on a Guggenheim grant was that Les Temps modernes understood less about Marxism and left-wing politics than I had understood as a high-school boy.

Jean-Paul Sartre was ten years older than Bellow and a graduate from the rue d’Ulm. Among his prewar friends and fellow Normaliens were some prominent PCF intellectuals, like Georges Politzer and Paul Nizan. Yet Sartre didn’t read Marx seriously until the 1940s.

Nonetheless, in post-Liberation Paris, bestowed suddenly with enormous fame and influence, Sartre was esteemed as an authority on this and every other topic. Eager to consolidate this position, he leapt into print, with Les Temps modernes appearing from October 1945.

His early ventures into political pronouncement, like the 1946 essay ‘Materialism and Revolution’, in which the oracular tone betrayed rather than concealed the author’s ignorance, were accordingly embarrassing.

In them and in ‘political’ plays like Dirty Hands, Sartre used Marxist language and concepts (‘permanent revolution’, ‘united front’, etc.) with little regard for their established meaning.

Meanwhile his journal gradually developed a house ideology. For several decades this would remain stable yet incoherent: perched just off the PCF’s shoulder, it mixed relentless criticism of the party with, in the words of Edgar Morin, ‘courtesy, deference and flirtatiousness’.

Thus Bellow wrote later to Philip Roth: ‘When I landed in Paris in 1948 I found that the intellectual leaders (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, etc.) remained loyal despite the Stalin sea of blood.’

By this Bellow meant Merleau-Ponty’s sinisterly fatuous remarks on the Moscow Trials, published in 1947. In them the philosopher had announced that ‘we are as far from [the prosecutor Andrey] Vyshinsky’s interpretation of them as we are from the leftist [Trotskyist] view.’

Sartre went on to draw closest to the PCF in the period between 1952 (Ridgway’s visit to Paris) and 1956 (the Hungarian uprising).

But neither before nor after this period did he develop any firm stance on the PCF based on an evaluation of Stalinism.

Responding in Les Temps modernes to the Hungarian events, Sartre expressed disappointment that the ‘path imposed on it by circumstances’ had led the ‘hidebound’ Kremlin leadership to ‘compromise on its principles’.

To a great extent, the lenient attitude of France’s marxisant intellectuals towards the Soviet bureaucracy (and the professional success enjoyed by these rapidly multiplying writers and academics) stemmed from the country’s unique political circumstances.

By 1948, Truman’s USA was undertaking a ‘de-Marxization of the intelligentsia’. Writers, artists and critics like Bellow, James Burnham and Clement Greenberg were shedding their anti-Stalinist socialism of the 1930s for the more salubrious fit of Cold War liberalism, on the way to full-blown reaction.

In contrast, les trente glorieuses, spanning France’s Fourth Republic and into the Fifth, involved a kind of permanent Popular Front, with Stalinism tolerated in official political culture and accommodated in the latter’s journalistic offshoots.

In 1952 Bellow’s friend and former socialist Mary McCarthy explained the contemporary behaviour of US intellectuals in a letter to a newly arrived Hannah Arendt.

Ex-Trotskyists, she said – including Greenberg, Sidney Hook and others from the Partisan Review crowd – were cooperating so intently with the HUAC because of bad memories from the Popular Front era:

They live in terror of a revival of the situation that prevailed in the thirties, when the fellow-travellers were powerful in teaching, publishing, the theatre, etc., when stalinism was the gravy-train and these people were off it and became the object of social slights, small economic deprivations, gossip and backbiting. These people, who are success-minded, think in terms of group-advancement and cultural monopoly and were really traumatized by the brief stalinist apogee of the thirties, when they suspected that their book, say, was not being pushed by their publishers because of stalinist influences among the salesmen or even the office-workers.

In postwar France different incentives prevailed. Ambitious intellectuals were presented with alternative prospects for networking, sources of patronage and routes to cultural authority.

Postwar, the eminence of Maurice Thorez’s PCF (le parti des 75 000 fusillés) had been restored. Along with the Stalinist party’s fortunes, so was the Popular Front, that travesty of socialism, revived. (The African-American novelist Richard Wright and Bellow’s friend, Ralph Ellison, had broken with Marxism due to disgust with the US version of this policy, which involved the prostration of Earl Browder’s CP to FDR’s Democrats, the party of Jim Crow.)

From Liberation until May 1947 the PCF formed a series of coalition governments with the SFIO and the Christian Democrat MRP.

During this time Thorez, as vice-premier, and four other Stalinist ministers approved the Monnet Plan for the reconstruction of the French coal and steel industries. This involved reductions in real wages and increases to hours worked.

In April 1947 Thorez was forced to posture as a defender of 30 000 striking Renault workers, whom the Stalinists had initially tried to force back to work, when the SFIO came out in support of the striking employees.

As a mainstream correspondent noted:

[The] Renault strike is a revolt against wages policy and union leadership. The Communist-controlled Confederation of Labour [CGT] intervened on Tuesday with the aim of taking the strike under its control, but it became clear yesterday that the Communists felt they could only counter an attempt to outflank them by supporting the demands for wage increases.

Thorez and the other PCF figures were expelled from the government ministry.

With France threatened by ‘armed insurrection’ and ‘civil war’, the government was granted emergency powers. It duly invoked anti-strike and anti-sabotage measures to mobilize the armed forces, and in December 1947 the CGT ordered employees back to work.

The governing troika was succeeded by an anti-communist parliamentary alliance, as the following years saw a wave of strikes.

These were the formative circumstances greeting a generation of young French thinkers, born around 1930, as they graduated from lycée, khâgne and grande école. They would go on to be feted (and mischaracterized) as the clerks of la pensée 68:

Derrida (born in 1930), Foucault (1926), Lyotard (1924), Deleuze (1925), Baudrillard (1929), Sollers (1936), Irigaray (1932), Ricardou (1932), Wahl (1925), Thibaudeau (1932), de Certeau (1925), Genette (1930), Meschonnic (1932), Debord (1931) and Guattari (1930).

Derrida would later describe how ‘very difficult’ it had been for him, studying under Louis Althusser at the ENS during the early 1950s, ‘not to join the Party’, and thus ‘to be thought of only as a crypto-Communist or fellow traveller.’

When later, in 1971, Phillipe Sollers and Tel Quel broke finally from the PCF and embraced Maoism, the PCF’s La Nouvelle Critique and Les Lettres Françaises embraced Derrida, and he, with some ambivalence, reciprocated.

His contemporaries in the social sciences were just then forming the brilliant cadre of the Rockefeller-funded École des hautes études en sciences sociales:

Le Roy Ladurie (b. 1929), Le Goff (1924), Bourdieu (1930), Touraine (1925), Furet (1927), Nora (1931), Ferro (1924), Castel (1933), Morin (1921), Augé (1935), Lefort (1934) and Godelier (1934).

The thoroughgoing anti-communist purges that took place elsewhere following the ascent of Cold War liberalism did not occur in France until the mid-1970s, when the electoral alliance between PCF and SFIO made the Stalinists likely participants in a future government.

Until then, from roughly 1945 to 1975, the existence of an avowedly revolutionary socialist party with a mass base influenced French intellectual and creative matters to a remarkable extent.

The PCF funded daily newspapers, maintained literary reviews, served as chief patron for other publications, colleges and institutional entities, and held ‘progressive’ writers, scholars and artists within its orbit.

The PCF, through Georges Sadoul and trade unions, had played a major part in the Comité de Défense du Cinéma Français, which organized film-industry lobbying, strikes and demonstrations against the postwar Blum-Byrnes Agreement – mostly on grotesquely nationalist and anti-American grounds.

In 1948 state funding was secured for local film production. Thereafter funds were distributed by the Centre nationale du cinéma, in whose administration, led by Michel Fourré-Cormeray, PCF and CGT members exercised disproportionate influence if not the preponderance claimed by right-wing alarmists.

Though the early 1950s saw a purge of suspected PCF sympathizers from official positions, what Mary McCarthy had called the ‘Stalinist gravy train’ survived intact to a degree unknown elsewhere.

Meanwhile the comparative weakness, marginality and disorganization of French intellectual liberalism, represented by Raymond Aron, Jacques Rueff, Maurice Allais and Bertrand de Jouvenel, was striking.

The managerial elite and civil servants, trained at Sciences Po and the Ecole nationale d’Administration, were raised on a distinctly dirigiste ideological stew. This technocratic doxa was most appropriate for the reconstruction of a postwar society playing productivity catchup, in which the largest social class remained independent farmers and the technological frontier was patrolled by state-owned enterprises (energy and transport firms) and state-financed infrastructure projects (commercial banks and insurance companies had been nationalized).

To be sure, the CIA-financed Congress for Cultural Freedom had an influential local branch in the review Preuves. Atlanticism was favoured on the editorial pages of Le Figaro. French intellectuals, as distinct from businessmen, were well-represented in the Mont Pèlerin Society.

But the US State Department’s sway over cultural and intellectual life was limited as, backstopped by nuclear autonomy, De Gaulle kept France out of NATO integrated command. Aron and his anti-communist associates went through the necessary motions, but the PCF was tolerated, plainly presenting no genuine revolutionary threat.

Raymond Aron, Denis de Rougemont, Michael Josselson

Thus, during the Cold War, French thinkers offered a glamorous source of apparent dissent and free thinking to people elsewhere (especially US or West German academics) whose available outlets for radical political activity and cultural avant-gardism were few. (The enormous influence of Sartre on the thought and style of US cultural theorist Fredric Jameson, for example, has never been adequately emphasized.)

In such circumstances, the fact that people like Sartre and his epigones understood only a bowdlerized and travestied form of Marxism – never enlisting in the PCF but never being sure exactly why they didn’t – was of deep consequence.

The enormous postwar pretensions of French culture also rested, to be sure, on Paris’s traditional status as a global clearing house for literature and the visual arts. It remained a central site for discovery and diffusion of new talent if no longer for its production.

It also prospered thanks to various eminent refugees, imports and transfusions from the colonial empire and Francophone world. (This was one reason why the Congress for Cultural Freedom devoted so much of its efforts and funds to shifting the world’s art market from Paris to New York.)

But the political context mattered deeply. In France there flourished a kind of Popular Front culture, of the sort that in the United States did not survive the 1940s; and it allowed postwar French cinema, for example, together with that of Italy (home to the even stronger PCI), to resist the craning towards commercial mediocrity that characterized US and other entertainment products of this era.

Therefore André Malraux’s ballyhooed stint during the 1960s as De Gaulle’s Minister for Cultural Affairs coincided with a shift in the composition of French intellectual exports to the world.

The longstanding hierarchy of the beaux-arts, with letters at its apex, crumbled. Though Camus was awarded the Nobel in 1957 and Sartre famously rejected the prize in 1964, literature had lost its pre-eminent place in the cultural and media pantheon. It was replaced by an interdisciplinary social science, mixing linguistics and anthropology with philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary theory and radical politics.

In the world’s intellectual shelves and shop windows of the 1970s, France’s contribution would not be the defanged grandeur of Voltaire, Montaigne, Flaubert and the Louvre.

Instead, it would be gauchiste iconoclasm, marketed to a demographic bulge of college students and intellectuals in the advanced capitalist countries, who had been radicalized by imperialist war and the end of the long economic boom.


Assigned a prominent place in the intellectual marketplace, these radical-sounding but harmless notions – pumped out by assorted Maoists, crypto-Stalinists and anarchists – were shopped to a largely Anglophone New Left that had come to understand French produce as a guarantee of quality and the acme of political trenchancy.

Wahl, Sollers, Pleynet, Barthes

As previously mentioned, the avowed adherence to Marxism of many French intellectuals did not break until the mid-1970s.

Before it did, post-1968 reforms to French higher education granted secure academic positions to a cohort of younger intellectuals. Official approbation and media renown eased their dependence on Stalinist patronage for income, and eventually opened up wider vistas of career opportunity.

In the wake of the May-June évènements, the government established new campuses like the Centre Universitaire Expérimental de Vincennes, now University of Paris VIII.

According to François Dosse’s History of Structuralism, the new minister for education, Edgar Faure, approached Jean Dubois, linguist at Nanterre and ‘a PCF member known for his fair-mindedness’, to be dean of the new ‘experimental centre’.

Faure had declared before the National Assembly: ‘If those who claim to possess imagination have not seized power, it remains for power to seize imagination’. Dubois demurred at the official request, and Faure instead turned to Raymond Las Vergnas, dean and director of the Institut d’Anglais at the Sorbonne.

The latter contacted a young Hélène Cixous, along with other ‘left-leaning colleagues associated with the Institut d’Anglais (notably Bernard Cassen and Pierre Dommergues) who all knew and admired the American university system’:

In October 1968, he invited a commission of twenty well-known figures, including Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Georges Canguilhem, and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, to discuss the orientation of the programs at Vincennes. A dozen of those present were quickly appointed to a central committee responsible for naming the academic staff…

Michel Foucault was in charge of hiring the teaching staff for philosophy; Jean-Pierre Richard was responsible in French literature; Jean Dubois, Jean-Claude Chevalier and Maurice Gross decided on the teaching staff in linguistics. The university included a department of linguistics, which was a real first, headed by Serge Leclaire, second in command in the Lacanian organization.

‘The grand project was to make Vincennes a small MIT, an American university, a model of modernity, an internationally known enclave with overtly interdisciplinary amibitions…

Here, especially among the linguists, flourished roseate visions of North American intellectual life, with MIT exemplifying a cutting-edge modernity worthy of emulation, envy and longing trans-Atlantic glances.

‘Faure loved the project, and Cixous’ group suddenly found themselves in charge of creating a new university out of thin air.’

PCF members at the Sorbonne such as the historian Guy Bois were apparently consulted, and decided to ‘throw their weight’ behind the Vincennes idea.

The recruits to Foucault’s philosophy department would be ‘structuralist-Maoist.’ Its leader had spent the 1950s and 1960s on friendly terms with Gaullism after a shortlived stint in the PCF. More recently, in Les Mots et les choses (1966), he had derided Marx as a minor Ricardian.

But, following his typically well-timed gauchiste pirouette, Foucault brought to his faculty the likes of Lyotard, Deleuze, Étienne Balibar, Alain Badiou and Daniel Bensaïd.

Deleuze, Sartre, Foucault at Vincennes

The linguistics and politics departments acquired eminences like Cixous, Tzvetan Todorov, Henri Meschonnic, Mitsou Ronat and Nicos Poulantzas.

The psychoanalytic school boasted Guattari and a nest of Lacanians: Jacques-Alain and Judith Miller, Gérard Miller and Jacques Rancière. All were formerly of Cahiers pour l’analyse; most were now part of the Maoist groupuscule Gauche Prolétarienne, which waged campus battles against Badiou’s tiny sect and other ‘Marxist-Leninist’ anti-revisionists.

Thus at Vincennes, and elsewhere, a flow of state funds and media promotion nurtured what may, at a stretch, be called an intellectual ‘research program’.

But (as later disputes over the label ‘post-structuralist’ would attest) members of this milieu were unified mostly by their allegiance to ‘radical’ or New Left ideology. For all its revolutionary phraseology, the latter had proved during May-June 1968 that it presented no threat to the French state and the existing social order, nor to the Stalinist leadership of the PCF and CGT.

Official indulgence and the seal of academic respectability were thus granted costlessly. This concession of institutional territory and prestige to stars of the  intellectual New Left (whose members favoured Gramscian rhetoric about ‘wars of position’) soon brought rewards for the forces of order.

Bensaïd Krivine 1969

In July 1972 the PCF, shifting to ‘Eurocommunist’ parliamentarism, announced a Common Program with the Parti socialiste. This electoral union, raising the likely prospect of renewed Stalinist participation in government, immediately provoked anti-communist hysteria throughout the organs of public opinion.

Amid stagflation and geopolitical disorder, the party’s usefulness had abruptly been exhausted.

As France’s unique postwar compromise was finally erased, the responsibility for pronouncing obloquies of socialism fell to writers and academic ‘radicals’ who until recently had been members or enthusiasts of avowedly Marxist organizations.

In the literary world, the occasion for this thoroughgoing anti-Marxist upheaval among intellectuals was the translation of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. This 1974 publication became the pretext for an explosion of commentary concerning ‘totalitarianism’ and its political roots, and to the widespread abandonment of old commitments.

The arrival to media fanfare of the Nouveaux philosophes smoothed the scholarly ascent, in the person of François Furet, of revisionist histories of the Jacobin Terror.

Suddenly French intellectuals underwent a transformation that their counterparts in other countries had experienced during the late 1940s: the enthusiasm for Dostoevsky, the turn to Zionism and Atlanticism, and various antiquarian rediscoveries and revivals (in France, of Tocqueville, Constant and Guizot as weighty political thinkers).

As described above, Bellow’s cohort of New York intellectuals (Hook, Podhoretz, Kristol, etc.) had undergone just such a postwar conversion to Zionism, market liberalism, State Department cheerleading and full-blown reaction.

In 1970s France, at the forefront of these efforts to reconquer old territory was Claude Lefort, the former contributor to Les Temps modernes, and his old ally in the third-campist outfit Socialisme ou barbarie, Jean-François Lyotard.

In Instructions païennes (1977), Lyotard invoked Solzhenitsyn as an example of how ‘little narratives’ (stories from the prison camps) could defeat ‘master narratives’ such as ‘le grand récit marxiste‘.

Daniel Bell’s ‘end of ideology’, for which Raymond Aron had tried forlornly to gain a French audience during the 1950s, finally found a belated echo in Lyotard’s declarations of the death of ‘metanarratives’ and renunciation of ‘the desire called Marx’.

Time September 1977 - Nouveaux Philosophes

Marcel Gauchet, another former Socialisme ou barbarie philosopher, would soon found the influential centre-right journal Le Débat, bringing liberalism to the centre of national ideological life.

Together with the Saint-Simon Foundation, a think tank co-founded by Furet, Le Débat sponsored a vision of NATO Atlanticism as France’s natural external posture

Claude Lanzmann, another member of the Sartre-Beauvoir ‘family’ at Les Temps modernes, would achieve international renown by directing the film Shoah, on which he commenced work in 1974 at the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. (Lanzmann elevated Primo Levi’s ‘Hier ist kein warum‘ from the motto of a camp guard to a general prohibition applying to treatment of the Judeocide, declaring the ‘obscenity’ of seeking to understand the calamitous event.)

The temper was such that Furet could rapidly ascend to the summit of domestic intellectual life, wrangle a measure of international fame and win a position in Bellow’s Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

That the revelation of crimes by the Soviet bureaucracy involved such world-shattering novelty and induced such demoralization in French littérateurs of the 1970s testifies to their own wilful preservation of ignorance (and to France’s still rather monoglot intellectual layer, who apparently formed their own sturdy Maginot Line against the intrusion of ideas common abroad). There was, of course, much cynicism in these exclamations of shock and betrayal.

But the disorientation was genuine, and that fact is incomprehensible without noting the decades-long hold of Stalinism and the PCF over France’s ‘left’ intellectuals, both within the party and outside.

Of course, as decades of the Fourth and Fifth Republic passed, the PCF’s radical appeal had sharply subsided thanks to its support for the colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria and its opposition to the ‘spontaneism’ of 1968.

Thus the increasing popularity during the 1960s of other avowedly socialist groups or perspectives. Yet, though critical to varying degrees of what uniformly was described as a ‘hidebound’ PCF, these organizations or networks taught members little principled opposition to nationalism and Stalinism.

While deploring the PCF’s policy or outlook on this or that matter, most continued to nurse hopes in the party’s revitalization, and would re-establish contact at intervals and then periodically feel let down by it. These groups displayed scanty historical or political understanding of the Soviet Union, China, Algeria, Vietnam and other societies; and the ‘anti-Stalinist’ scene was characterized by a curious circulation of members back and forth between different groups labelled Communist, Marxist-Leninist, state capitalist, Guevarist or Trotskyist.

Emblematic figures were people like Pierre Frank or Alain Krivine, for whom the PCF retained a lifelong attraction. 

The collapse of French Stalinism alongside the Kremlin bureaucracy’s embrace of capitalism thus led to a rush for the exits during the 1980s. Territory was abandoned and the vacuum was filled by Pierres Nora and Rosanvallon, etc.

During the 1980s ‘left’ intellectuals universally accepted, as sufficient excuse to despatch Marxism and make a complete break with socialism, arguments that were astonishingly feeble and uncompelling.

Mass ideological conversions of this sort may be explained by material incentives, herd behaviour and the lure of social advancement (as in McCarthy’s description of ‘success-minded’ intellectuals).

But similar explanations may also apply in retrospect. The ultimately flimsy adherence to socialism of many French intellectuals, the shallowness of declared commitments revealed in a sudden cascade of apostates during the 1970s and 1980s, suggests the confused and corrupted – if not wholly cynical and ersatz – character of much intellectual Marxism during the 1950s and 1960s.

Perry Anderson has described the ‘extraordinary vitality’ of French culture during the Fourth and early Fifth Republics, comparing its ‘full flowering of the intellectual energies’ to today, when figures like Bernard-Henri Lévy’s have a ‘bizarre prominence’:

It would be difficult to imagine a more extraordinary reversal of national standards of taste and intelligence than the attention accorded this crass booby in France’s public sphere, despite innumerable demonstrations of his inability to get a fact or an idea straight. Could such a grotesque flourish in any other major Western culture today?

This assessment of the earlier period may itself be explained by the tastes of Anderson’s own New Left Review.

The journal’s editorial line has always displayed an ambivalence about Stalinism and nationalism; and during the late 1960s and 1970s the NLR enthused over Althusser and the ‘student movement’, provided fascinated attention for the latest academic fashion, and served as a platform for the ambitious to reach an Anglophone audience and its related perks: a visiting position at a US university, lecture and publishing opportunities, media attention.

Paris’s transformation during the late 1970s into a global ‘capital of intellectual reaction’, alongside Chicago, was not a simple annulment of all that came before. The counter-revolution in thought had been prepared for decades, and the most vicious reprisals accompanying the return of the old regime were performed by those who had hitherto been the most enthusiastic cadre for the existing order.

The source of the later deluge was France’s national anomaly during the 1950s and 1960s: a singularly fortunate reprieve from Cold War strictures that, elsewhere throughout the advanced capitalist world, scrubbed any trace of socialist ideas from respectable public discourse and eliminated Stalinist influence in trade unions and state agencies.

This local respite, given world conditions, provided an institutional setting for the survival and growth of intellectual carpetbaggers and parasites, feeding off the apparatus of Stalinism. Here was the heartland of so-called Western Marxism.

Anti-socialist tropes that found early expression elsewhere (c.f. the New York intellectuals once again) were thus postponed in France, only to assume more toxically inane forms when they did finally emerge.

These historical circumstances, rather than any peculiar national talent for obscurantism, account for France’s competitive advantage in the production and intellectual export of theoretical dross during the 1970s (in any case, import substitution quickly took over and the industry migrated to North America).

Who knows Marxism and its flaws better than the seers at Vincennes, the Sorbonne, the rue d’Ulm? people could say with a straight face during this period.

Thus Lévy’s nomination of Sartre as a personal hero and the ‘philosopher of the twentieth century’ is not merely the grotesque and undignified appropriation of intellectual credibility that is usually claimed. Sartre – lacking professional competence as a philosopher, novelist, playwright and political theorist – nonetheless became world-famous in each of these fields.

Was he not in this sense the forerunner of BHL, Glucksmann, Finkielkraut and Bruckner?

Sartre Glucksmann Aron

Madam, have you ever heard of a place called Dachau?

July 23, 2012

Having endured Susan Sontag’s self-serving essay about Victor Serge, I was pleased to read the foreword to Unforgiving Years, written by the novel’s translator Richard Greeman.

Greeman quotes something Serge wrote concerning Walter Krivitsky. In 1941 Krivitsky, a defector from the GRU, was found dead in a Washington, D.C., hotel room with a bullet in his skull (FBI files here). Serge’s words seem to describe himself much better than they do Krivitsky:

There had been some fine moments in his life; he had been courageous and devoted. Now in his soul, he was a defeated man. But these types of struggles are so out of proportion to any man’s powers—and to one who was misled during the decisive years of his life, that it didn’t astonish me. Rare are those who know how to resist demoralization in defeat.

The third section of Serge’s novel is set amid the 1945 firebombing of Germany, in one of the few ‘oases of habitation’ left in ‘a ghostly city bristling with the skeletons of churches’, where people were ‘baked like potatoes in ashes… a volcanic realm of sudden explosions, smouldering dormant fires, smoky eddies of soot, dust clouds, the stench of rotting corpses’.

A US journalist, having been ferried in on a jeep, tries to interview an elderly German schoolteacher, whom he takes for a ‘former officer and civil servant by the looks of him’. The old man, his brain ‘vaporized by the heat of events’, is a loyal supporter of the Hitler regime, a self-described ‘peaceful citizen’ whose sons have died heroic deaths in Courland and Libya. He had crept out, along with others waving white rags, to meet their conquerors, in ‘avid anticipation of violence and handouts… people were appearing across the ruins like larvae emerging from the soil – and they were indistinguishable, on the whole, from the inhabitants of Chicago’s slums or any other poverty-stricken corner of the world.’

The fictional exchange records Serge’s burning contempt for those, like the journalist, who would attribute collective guilt to people based on nationality – the Michael Hanekes and Bernhard Schlinks of his day, the Daniel Goldhagens, William Deanes and Paul Keatings.

There is no national ‘we’, so far as Serge the one-time Bolshevik and long-time internationalist was concerned. There were plebeian ‘poor bastards facing exploding volcanoes’, people for whom ‘the social consciousness matched the conditions’. And there were a few helmsmen, ‘leaders wielding infinite powers of secrecy and authority’, commanding the ‘organized brutality that drives great empires.’

The fat journalist, resembling ‘some big shot’, displays no sympathy for the starving people. From behind his sunglasses and with hands on hips, he scrutinizes suspiciously the women with their powdered faces and rouged lips (‘Make mental note of this vignette’), and the ‘fairly well-dressed’ children: ‘however did they manage?’

A swift pencil and shorthand pad recorded the schoolmaster’s extravagant ramblings for the benefit of countless newspaper readers.

‘Do you people feel guilty?’

If there was one emotion which had never been experienced by Herr Schiff (at least not since his adolescent religious crises) in his half century of diligent service, that emotion was guilt. It is healthy to live one’s life in the meticulous fulfilment of duty. The schoolteacher cocked his head obligingly. ‘Pardon me, I didn’t quite catch…?’

‘Guilty for the war?’

Schiff’s gaze swept the horizon of the broken city, strewn with the dead doves of humiliation. The grander generalizations existed for him on a different plane from everyday reality. The Second World War was already down as a great historical tragedy – a quasi-mythological one – which neither Mommsen, Hans Delbrück, Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Oswald Spengler, or Mein Kampf could elucidate entirely… The sons immolated themselves upon the altar of blind gods. A new, unholy war, unworthy of human nobility, had begun with the destruction of Altstadt; and this war alone existed in reality.

‘Guilty?’ Herr Schiff said in flinty tones, with the air of a livid turkey-cock. ‘Guilty of that?’ (And he bobbed his head at the surrounding devastation.)

‘No,’ the reporter said, not quite grasping the response, ‘guilty for the war.’

‘And you’, Herr Schiff retorted, ‘do you feel guilty for this?’


‘My dear professor, the journalist began, striving for an offensive politeness, ‘you started this war… You bombed Coventry.’

‘I?’ said Schiff, in frank astonishment. ‘I?’


Franz [a former NCO, now a cripple with a hook for a hand] butted in unceremoniously: ‘Well, I fought in the war, as perhaps you can tell by looking at me. I give you my faithful, one-hundred percent amputee’s word of honour that I didn’t start it.’

‘Herr Professor’, whispered a daring old lady in a black lace cap, ‘do ask them whether the soup kitchens will be allowed to continue? Or do the American gentlemen intend to feed the city?’ She spoke the last three words more loudly, to make sure that the authority would hear them. The reporter’s eyes popped with outrage behind his shades. No shame, no guilt, not a shred! These folks seem to think we come over, leaving a hundred thousand of our boys underground along the way, just to sort out their next meal! He turned on the old lady.

‘Madam, have you ever heard of a place called Dachau?’

Intimidated by his tone, but happy to help out, she quavered enthusiastically: ‘Oh yes, it’s a pretty little town in Bavaria, where they held interesting popular festivals in the old days…’

‘That’s all?’

‘Yes, sir…’ (The old lady blanched at the covert fury of the question.)

‘What about the concentration camp?’

‘Ooh, that may be, I can’t tell you about that, I’m afraid… I so seldom read the newspapers.’

Franz was grinning maniacally, Alain’s face too was that of a madman, a dangerous one. The old lady felt inexplicable tears wetting the corners of her eyes. She murmured, very humbly, ‘I beg the gentleman to excuse me if I’ve offended him’, for these were clearly military persons of great influence.


The burly [US] officer with the round beard, like a sailor in an old-fashioned illustration, hailed the reporter. ‘We’re leaving, old man. Happy with your little interview?’ ‘They are staggeringly unconscious of everything’, the journalist said. ‘Well, if you’re looking for consciousness from bombed-out towns…’

An inherited burden: ex-Stalinists, ‘progressive’ historians and Australian nationalism

June 25, 2012

The Australian historian Ann Curthoys has often spoken of her time in the Eureka Youth League, Sydney University Labor Club, Vietnam Action Campaign, Student Action for Aborigines and Women’s Liberation.

This impeccably Stalinist upbringing acquainted her with fellow CPA scions like Brian Aarons and Patricia Healy, left-wing activists like Bob Gould and the Percy brothers, as well as future establishment figures like Jim Spigelman and Charles Perkins.

Curthoys later described these years as ‘a middle-class baby-boom generation experience, not uncommon, but not typical either.’ She drifted into the New Left around the time the CPA, under the leadership of Laurie Aarons, turned Eurocommunist.

Meanwhile her parents were among those hardcore Moscow loyalists who split to form the Socialist Party of Australia.

In 1990 Barbara Curthoys was granted access to the Comintern archive in Moscow; she later published an article describing how the parents of historian Lyndall Ryan were expelled as right deviationists from the CPA in 1929.

Strangely enough, during the early 1970s Ann Curthoys shared a Sydney residence with Lyndall Ryan while each undertook postgraduate studies at Macquarie University.

They helped to co-found the Women’s Liberation periodicals MeJane and Refractory Girl. Joyce Stevens, a prominent member of the CPA until its 1991 dissolution, also sat on the editorial collective of MeJane.

By 1988, having re-examined the ‘shibboleths of the left’ in an academic discussion group, Curthoys declared herself persuaded by Alec Nove’s vision of market socialism. The future, she now believed, lay with ‘competition and markets.’

Curthoys is one of many Stalinist and ex-socialist academics who played a part, now largely forgotten, in the Hawke and Keating ALP governments’ institutional and ideological renovation of Australian society.

She wasn’t a fulsome and direct participant, as were others like Stuart Macintyre. But, as I’ll explain, her scholarly contributions to the field of labour history  most importantly her work with Andrew Markus on working-class racism and anti-immigrant movements during the nineteenth century  did provide useful ideological tools for that elite policy program.

The latter was presented to the population as ‘a root-and-branch re-examination of many long-standing features of our national life’, ‘dismantling some of our most cherished orthodoxies… deeply embedded in the very psyche of the nation.’ The state leadership openly sought to conscript historians to its project, which it described as a ‘process of deepening our sense of national identity, national responsibility and national maturity. We have altered the focus on our past. With that new focus on the past, has come a reassessment of the past’ (Hawke).

This modification to official nationalism had mundane objectives.

First there was the ‘competitiveness agenda’, which, on the pretext of repairing the current-account balance, took an axe to real wages, working conditions and the social position of employees (while a ‘war on inflation’ subordinated asset-poor borrowers to wealthy creditors).

Then there was the ‘process of national reinvigoration and reinvention’ (Keating) demanded by Canberra’s regional policy. The latter, pursued through ‘multilateral’ forums, in fact aimed to prevent the economic and political integration of East and Southeast Asia independently of Washington’s hub-and-spokes framework of military and diplomatic alliances. The growth of external investment by Japanese firms, alongside the re-entry of China to the world market and the industrial development of various SE Asian countries, raised the possibility that a regional bloc could be formed which could conceivably produce a military-political competitor to Washington  thus threatening the position of Canberra and of Australian-owned firms in the region. Hawke linked so-called ‘regional engagement’ to ‘changes which have occurred in our attitudes to our history, our culture, and our relations with the rest of the world, especially with the peoples of our own region… [which] may be said to have begun with the fall of Singapore in 1942.’

Finally there was the attempt to channel the frustration and disappointment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into a political response based on ethnic identity, by granting administrative powers, limited property rights and other privileges to an Indigenous elite. This project involved bringing Indigenous people into ‘the Australian legend’ (Keating).

The old labour radical nationalism (associated with one-time CPA members and historians Russel Ward, Robin Gollan, Ian Turner and Eric Fry) was inadequate to this new age.

In the hands of Curthoys and others, this old labour history, and the nationalism it supported, received a postmodern makeover.

The superseded account, Curthoys explained, ‘has suffered many theoretical blows, has met with other desires, multicultural, postcolonial, feminist. It has been seen as inappropriate to postwar, culturally diverse, urban Australia, expressing the aspirations of a British Australia that no longer exists.’ The retrofitted model would be attentive, in the words of Curthoys and John Docker, to ‘heterogeneity, difference, contradictoriness, and indeterminacy’.

Journals like Labour History therefore applied new methodological and interpretive strictures to contributions. Property relations should be denied any categorical primacy or priority in historical explanation. Social class would instead hold the same conceptual status as various ascriptive traits (e.g. race, gender, ethnicity, generational cohort and religion). Class, like these personal attributes, would be seen primarily as a badge of identity or a label of group membership.

This involved various lamentable concessions to intellectual fashion, as can be seen from the following embarrassing passage. It is by Curthoys, from a 1991 article in the journal Hecate, in which she described the treatment by historians of sex, ethnicity and class:

Many have noticed the similarity of chaos theory to poststructuralist theory in the humanities, in the questioning of older theories of order… [The] similarity between chaos theory in the sciences and recent theory in the humanities is intriguing… Having read my way through [a book by the journalist James Gleick] and learnt something about fractals and strange attractors and bifurcations and iteration and nonlinear equations and the like, I started to think about possible specific connections between feminism and chaos theory… Feminist theory has long had its own “three body problem.” Our three bodies are the concepts of sex (or gender), ethnicity (or race), and class.

In the midst of Australia’s so-called History Wars, Curthoys spoke of the need to ‘develop the kind of pluralist inclusive account of the past that might form the basis for a coherent national community.’

This might have been said by Hawke or Keating, or by Manning Clark, Brian Fitzpatrick, Stuart Macintyre or Don Watson. Indeed, her stated objective was shared by all those ‘left’ historians who, during the 1980s and 1990s, combined their avowedly progressive politics with a taste for sitting on committees and advisory panels appointed by ALP governments, tasked with investigating civics education or a ‘re-founded’ national identity.

For Curthoys, the purpose of the historian’s craft was still to support nationalism, now re-cast in the language of identity politics:

At the forefront, then, of the construction of national identity in the Australian context  as, perhaps, everywhere else  is the question of history. As a cultural practice, history is tied to questions of belonging, kinship, betrayal, inheritance, attachment, fear, and danger. Representations of history are, we know, constructions of social identity…

The insight that all social groups, whether defined by gender, ethnicity, nationality, or politics, construct an account of the past that works to authorise their identity as a group is as relevant and lively in Australia as elsewhere.

It seems likely that such views were prepared by Curthoys’s political upbringing. As part of her youthful education, she would have been exposed to Austro-Marxist theories on the ‘national question’ (the nation as Schicksalgemeinschaft), as well as those proffered by her own party, and subsequently to those varieties of Third-Worldism prevalent in her later radical milieu.

It’s not generally appreciated by people unfamiliar with the Marxist tradition how many of the issues and topics that preoccupied late-twentieth century thinkers (e.g. national identity, unity and diversity within a mass movement, etc.) were originally debated, usually with far greater depth and seriousness, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, by adherents, interlocutors and opponents of classical Marxism. The idea of the nation as a ‘narrative’ that ‘works to authorise their identity as a group’  favoured by post-structuralists, post-colonial theorists and ethno-symbolists, as well as by people like Benedict Anderson and the New Left Review crowd  emerged from this background and contained unmistakeable echoes of it.

The path from Stalinist nationalism to postmodernist nationalism is short, a fact which must be recalled when considering the intellectual origins and political implications of Curthoys’s ‘pluralist inclusive account of the past that might form the basis for a coherent national community.’

What then was Curthoys’s contribution to this new liberal-progressive Australian nationalism?

Much of her early scholarly research concerned labour history, and examined the place within it of racism, sexism and colonialism. In her doctoral thesis, Curthoys had discussed the 1861 anti-Chinese riots on the New South Wales goldfields at Lambing Flat.

Thirty years later she returned to the historical episode, linking it to contemporary issues under the Howard government:

Our treatment of these Chinese men shames many of us… As a nation, our fears and our hatreds, and our interest in the exotic and the Other, live with us still. In imagining those who observed, met, liked, hated, loved and traded with those Chinese gold seekers we see, ultimately, ourselves as we were and in some respects continue to be.

Here was the ideological raw material of nationalism: a supra-individual personality (‘the nation’), a grammatical person that possessed beliefs and attitudes (‘our fears and our hatreds’), stable traits giving rise to repeated behaviours, a ‘national character’ to which events more than a century apart could be attributed.

This was not an idiosyncratic treatment. The nation as collective actor was similarly invoked at this time by Sir William Deane and by Paul Keating.

More specifically, throughout her scholarly career Curthoys returned, again and again, to an idea: the notion that, for two centuries, the male, non-Indigenous Australian working class had benefited from racism, colonialism and sexism, at the expense of women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and immigrants.

Through her work, readers and students of Australian history were taught a curious lesson: they were encouraged, correctly, to consider instances of racism (both in episodes of anti-immigrant chauvinism, and in the exterminist logic of settler colonialism) as obviously wicked and repugnant (at least from a contemporary standpoint). Yet with this negative evaluation was packaged the factual claim that racism had had beneficial consequences for the majority, or at least a large minority, of Australians.

In a 1978 article in Labour History (later published in a very influential book on the history of Australian working-class racism, which she co-edited with Andrew Markus) Curthoys wrote that the ‘super-exploitation’ of Aborigines, Melanesians and women in late nineteenth-century pastoral, sugar, clothing and food-processing industries ‘may have enhanced the wage rates of the greater part of the workforce, the male European workers’:

The relative roles of capital and labour in the emergence of a movement against Chinese immigration are [therefore] somewhat clearer. Organised labour’s position as the defender of jobs and wages meant that it was the logical leader of opposition to the Chinese as economic competitors with European workers. In so far as the anti-Chinese movement went beyond the specific cheap labour issue into the realm of social, political, moral, race-purity, and general economic complaints against the Chinese themselves, labour’s leadership was augmented by small employer, self employed, and general middle class concern. For their part, the larger representatives of capital were at this stage anti-Chinese in the sense of supporting their super-exploitation, but not in the sense of wishing to exclude them from the colony.

Markus added that ‘for the labour movement the campaign against non-European immigration was part of a broader battle to maintain established standards by restricting access to the labour market.’

On this account, popular racism and exclusivism were not tragic errors that divided Australian workers from their class allies, thus playing into the hands of the propertied elite. Instead (according to Curthoys and Markus) they had followed rationally from the material interests of Australian employees.

Curthoys and Markus’s interpretation of events rested upon the assumption that Labor parliamentarians and union officials reliably represented the views and well-being of their constituents, rather than having encouraged parochialism and nurtured atavism out of their own self-interest. As one historian has recently pointed out, ‘no evidence is provided to justify this assertion.’

In its absence, readers were left with Curthoys’s claim that employees were the ‘logical leader of opposition to the Chinese’ since racism ‘enhanced the wage rates of the greater part of the workforce.’

But she likewise offered no empirical or theoretical support for this claim, merely pointing readers to the work on segmented labour markets by Berkeley economist Michael Reich. (In reality, she was relying upon the influential theory of discrimination offered by the Chicago economist Gary Becker, for whom employees find it in their interests to support racist prejudice, while profit-maximizing firms cannot do so, since otherwise they will be driven out of business by low-cost competitors. Reich, on the other hand, had just published a paper called ‘Who Benefits from Racism?’ which reached the opposite conclusion: ‘Capitalists gain and white workers lose.’ He had written as much several years earlier: ‘the economic consequences of racism are not only lower incomes for blacks but also higher incomes for the capitalist class and lower incomes for white workers… where racism is greater, income inequality among whites is also greater… [Racism] is in the economic interests of capitalists and other rich whites and against the economic interests of poor whites and white workers’.)

Many decades later, Curthoys’s ideas about who benefits from imperialism and racism continue to inform her historical work and her recently expressed political attitudes.

They account for her repeated claim (which I mentioned in a post some time ago)  that all ‘non-Indigenous Australians’ are ‘the beneficiaries of the colonisation process’ which devastated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies.

[All] migrants and their descendants, including those of non-Anglo-Celtic background, [have come] to be recognised as colonisers, as part of and benefiting from colonisation with its history of indigenous dispossession.

These ideas are favoured and expressed most relentlessly by members of a particular milieu: those, like Curthoys, with a tribal affiliation to the ALP, the children of union officials and public servants, Stalinists and social democrats.

Their eagerness to implicate others as the beneficiaries of imperialism perhaps stems from a guilty awareness (recalled dimly from childhood catechisms) that the privileges have accrued, in fact, to people like themselves.

In the political education of her youth, Curthoys would have encountered the idea of the ‘labour aristocracy’, a Marxist term applied to the privileged layer of union bureaucrats and labour party officials. In Lenin’s canonical account, the income, social influence and living standards of this stratum were supported by ‘morsels of the loot’ extracted from the direct producers, particularly the super-exploited toilers in colonies and other low-wage countries. Material self-interest then gave rise to this group’s reformist and conservative political outlook, which (thanks to their degree of social influence) contributed to maintaining the prevailing order. Above all this meant their encouragement of racism, xenophobia and allegiance to the flag. The social-democratic leaders of the Second International stood as object lesson and exemplar of this type. The nationalism of the Stalinist parties provided a sad historical echo.

This ideology (i.e. the one expressed in the above image, that all Australians without Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestry are ‘beneficiaries of the colonisation process’) has been promoted by the state elite (most emblematically in Keating’s Redfern speech and in Sorry Day, and in literature and film).

It has become a core proposition of one contending strand in Australian historical thinking: the ‘progressive’ left-liberal version.

The latter is one of the acceptable interpretive options, presented to tyro students and readers on big historical questions, and from which set of alternatives they are invited to choose (the options are exhaustive) based on ideological inclination. It’s the version favoured in bien-pensant organs of opinion, spanning from the ABC and ALP-aligned thinktanks to the ‘radical’ left, and adhered to by all avowedly ‘progressive’ people.

Historian Marilyn Lake, with whom Curthoys recently edited a book on ‘transnational history‘, expressed something like the above notion when describing the formation of Australian ‘national identity’:

Aboriginal people were active in identifying all settlers – whether hut-keepers, clergymen, convicts or military officers – as one people, as ‘white men’, whom they held jointly responsible for taking their land… [The indiscriminate nature of] Aboriginal retaliation and revenge… is explained by the Aboriginal perception that a group of people defined by their ‘whiteness’ had taken their country.

Curthoys’s claim that ‘all migrants and their descendants’ have ‘benefited from colonisation’ serves an obvious social function. It implies that Australian history has been, and contemporary society remains, a zero-sum conflict between various ethnic groups. The fortunes of every member of one group (Indigenous Australians) have varied inversely with the welfare of every member of all other ethnic groups (non-Indigenous Australians): the two parties have contended over relative shares of some fixed pie, with the fruits shared out according to ethnic distinctions rather than any other relevant social category.

The political implication of this argument is dire and reactionary: if A benefits by inflicting some loss on B, then B can only gain or recover the loss at A’s expense, in which case A isn’t a credible ally for any project by B to advance its material interests, for in doing so A would be harming itself. B can only satisfy its wants by breaking with A. In other words, there is no basis for common cause between Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and any other Australian people.

The spread of such beliefs upholds the political exclusivity of groups defined along ethnic (or linguistic, religious etc.) lines, and partitions members of populations who otherwise might act in political concert. Such nationalist thinking channels the frustrations of oppressed groups into political solutions based on ethnic distinctions, a pursuit which benefits only a rent-seeking elite of ‘minority representatives.‘ It justified the CPA’s advice to the Gurindji cattle workers and members of other Aboriginal groups to seek ‘land rights’, a political decision which served the designs of the Australian state elite.

Curthoys has declared she developed this idea (i.e. that all migrants had benefited from colonialism) from reading feminist writers, as well as from the ‘wages of whiteness’ theory of the US historian David Roediger.

I suspect that during the 1970s she would also have encountered the idea of ‘unequal exchange’ from Arghiri Emmanuel and the Latin American dependency theorists. The latter were popular in the Third-Worldist circles of the New Left, and they purported to describe the relations between imperialist countries and underdeveloped economies.

Emmanuel enlarged the category of ‘labour aristocracy’ to include all waged and salaried employees in the advanced economies, all of whom were now considered to share in the spoils of imperialism (via differences in wages relative to labour productivity). Emmanuel suggested that the ‘chief beneficiaries’ of imperialism ‘since the middle of the nineteenth century’ had been ‘labourers and ordinary skilled workers’.

In an exchange with Charles Bettelheim published in Monthly Review, he mocked the ‘delusions of internationalism’ and socialist hopes for worker solidarity: ‘a majority of mankind is suffering from hunger whereas in certain countries the workers are struggling to acquire washing machines.’

[The] antagonism between rich and poor nations is likely to prevail over that between classes…

It is not the conservatism of the leaders that has held back the revolutionary élan of the masses, as has been believed in the Marxist-Leninist camp; it is the slow but steady growth in awareness by the masses that they belong to privileged exploiting nations that has obliged the leaders of their parties to revise their ideologies so as not to lose their clientele…

Today everything suggests that there is more socialism and internationalism in the brains of the intellectuals of the Labour Party, and perhaps more still in those of some bourgeois liberals, than in the feelings and reactions of the British working class.

Emmanuel thus claimed that the ‘imperialism of trade’ gave rise to a ‘de facto united front of the workers and capitalists of the well-to-do countries, directed against the poor nations’.

This wouldn’t have been too alien to someone, like Curthoys, who received a Stalinist education in the early 1960s. At this time the Soviet leadership claimed that ‘national bourgeoisies’ of newly independent countries (represented by Nasser, Nehru, Nkrumah, etc.) were allies of the propertyless classes in the struggle against imperialism.

Support for such thinking (i.e. the Curthoys-Markus theory of Australian racism, and the Curthoys-Lake theory of colonization) is broad. It attracts adherents despite the unwillingness of people like Curthoys to lend empirical backing or persuasive advocacy to what, as a result, becomes a mere ideological edict. Even allowing for the functional purpose it serves for the ruling elite, part of its success derives from a genuine appeal it holds for a fraction of middle-class opinion. Why?

I’ve said elsewhere that guilt is a positional good. Like private consumption choices and leisure activities, expressed political attitudes sometimes involve the signalling of good taste and discernment. What today passes for ‘progressive’ political activity increasingly involves a person’s public declaration of alignment with a cause, or loud expression of opposition to an entity or person (e.g. Andrew Bolt or Pauline Hanson). This has little to do with political principle. Instead it’s about the signalling of correct thoughts, possession of good taste, and status as a Serious Person. Being ‘right-thinking’ requires a costly investment (i.e. of time and effort to learn the group-appropriate ideas and perform the necessary ablutions). It thus works as a kind of screening device that reveals one’s underlying ‘type’, since only certain kinds of people can afford the investment.

Following the death of social democracy, evident in the decline of trade unions and the ALP as mass-membership organizations, the electoral politics of parties like the ALP and Australian Greens (which both now pursue a kind of social liberalism) are increasingly based around appealing to a narcissistic, educated social stratum (skilled professionals, often self-employed or earning partnership income, with control over productive assets and their own labour process).

The members of this layer habitually see the broader population (mere employees) as racist, less sophisticated, vulnerable to demagogy, etc. In contrast to those whose work involves contracting to provide specific labour services (e.g. lawyers, consultants, tradespeople) employees hired by firms surrender decision-making authority and independent direction over their own work process. Within firms, low-level workers are accustomed to submitting diligently to the orders of managers and supervisors, and responding to external rewards and sanctions rather than (as higher-level functionaries must) internalizing the values of the organization and acting out of personal initiative.

These workplace experiences do have an ongoing effect on individual personality development and attitudes.

Long ago, Adam Smith gave expression to this middle class self-regard, describing the mental atrophy induced by ‘the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people’:

[The] understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging…

Many supporters of left-liberal parties accordingly flaunt what they see as their heightened sensitivity (especially their taking on of collective guilt), compared to the boorish masses. It is an article of faith for these people that inter-ethnic hostility arises mostly from competition within the low-skilled, low-wage labour market. (The work of economist David Card suggests otherwise.)

The racist bogan is a fantasized character against which the chattering classes define their own social existence and understand their own political role.

‘Progressive’ left-liberal opinion-makers and figures of cultural authority – in schools, in the mainstream media, etc. – thus insistently tell the population, just as their openly chauvinist and right-wing counterparts do, that internationalism is a ‘delusion’: that anti-immigrant parochialism and race hatred are explained by their rational pursuit of their own interests.

Both versions of ‘legitimate’ opinion promote, delight in and license the spread of racial discord.

‘We are us’: Australian economic nationalism under Hawke and Keating

June 14, 2012

During his time as treasurer and prime minister, Paul Keating, seeking a soothing dietary supplement with which to serve his less palatable economic fare, insisted on the need to forge ‘a new sense of national unity… a common national sentiment… to create a new unity of purpose’.

‘Institutions and symbols’  chiefly the constitution and the national flag  should be adjusted. Doing so would ‘encourage closer identification with the nation’ and create ’a more spirited sense of national goals and purpose.’

In describing the ‘powerful unifying element’ needed to ‘re-cast Australian identity’ and ‘evoke pride in our Australian heritage’, Keating counterposed ‘traditional Labor ideals’  ’egalitarianism’, ‘social justice’, ‘the fair go’  with the ‘forelock-tugging’ of the conservative parties, ‘British to the bootstraps.’

Having flown by troop transporter, accompanied by a military historian, to the Papua New Guinea Highlands, the prime minister, overcome by the solemnity of this ‘sacred ground,’ stooped reverentially to kiss the soil of Canberra’s former colony.

‘[In] accordance with his mission to secure Australia’s interests in the region,’ reflected Keating’s speechwriter, the prime minister was moved to genuflection:

Somewhere on the flight from Moresby to Kokoda, as he talked to David Horner, Keating decided that he should make a gesture which would do justice to these events  an act of some kind which would indelibly mark Kokoda in Australia’s collective memory, as perhaps Gettysburg was marked in the American mind by Lincoln.

Around the prone head of government, a local children’s choir waved flags and chirruped the national anthem of both countries. ‘And no one had a dry eye.’

Keating Kokoda 1992

Such was the electoral formula for the era, adding comforting gestures of civic consensus to more strident policy imperatives.

For Keating and Hawke’s ’new unity of purpose’  in the form of a refounded national ideology  was required to legitimize, distract from and sustain the social and economic changes of the 1980s and 1990s.

The latter involved a crushing re-assertion of the prerogatives of ownership (and the outlook of lenders) over the opposing claims of employees, borrowers and other subordinate classes.

It brought stagnant and declining real wages between 1983 and 1996; sharp redistribution of income in favour of property owners; creation of a vast reserve army of permanent unemployed, elimination of ‘restrictive work practices’, allowing longer hours at higher work intensity, alongside the emergence of sporadic or intermittent short-term employment; lowering of the company tax rate (from 46% in 1983 to 33% in 1996) and flattening of the personal tax scale; privatization of state assets including Qantas, Telecom and public utilities; removal of various banking restrictions; assignment of new decision-making powers over large pools of assets to union bureaucrats and Indigenous ‘representatives’; restrictions on eligibility to previously universal welfare entitlements through means testing; opening of capital markets; designation of price stability as the supreme goal of monetary policy; and rapid destruction of local steel production, car-making, heavy engineering and clothing, textiles and footwear manufacturing, etc.

To accomplish all this, Hawke and Keating  and others manning the levers of mass psychology and attitude manipulation  insistently invoked the first-person plural pronouns  the national ‘we’ and ‘us’  and affirmed the existence of a collective ‘national identity’.

In 1988, Hawke spoke before the National Press Club in Canberra:

As a nation  and as a Government  we have had to make hard choices. And there are hard choices and hard decisions to come. Because of world events, we have had to look very critically at the way ahead – what we are doing as a nation, where we are going as a nation…

The role of the union movement  the willingness of workers to create jobs through sustained wage restraint, an unprecedented attack on outmoded work and management practices, including under the auspices of the current two-tier wages system, and reduced  industrial disputation, has been indispensable…

But the task is far from complete  indeed given our rapidly changing world, and especially the massive changes in prospect among the giants of our region such as China and Japan, that task will never be complete. The reality is that our prosperity will not be handed us on a platter. We will have to match and better the productivity, the product quality, the creativity and the entrepreneurial flair of the world’s best across all sections of the economy, even those not directly engaged in trade.

Thus went the hypnotic mantra, aiming to secure popular adherence to policies (the ALP’s ‘competitiveness agenda’) that imposed hardship on most of the Australian population for the sake of benefits enjoyed by a few.

The false image of a unified domestic entity (‘the nation’), engaged in a shared project in pursuit of ‘our’ common objectives, was presented to obscure the class-specific goals and unequal sectional impacts of those policies.

‘I see policy’, said Keating, ‘as a process of national reinvigoration and reinvention. I see it as a process of national character building.’

He went on helpfully to explain that ‘conflict in the workplace is not a quintessentially Australian way of operating.’

This ideology of economic nationalism (the political base of which was found among trade union officials like Laurie Carmichael) had long been the means by which class objectives, laid out by the policy elite, were repackaged as ‘the national interest’, and through which the state’s pursuit of those objectives secured popular allegiance.

The task of formulating it traditionally fell to ‘radical’ or social-democratic intellectuals and its designated electoral lure was the ALP.

From the mid-1960s, an influx of US, British and Japanese capital, fleeing a global downturn in profitability, had rushed into the local mining industry.

In the early 1970s, state managers sought to create room for struggling Australian-owned firms to switch their capital into this profitable sector. Jack McEwen’s ‘buy back the farm’ slogan was used when the McMahon government imposed restrictions on foreign investment and the Whitlam government required 50% local equity in mining projects.

During this period, left-nationalist economists like Ted Wheelwright and Brian Fitzpatrick, along with various Stalinist groups, especially the CPA (M-L), presented Australia as a ‘dependency’ or ‘client state’ of transnational corporations, a branch office whose ‘comprador’ elite (Kosmas Tsokhas) was controlled from New York, London and Tokyo.

Parochialism of this sort  which described an ‘Australia ripped off’ (Carmichael) by foreign-owned firms  assisted domestically-owned firms like BHP, the ‘Big Australian’, to move into mining.

In 1981 a CSR executive declared to a business paper: ‘We quite cold-bloodedly used the rising Australian economic nationalism and the beginning of the resentment against multinationals.’

The economic nationalism of the 1980s was rather different, though any novelty might have been difficult to perceive at the time.

In 1975 Wheelwright had sat alongside ACTU President Bob Hawke on the Jackson Committee of Inquiry into the Australian manufacturing industry. Several of the guiding principles and policy recommendations developed there would subsequently form part of the ALP-ACTU Prices and Incomes Accord under Hawke’s party leadership. And the weakness of the Australian manufacturing sector, a key complaint during the 1970s from the Stalinist AMWU official Carmichael and the ‘dependency’ economists, would eventually be a key pretext for the ‘reforms’ of the 1980s.

But in other respects the form of nationalism encouraged under Hawke and Keating was something quite new.

Industrial capitalism had always depended on the national state to provide its own conditions of existence: creation of a national workforce through mass education, unification of the domestic market through provision of public goods like transport networks (roads and railways), and through abolition of internal tariffs, enforcement of private-property rights via centralized bureaucratic rule over a contiguous territory and maintenance of a standing army, etc. These also provided the material foundation for nationalist ideology, by which members of a population came to see themselves as members of a single nation with a shared fate, and to believe that their common interests were tied to the economic (and inevitably military) needs of the domestic state.

The particular state-supporting Australian nationalism that emerged full-blown during the 1980s corresponded to the state’s new role, as decreed by elite policymakers: to facilitate the adjustment of private firms to global competition by reducing wage costs and raising the amount of labour effort extracted per given hour of paid work (‘productivity’).

In the 1980s, the national watchword was ‘international competitiveness’: global and regional integration called for ‘Australia’ to accommodate itself to the discipline of the world market.

‘National consensus’, courtesy of ‘a very enlightened central leadership in the union movement’, formed around ‘a principle of keeping wage movements competitive with our trading partners.’

This new imperative emerged slowly following the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s, when Australian firms were increasingly able to borrow funds in offshore capital markets.

From the 1980s onwards, compulsory subscription to funded pension schemes (‘defined contribution’ superannuation) channelled local funds into financial markets. The increased liquidity allowed sustained inflation of domestic stock prices. Following the removal of foreign-exchange controls on cross-border capital movements, there then ensued large inflows of portfolio investment, mostly from Britain and the US, in pursuit of the speculative gains promised by these rising asset prices.

These private financial inflows, rather than direct investment and rather than the few instances in which Australian-based firms purchased productive assets abroad or undertook transnational operations, were the means by which Australian capital was ‘globalized’, and through which it became necessary for domestic firms (and a fortiori their employees) to obey ‘international benchmarks’.

The latter requirement, in turn, necessitated a shift in the relative size and role of various departments, branches and agencies of the Australia state.

There was hypertrophy of those governmental arms (Treasury, Finance, the Reserve Bank, etc.) responsible for inflation targeting and wage repression; and a withering of welfare or service agencies, in order to reduce non-wage sources of income and thereby reduce the bargaining power of employees.

As the state acquired a new shape, so did the national ideology by which popular allegiance to the state was secured.

Hawke gave a ‘major statement about what we must do together to meet the economic challenges facing this country’:

Today I want to speak to my fellow Australians, not in the jargon of economists, but in terms we can all understand…

Government has the responsibility to lead the community by getting the right policy framework – we will do that. But it is only with the understanding, the commitment of all Australians – as individuals and through their representative organizations – that our nation will meet the challenges ahead. What are those challenges? The first is for us to realize that this tough, increasingly competitive world of five-and-a-half billion people does not owe, and will not give, seventeen million Australians an easy prosperity. The days of our being able to hitch a ride in a world clamouring, and prepared to pay high prices, for our rural and mineral products, are behind us. From this fact flows everything else.

The challenge for the foreseeable future is to produce more than we spend. The rest of the world will not allow us to continue indefinitely to live beyond our means by borrowing from them. Our rural and mineral products will remain important into the future. But the challenge is to add to them. That is, we must export more manufactured goods and services and substitute more quality Australian production for imports.

Thus ‘adaptation to the changing world economy’ demanded ‘change in our national habits and attitudes and way of thinking about things and our way of doing things.’

This raised what were ‘fundamentally questions of national confidence: could Australia survive, compete and prosper in this rapidly changing world?’

Australia had reached a fork in the road: down one track lay great challenges, coupled with the prospect of renewed vigour in our economy; down the other, an apparently easier ride, but one that would have seen a permanent fall in living standards, not only relative to our traditional standards of comparison in Europe, but relative to our rapidly growing neighbours in Asia.

An ‘Australia with a modern, diversified, competitive and export-oriented economy, an Australia vigorously engaged with the world economy and enmeshed in particular with the dynamism of Asia and the Pacific’ needed ‘the industrial wing of our great [labour] movement’ to bear ‘the pain and the difficulty, to further the fundamental objectives, both of the party and of the nation.’

This required ‘a root-and-branch re-examination of many long-standing features of our national life and of the assumptions underpinning them’. It involved ‘dismantling some of our most cherished orthodoxies… deeply embedded in the very psyche of the nation.’

In particular ‘we confront the prospect of perhaps the greatest changes in our wages system we have seen. The sharply increased emphasis on workplace bargaining against demonstrated productivity benchmarks will fundamentally alter industrial relations in Australia.’ Pleasingly, ‘in reforming awards to make them relevant to contemporary industrial conditions the union movement has been in the vanguard.’

There was also the matter of ‘anachronisms in many areas of public ownership.’

This state-sponsored project of renovating national ideology required that scholarly and published history, too, must adjust (I’ll explore this more in the post to follow this one).

Hawke, who was to that point the most uncompromisingly pro-Zionist and Washington-aligned leader in ALP history, suggested that ‘changes which have occurred in our attitudes to our history, our culture, and our relations with the rest of the world, especially with the peoples of our own region… may be said to have begun with the fall of Singapore in 1942.’

Canberra’s strategic turn from London to Washington had initiated a ‘process of deepening our sense of national identity, national responsibility and national maturity. We have altered the focus on our past. With that new focus on the past, has come a reassessment of the past.’

Hawke made this remark about Singapore in the same year that popular historian David Day published his book The Great Betrayal: Britain, Australia and the Onset of the Pacific War 1939-1942. This commercially successful work, promoted by Keating and inventing a spurious ‘Battle for Australia’, portrayed Menzies as the credulous sycophant to a perfidious Whitehall.

Day’s was the latest in a genre of anti-British pro-Curtin Irish-Catholic republican histories, officially favoured by the ALP ever since Manning Clark described the struggle waged between the ‘old dead tree and the young tree green’.

Established via a concerted elite project, this vision of ‘the nation’ as a collective personality (with its own common destiny, moral qualities, etc.) would form part of the repertoire and lexicon of ‘progressive’ politics in Australia during subsequent decades.

The nationalist ‘we’, apparently delineated on the basis of ethnic ancestry, was the subject of Keating’s celebrated Redfern speech (‘…it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters’). This speech was written by the biographer of Brian Fitzpatrick, the left-nationalist historian.

William Deane, the former High Court justice and Governor General appointed by Keating, declared that the criminal horrors of Australian colonialism were ‘properly to be seen as acts of the nation itself’.

The nation was thus presented as a kind of supra-individual agent, capable of undertaking actions and of possessing beliefs and attitudes.

Predictably, with the onset of a deep and protracted recession in 1990, the elite project to assert Australian national identity assumed a more sinister form.

The government and its media conduits had spent years instructing members of the population that their interests were tied to those of Australia, a collective entity (‘us’) engaged in a competitive struggle with other nations: a game with winners and losers. The frustration and disappointment accumulated throughout those years of reduced life chances – of income, working conditions, job security and basic services sacrificed in the name of the ‘national interest’ – was readily displaced into racist chauvinism and scapegoating.

Were not ‘our’ jobs being taken by ‘them’? Were not outsiders receiving welfare payments to which only insiders were properly entitled? (In the 5 years before the recession, net inward migration had risen sharply, though it had plummeted from 1989 to historically low levels.)

Refugees and various ethnic groups became a useful diversion from the unfolding social misery.

(Keating’s Working Nation policy package, released in 1994 after the number of unemployed people had reached over 1 million, contained various ‘mutual obligation’ and workfare measures that prepared the ground for the Howard government’s work-for-the-dole scheme and privatization of the Commonwealth employment agency. Drafted with the participation of Carmichael, now chair of the Employment and Skills Formation Council, Working Nation‘s Job Compact pushed long-term unemployed people into training programs and subsidized private employment for which they received below-award ‘Training Wages’.)

In 1992, Keating’s Immigration minister Gerry Hand (Hawke’s former minister for Aboriginal Affairs) introduced mandatory incarceration of ‘boat people’.

A former AMWU officer, Labor senator Jim McKiernan, spoke of the country being ‘inundated’: ‘boats filled with people’ would soon ‘land on our shores by the score.’ Said Hand, as he introduced the legislation to Parliament: ‘The Government is conscious of the extraordinary nature of the measures which will be implemented by the amendment aimed at boat people. I believe it is crucial that all persons who come to Australia without prior authorisation not be released into the community.’

The federal government publicized workplace raids and subsequent deportation of ‘illegal immigrants’. Public-opinion survey responses showed a dramatic rise in negative attitudes towards immigration during the early 1990s.

The following years produced the sudden rise to media attention and electoral prominence of a vicious and openly racist brand of nationalism, advanced by Pauline Hanson. She spoke at the launch of her One Nation Party:

We, all of us here tonight, and millions of people across Australia can celebrate, at last there is the chance for change…

The chance to stand against those who have betrayed our country, and would destroy our identity by forcing upon us the cultures of others.

The chance to turn this country around, revitalise our industry, restore our ANZAC spirit and our national pride, and provide employment for all Australians who have given a fair break would seize the opportunity for a better way of life, for themselves, and for their families.

The chance to make sure the Australia we have known, loved and fought to preserve will be inherited intact, by our children, and the generations that follow them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, chances are fleeting, they must be held tightly, and so tonight more than celebration, is a time for resolve, for if we fail, all our fears will be realised, and we will lose our country forever, and be strangers in our own land.

As it stands, the future is one where the majority of Australians will become second class citizens in their own country, under a government who panders to minority interests and denies the majority their right of decision…

We can win, we can make the difference, we can be the best place, but we must learn the lessons of the mistakes made by so many other countries.

We must stop our government repeating these mistakes, before we become like all the other places everyone wants to leave.

We cannot continue pursuing the failures of multiculturalism.

We cannot just give away what we all know to be so valuable.

If you want to live here permanently, you must want to be an Australian.

We must stand together to make these changes, or eventually be dragged down by the conspiracy of divisiveness that has been encouraged by our governments, and let loose upon the people of Australia without their permission.

Australians can no longer afford the luxury of apathy.

We must stand up.

We must all pull together.

We must win this battle, or lose the war.

After the political establishment had made use of Hanson, who provided cover under which ‘moderate’ politics shifted drastically to the right, she was removed from the scene through a legal stitch-up orchestrated by senior government figures.

Her invocation of ethnicity as the basis for ‘national identity’ was described as something sui generis, contrary to all that had gone before it (or, at least, and as she thought, wholly opposed to the nationalism of the recent ALP governments).

But the insipid rhetoric of the above speech plainly borrowed both tone and substance from more exalted, and very proximate, sources.

Hawke, Keating, and the respectable figures of Australia’s ‘progressive’ political elite had spent the previous decade and more drumming into heads the idea of a collective entity called ‘Australia’, and the categorical distinctiveness of ‘Australians’, who were said to be engaged together in a competition with the rest of the world. In this battle (loss of which threatened a ‘permanent fall in living standards’) Australians were said to share a common ‘unity of purpose’.

Whether membership in this national group was defined by ethnic origin or cultural ‘values’ or degree of workplace pliancy (in truth Keating used each of these criteria at various times) was therefore relatively unimportant.

For the deliberate purpose of ‘encouraging a closer identification with the nation’ was to nurture parochialism: to bind the vast majority of the population ideologically to the goals of a ruling elite with which they shared no common cause, and to divide them from the billions throughout the rest of the world, with whom their interests, should they have come to know them, were aligned.

Australian native title in context: incorporated group-based property in the SW Pacific

May 14, 2012

In the 1960s, ‘Papua New Guinea came out of the bottom drawer of Australian politics’, according to the memoirs of the colony’s final administrator, Les Johnson.

Relinquishing the South Pacific territory  while preserving a legacy of favourable arrangements following departure  would demand more ingenuity from Australian officials than had direct rule.

The latter’s basic machinery and institutions had, after all, been inherited readymade from Canberra’s British and German predecessors.

London donated Papua, as a federation gift, to the new White Dominion in 1902; New Guinea was seized as war booty in September 1914, with an Australian Mandate granted later at Versailles.

Thereafter, besides fusing the administration of Papua and New Guinea in preparation for the Pacific War, few renovations were made while Port Moresby lay beneath Australia’s ‘warm, protective mantle’.

WM Hughes 1939 New Guinea

Manus Island RAN

The colonial clinch was prolonged obstinately until the 1960s.

Yet, after Indonesian and Malaysian communism had been safely decimated in 1966 Paul Hasluck sped to Jakarta to congratulate the new leadership  Canberra’s divestment of its largest Pacific possession followed swiftly.

The Dutch experience in western New Guinea doubtless taught its lesson. The Hague’s ponderous moves towards West Papuan independence, prolonged beyond toleration, had eventually been dealt a humiliating comeuppance. By 1962 the Kennedy Administration in Washington, wary of Asian anti-colonialism giving way to communism and Soviet aid, granted its blessing to Jakarta’s brisk annexation of the territory.

No such mistake would be repeated by the Australian government in the island’s eastern half. Yet Papua New Guinea was comparatively free of internal and external pressures, and Canberra could proceed towards self-rule with whatever haste or leisure it judged fit.

At the same time as this final colonial lap was taken, revision of protocols for rule over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians also became a matter of (hitherto unknown) official urgency.

Each matter, when publicly ventilated, was draped in the lofty garb of self-determination and respect for customary practices.

Yet how to proceed, when Australian rule had in neither case prepared an educated elite, a cadre of lawyers and bureaucrats imbued with a sense of decorum and respect for property rights, to whom administrative powers could safely be passed, as elsewhere?

By the late 1960s a common solution, capable of general application, was settled upon.

Such coincidence of timing, and resemblance of outcome, were not due to happenstance.

Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders 1967

Colonial administration of Canberra’s Pacific possessions, entrusted to the Department for Territories, thereby shared personnel (bureaucratic and ministerial), policy formation, institutions, recruitment and training with rule over the home territories.

This shared apparatus naturally contributed to a commonality of outlook and ideas. Officials and government anthropologists, trained in Sydney and Canberra for field service, shuttled between the Native Affairs branch of the Northern Territory Administration, and its counterpart across the Torres Strait.

Elite policy prescriptions for Darwin, Alice Springs and the Kimberley were prone to resemble those for Port Moresby, Bougainville and Nauru. (Civil administration in both Papua New Guinea and the Northern Territory had been suspended and replaced with direct military rule in 1942.)

Under the terms of a 1944 Canberra-Auckland agreement, postwar regional coordination  involving gradual decolonization of the vast archipelagic band that during wartime had fallen within the South West Pacific Command — was ushered via the tutelage of the South Pacific Commission.

Made up of European colonial powers and their US overlord, within this body Canberra played the dominant role.

W.E.H. Stanner, later a senior figure in the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, expressed hope that the South Pacific Commission ‘should bring the machinery of administration to the Pacific right up into the vanguard of progressive colonial policy.’

Evatt South Pacific Commission 1947

Property rights governing land in Papua New Guinea were thus codified during the 1960s and 1970s, in the waning years of Australian colonial administration.

The spread of mining and commercial coffee, cocoa and copra plantations had raised the price of land, especially in the highlands.

This made the demarcation of boundaries, and the apportionment to various parties of exclusive ownership rights, a high-stakes practice.

John Gorton PNG

PNG Public Order Ordinance 1970

PNG 1971 - Gazelle Peninsula

The existing informal system of adjudication, developed before the the novel institutions of capitalism had arrived, was deemed inadequate to the task. A formal system of land registration and administration was accordingly developed.

In preparation for Independence, the primary aim was to secure (against the risk of expropriation) freehold title and leases held by mining firms, commercial plantations, wealthy individuals and missions.

Bougainville land seizure

PNG plantations 1973

Bouganville copper 1974

Of secondary concern was the vast stock of rural land, unalienated and not claimed by the Crown, occupied by low-yield subsistence tillers, who made up the overwhelming majority (>85%) of the population.

Colonial officials at first drew on the experience and advice of British land reformers in Kenya.

During the 1950s, in the decade before their departure, British authorities there had begun a countrywide effort to register private land titles, assign fee-simple property rights over consolidated plots, and promote cash-crop and plantation agriculture.

Just as in Kenya, however, the local PNG elite  about to assume political control and eager to consolidate the postcolonial social order — was not willing or able, as its inaugural act, to take up the enormous task of detaching smallholders from their farmland.

Rapid creation of a ‘class of landless people’, noted PNG’s Constitution Planning Committee, was likely to promote unwanted difficulties.

Among other things, low-productivity village farming set a very low floor (reservation price) for the wages of mining employees. Large-scale displacement of rural cultivators would have raised the cost to firms of hiring labour.

And it would have propelled much of the population into urban areas which, offering their residents few jobs or amenities, were already sites of social unrest.

PNG Public Order Ordinance

Port Moresby 1973

The Land (Tenure Conversion) Act of 1964, aiming to grant freehold title to individuals, was therefore something of a dead letter. Johnson complained of ‘refusal to face up to decisions about land holding’:

We gave up and withdrew the Bills hoping that they might be re-introduced later, but mentally listing them as a problem for an independent government.

By the late 1960s, however, Australian policymakers developed alternative plans for vesting ownership of land and businesses in clan-based groups.

The latter were to be granted corporate legal status in order to secure title to property and ease conveyancing (sale, purchase, lease) between parties.

Disputes over land boundaries or title would be resolved through informal mediation by local courts.

In 1969 the Australian Joe Lynch, colonial parliamentary draftsman and chief author of the PNG constitution, gave voice to this position. Declaring ‘the undesirability of unnecessarily interfering with custom by forcing it into an artificial legal framework’, his terms were familiar from the annals of indirect rule:

The theme of the whole paper is simply that for too long we have all acted on the theory that indigenous forms of organization are not apt for “Westernized” economic development and that the latter must wait on a long period of “Westernizing” economic education. In my view, it is high time that we asked “Why not?” and tried to find remedies for specific deficiencies in the indigenous system. It is hoped that this paper may furnish a starting-point at least in the field of statutory requirements.

Under such a system, he noted, mining and forestry operations could proceed ‘in safety.’

The 1973 Commission on Inquiry into Land Matters provided legal mechanisms, and popular legitimacy, for this course.

Established under Chief Minister Michael Somare, the Commission was made up of Papua New Guinean members assisted by Australian advisers (along with the influential New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based historian Alan Ward). Its stated purpose was to promote ‘an evolution from a customary base; not a sweeping agrarian revolution; collective and individualistic extremes should be avoided.’

There policymakers, Australian and Papua New Guinean, followed the example of Fiji’s Native Land Ordinance, which had been enacted during the late nineteenth century under the colonial administration of the liberal Governor Arthur Gordon.

Under that arrangement (still in place today), property rights in land were assigned to mataqalis, or local clan groups of ethnic Fijians.

Contrived by Gordon with the help of a Fijian Council of Chiefs, this version of ‘indirect rule’ upheld political stability of the colonial and postcolonial social order. It increased the authority of the mataqali chiefs who (in the colonial period) collected taxes in kind and supervised the labour process of agrarian producers; now (in the present day) these figures oversee the disbursement of rents obtained from leases through the Native Land Trust Board.

During the 1960s and 1970s a related system was adopted in PNG.

As early as the late nineteenth century, the colonial administration of William MacGregor, a protégé of Gordon’s in Fiji, had attempted to ‘set up a system of indirect rule in British New Guinea’:

Endeavours have been made to strengthen the position of a number of leading men in certain tribes, so as to increase their authority and to put on them some responsibility towards the Government. A certain amount of progress has been made, but great patience is required, and it will be long before the position of any chief is sufficiently strong and authoritative to make him an efficient government officer.

Under MacGregor’s imperial successors, the luluai system allowed local notables to appropriate 10 percent of the rent extracted from villagers. Canberra had declined, however, to nurture an educated local elite to fill the colonial bureaucracy. ‘I am quite opposed to the development of a Papuan intelligentsia,’ declared the proconsul Hubert Murray in 1937.

In 1974, newly independent Fiji again provided the template for Port Moresby.

Following the Commission’s recommendation, groups  in which membership was defined by lineal descent, language or residence in a bounded territorial domain  were granted recognition as legal entities (Incorporated Land Groups).

Title to ‘customary’ land was vested in these bodies. The resulting corporate entity held exclusive rights of access and use, exercised decision-making authority, and received royalties and other payments. It could enter into contracts, sue and be sued, etc.

Through membership of an Incorporated Land Group (ILG), a large part of the PNG population retained direct non-market access to its means of livelihood (household farming plots and other tangible resources).

But, because an individual exercised this right (i.e. retained possession) by virtue of kinship or clan identity, parochial forms of allegiance were encouraged. According to Dan Jorgensen, recognition of landowning clans ‘tacitly endorse[d] the creation of politicised identities and attendant drawing of factional lines.’

This in turn led to a renewed deference and loyalty towards sources of traditional authority which had so recently seemed threatened by an intruding market economy. Inter-tribal warfare in the highlands provinces, now conducted using assault rifles and involving the razing of schools, increased dramatically during the 1970s, prompting the creation of a government commission during the mid-1970s.

To manage disputes over land ownership, a decentralized village-based judicial apparatus was erected, increasing the despotic power of ambitious big men and hereditary ‘chiefs‘. To such prominent and high-status figures was delegated the exercise of control rights (i.e. decision-making authority) over the land.

Farmers, entitled to access and usufruct, provided for their own subsistence and earned meagre cash incomes from marketing the remaining produce. Meanwhile ILG office bearers (who negotiated leases and other transactions with outside parties, such as mining and energy firms, fund managers and lawyers, and received and disbursed royalties and dividend payments) could receive annual incomes of 30 000 kina (A$15 000), many times the average national income.

Such offices have consequently become the object of tawdry power struggles and accusations of misappropriated funds. The signed consent granted by ‘community landowners’ to the Porgera gold mine was provided by just three men.

Case studies published by AusAID in 2007 found that ‘while more than 10,000 ILGs had been incorporated, the great majority were purely vehicles for entering into resource-extraction arrangements  in particular, for forestry, mining and petroleum’:

[The Land Rights Incorporation] Act became a convenient way for resource companies to fulfil their legal obligations to negotiate access to customary lands, and pay royalties to the landowners. The Act was rarely used as a property management system, and ILGs were reduced to “a conduit for receipt of cash”… As a result, many ILGs were reduced to passive rent collectors.

According to ANU economist Ron Duncan, these bodies, ‘set up to manage the revenues flowing to customary landowners from logging and mining activities, seem to have benefited only the people in charge.’

Around the time the Australian policymaking elite helped to build this institutional framework, it created something very similar at home.

Following the bipartisan decision to grant indigenous ‘land rights’ in Australia, bodies corporate, called land trusts or councils, were created to serve as trustees or agents for customary landowners. The communal title held by the latter was granted on the basis of group membership, defined through kinship, language, and residence or ties to a specific territory.

PNG’s Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters had sat around the same time (1973) as Australia’s Woodward Royal Commission into Aboriginal land questions (1974), and the former’s statutory outcome  the Land Groups Incorporation Act (1974)  shortly preceded the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 1976.

Throughout most of the postwar period, elite policy formation on the two issues had been tightly connected, as under the Menzies, Holt and Gorton governments the commonwealth departments of External Affairs and Territories were overseen by the same minister (Paul Hasluck followed by C.E.B. Barnes).

Policy intellectuals, civil servants and politicians such as H.C. Coombs, W.E.H. Stanner and Kim Beazley moved smoothly between prescriptions for the Pacific and for the Northern Territory.

Stanner, a veteran of the British Colonial Office in East Africa, was drawn into the Australian army’s policymaking unit for the South Pacific colonies during the Second World War.

During these years he became a confidante of several conservative politicians, and in 1953 Stanner was seconded by the Menzies government to the South Pacific Commission.

In The South Sea Islands in Transition (1953), funded by the Institute for Pacific Relation, he decried the colonial policy of the postwar Labor Government, for its ‘exaggerated emphasis on native welfare and development to the neglect of other legitimate interests.’

In the late 1950s, having finally secured an academic chair at ANU, Stanner would focus on Aboriginal studies.  This eventually brought a return to Commonwealth service, with his appointment by Holt to the new Council for Aboriginal Affairs under Coombes.

From the 1950s, Australian state managers sought to facilitate resource extraction by mining firms on Commonwealth Aboriginal Reserves and Crown land occupied largely by Indigenous people. (These and other commercial operations had hitherto been prohibited under the ‘protection’ regime.)

Hasluck 1952

At the same time they paid obeisance to the welfare needs of the resident populations, members of which often lacked adequate clean water, sanitation, infrastructure and public service supplies, and who accordingly suffered very high disease incidence, infant and maternal mortality, low life expectancy, etc.

Thus the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Fund was created to receive royalties and make beneficial payments on behalf of residents of mining areas. As Minister for Territories, Hasluck was ‘the architect of linking indigenous property rights in land (then reserves) to income generated by that land.’

Hasluck 1963 bauxite trust fund

By the mid-1960s policymakers hit upon the idea of endowing property rights which would allow their holders to exercise a limited set of administrative powers. The form of title, however, ensured the Crown would retain all subsurface mineral ownership, and the land otherwise had little commercial value or stock of tangible assets.

Hasluck 1970

Wentworth 1969

Gove peninsula - brick factory and bauxite mine

McMahon 1972

Woodward 1974 Commission

Conferring incorporated entities with these ownership rights granted a stake in proceedings to a narrow stratum of ‘Indigenous representatives’ at the head of those bodies. Senior figures were assigned a measure of managerial autonomy. This included the right to negotiate, on behalf of the ‘community’, ‘informed consent’ deals with mining companies, to grant licences and commercial lease agreements (e.g. Indigenous Land Use Agreements and Native Title Agreements), and thus to strike rent-sharing contracts.

The latter channelled into trust funds a portion of revenue from mining operations. A large share of these payments (>40%) were allocated to administrative expenses (consultants, legal advice, operational budgets, etc.) which the organizations could be expected rationally to have maximized.

In 2010-11, for example, the Northern Land Council received a royalty-equivalent payment of $28 million from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) to cover administrative costs, and $9 million from the ABA for onward distribution to royalty associations. That financial year the Northern Land Council spent $2 million on consultants and $3.3 million on travel expenses. The Chief Executive Officer received total remuneration (including salary, spending allowance and performance bonus) of $172 000. The five other senior executives each received salaries of $126 000.

By accommodating the aspirations of ‘Indigenous leaders’ within the prevailing order (and by encouraging those individuals to seek advancement by virtue of their ethnic identity), state managers forestalled the prospect of social instability arising from political radicalization across ethnic and group boundaries.

Woodward’s original letters patent had directed him towards the ‘promotion of social harmony and stability within the wider Australian community by removing so far as possible, the legitimate cause of complaint of an important minority group within that community.’

While the common origin and simultaneous development of the Australian and PNG property regimes is rarely emphasized, their institutional resemblance has been noted.

Lately it has assumed particular prominence thanks to a growing chorus advocating the conversion of native title holdings into (or their extinguishment by) full private property.

This call has increasingly been issued by representatives of the Centre for Independent Studies, the Murdoch press, the Cape York Institute, former ALP president Warren Mundine, and other members of the former National Indigenous Council. The Commonwealth government’s ‘aggressive land tenure reform agenda’ (Kevin Rudd) lies behind its compulsory acquisition of land in the ongoing Northern Territory Emergency Response, and the moves to promote and enable Indigenous home ownership.

Participants in this ideological enterprise, especially the ANU economist Helen Hughes, have also directed fire at the customary property regime of Papua New Guinea.

In familiar arguments (which I noted in a recent post discussing agrarian property rights in sub-Saharan Africa), Hughes claims that productivity-raising investment in PNG agriculture is limited under the prevailing institutions of informal common property. These existing rules prohibit the transfer of land ownership to its most efficient user, prevent any agent from excluding other agents from capturing as private benefits the rewards to his or her private effort, and provide insecure tenure under which land can’t serve as collateral for borrowing.

Calls to displace customary property in PNG have sounded ever since reforms to land tenure were attached as a loan conditionality by the World Bank in 1995. (This led to riots which were repeated in 2001.) AusAID has devoted funds to this cause through its Pacific Land Mobilisation Program.

The project has advanced considerably via the National Land Development Program, launched by the Somare government in 2007. A ‘taskforce’ associated with this Program held a summit which issued the following declaration: ‘The dismal land policy that held sway in Papua New Guinea’s first thirty-four years of independence will soon be history.’ (The Aboriginal Australian lawyer Mick Dodson contributed to this summit, noting the simultaneous progression, in Australia, of a ‘debate concerning wealth creation on communally owned indigenous land.’)

In 2009 legislation was passed unanimously through the PNG national legislature, allowing Incorporated Land Groups to ‘deposit’ their property rights in a ‘central registry’, whence ‘productive land users… either from within or without the landowning social unit, access and utilise the land productively. In return, members of the customary landowning social unit derive incomes from availing their land.’

Thus group-based corporate property has been used as a stepping stone towards full privatization of land resources, and as a means of enrichment by functionaries holding elevated positions within the ILG hierarchy.

In Papua New Guinea there is open and trenchant criticism of the institution.

In a 2010 public event, the chief bureaucrat in the Department of Justice, Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, described how trustees of customary property colluded with logging firms and Land Department officials: ‘Officers and certain rogue landowners are colluding and conniving with each other to sell off customary land for their own benefit and interest while the majority of landowners are left out.’

In 2004, an official in the Department of Petroleum, Samuel Koyama (now employed as a advisor by ExxonMobil), published a paper which described how such behaviour was due not to the presence of a few rogues or bad apples, but arose inevitably from the principal-agent problems involved in incorporated entities whose senior officers are granted control rights over its ‘community’ assets.

In Australia, on the other hand, no such serious discussion of the policy goals of state managers with respect to Indigenous land rights and native title is ever undertaken.

There is little critical understanding of the property structure involved, and nobody mentions the obvious agency problems created by institutions such as land trusts and councils.

In the historical accounts allowed, via education and media, to impinge on popular consciousness, the Australian state’s recognition and enforcement of Indigenous ownership rights is supposed to have been compelled by the activism of pressure groups.

There is no acknowledgement that the ruling elite had independently formulated its own strategic objectives, and that ‘community trusteeship’ was initially a bipartisan elite project favoured by Cabinet ministers and high-level civil servants of all stripes.

Instead, ‘land rights’ and later native title are supposed to have resulted from moral suasion, the ‘threat point’ of embarrassment before the United Nations, and appeals to the better nature of the Australian judiciary and political class  alongside the latter’s gradual enlightenment and maturation with regard to racial questions.

All along, it is said, the common law held a place for Indigenous customary rights and the property title of traditional owners  though for 200 years this acknowledgement was stubbornly denied due to prejudice. Recognition and enforcement of these rights was sure to come eventually: it simply awaited the efforts of activists and the evaporation of wilful blindness.

With this origin myth surrounding the policy framework of land rights and native title, its social and political implications rarely receive adequate description or analysis.

Treatment of the subject by a conventional economist identifies what is at stake rather more clearly than does the standard legal exposition. But each version is narrowly focused and, in its own way, takes an apologetic view.

A group of right-wing economists, aligned with the Institute of Public Affairs think-tank, did attempt to analyze the High Court’s recognition of native title using the ‘law and economics’ theories of Richard Posner, for which evolution of the common law is supposed to promote efficiency (i.e. increase profits). They tested this hypothesis using the response of equity prices to judicial decisions and statutes extending Indigenous title. Having received inconclusive results, they declared themselves analytically defeated.

On the other hand, among ‘progressive’ left-liberal commentators, scholars and activists there is little concern or thought for questions about property relations. There is, however, much nostalgic Schwärmerei for the Whitlam and Keating ALP governments, and accordingly little critical understanding of policies implemented under those administrations.

The unquestioningly favourable opinion of progressives towards Indigenous land rights and native title is encouraged by the emergence, since the 1990s, of declarations of opposition to the policy made by conservative political parties and figureheads. The latter groups have led advocacy of a transition towards fuller private property.

The interpretative infirmity of left-liberals is compounded when, under the sway of nationalism and identity politics, such circles implicitly deny the existence of social or class divisions between members of the same ‘race’ (or, from the opposite direction, reject the idea that a commonality of interest unites members of a single class from different ethnic backgrounds).

What then are some implications of Australian native title and land rights?

Firstly, the recognition of group-based corporate land rights has very different consequences for ‘traditional owners’ in Australia from those in southwest Pacific countries. Legal ownership and economic ownership are not coextensive.

In the Melanesian case, untitled ‘customary’ property and registered land functions as a productive asset to which some ordinary people (direct producers) genuinely retain use rights. Possession of land (if not exclusive dominion) allows them to satisfy basic needs, undertake sustenance-drawing activities and secure personal livelihoods. Land serves as a subsistence base for producing food and other material goods, and as a source of cash income.

In Australia, on the other hand, most of those who hold land rights or native title are nonetheless reliant for their livelihoods on earning wage or salary incomes, on market exchange or on welfare provision or government subvention. Land for these people isn’t a productive asset contributing to their reproduction or subsistence; though it may be used to undertake hunting or fishing, these are mostly ceremonial or leisure practices.

What then of those individuals holding executive and administrative positions in trusts and other incorporated bodies? Together with consultants, lawyers, etc. (payment to whom makes up much of the administrative expenses of those entities), the remuneration of these people may be said to include extractive income or rent linked to property ownership. Their positions and social status derive entirely from enforcement of ownership claims.

In both the Australian and Melanesian cases, the incorporated entities (Land Groups and Land Councils or Land Trusts) hold property as agents or trustees of the customary owner (‘the community’). As with other forms of corporate property, whether a person has control rights (i.e. may exercise decision-making authority) in the asset depends on his hierarchical status in the bureaucracy. In this they resemble the assets managed by state bureaucracies and the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages (in which, though ownership was nominally assigned to an organization or entity, the only members who actually exercised these rights were those senior members of the hierarchy who held ‘the Power of the Keys’).

A few functionaries exercise administrative powers: negotiations and transactions with outside parties, receiving and disbursing net revenues generated by the asset, managing portfolios or engaging outside contractors to do so, making grants or loans, bestowing operating licences, etc. Senior officers often hold advisory positions with governments and consult for private firms.

When some agents are assigned, in this manner, a limited but exclusive set of control rights over a productive asset, and where no other party has the full complement of bourgeois ownership rights, those agents may be encouraged to push for appropriation of the ‘missing’ powers: transfer rights (to sell the asset to the highest bidder) and residual claimancy (the right to claim the net income generated by the asset after all fixed payments have been made).

Those agents may chafe (as has Indigenous Business Australia and its forerunners) at constraints applying to use of ‘their’ assets, such as the statutory obligation to take ‘community interests’ or social considerations into account, rather than simply maximizing profits. (Thus Soviet managers, having been granted ‘enterprise autonomy’ during the 1980s, had within a few years secured full privatization of state assets.)

These agents will receive external support for this project from those who seek to get their hands on currently inalienable property. These latter groups will engage spokespeople (like Helen Hughes) to clamour for more ‘well-defined’ property rights, i.e. dominium plenum.

This is one reason why recently, in various countries around the world, the registration as exclusive formal title of communal ‘customary property’ (e.g. the definition and enforcement of Indigenous land rights and native title) has given way almost immediately to its annulment, or to its extension into full alienable bourgeois property, or to lease arrangements with operators engaged in full-scale market activity.

Within a capitalist social order, inalienable corporate property is an unstable form of asset ownership.

It is an intermediate state of affairs between unowned open-access resources (res nullius) or state property, as the starting point, and full privatization as the desired terminus.

It is adopted by national governments and development agencies as an initial means of fixing rights to exclusion (i.e. assigning to a party exclusive rights of entry, use, management, enjoyment of fruits, etc.) in worldly things from which non-owners are not currently excluded.

The latter circumstance, at this point in history, exists only in a few dwindling parts of the globe. In these areas  due to remoteness, aridity, barrenness etc.  some domain, territory or resources has not been appropriated as exclusive property, because the costs of enforcing ownership exceed the stream of expected benefits (i.e the resource isn’t sufficiently valuable).

In these regions, consequently, a foraging, herding or low-productivity farming society continues to manage its hunting, pastoral or cultivated land, waters, forests, fisheries, etc. as open-access, communal or (occasionally) state land.

When the potential asset becomes more valuable (due e.g. to a mineral discovery or newfound suitability for production of a cash crop), but it is presently impossible for political or other reasons to assign and enforce parcels of individual property rights, then exclusive ownership rights may be allocated to (or defined for) a local community, resident group or other entity.

Thus Jim Fingleton, who as part of the Papua New Guinea Lands Department participated during the 1970s in land reforms, and who is a staunch defender of Incorporated Land Groups against their right-wing Australian critics, has rejected the description of customary tenure as ‘something like communism.’ Instead, he has said, it ‘should be seen as a form of private property rights, albeit that the rights are owned by a group rather than by individuals’.

From there the group may grant operating licences or lease out access to the asset (or grant some other kind of indefeasible claim of the type demanded by market participants), or gradually acquire the full bundle of private ownership rights, or (the bonds tying the original possessors to the resource having slowly been eroded by the ups and downs of commercial activity) the latter rights may eventually be acquired by some other party.

This is what lies behind the sudden contemporary discovery, by the likes of Elinor Ostrom and Thráinn Eggertsson, that ‘common property’ (i.e. exclusive group ownership) too can be an efficient (low-cost) way to govern natural resources, and should sensibly be encouraged in certain circumstances.

This line of research, suddenly all the rage, has been taken up by policymakers as part of the ideology accompanying enclosure (a.k.a ‘well-defined property rights). Ostrom applies a wrinkle to Hardin’s ‘tragedy of the commons’ article (1968), which privatization advocates milked for several decades’ worth of intellectual free kicks. What appears at first to be a posthumous pardon for ‘the commons’ actually involves the executioner dressing up in the corpse’s clothes, the better to evade detection.

For the recognition of group-based corporate land rights isn’t about efficiency, and is still less about equity, ‘custom’ or tradition. Like most institutional transitions, it is about control: a class or group’s attempt to advance its power and distributional claims.

The formalization of customary ‘land rights’, including Australian native title, should be understood as part of a broader historical process: the expansion of private ownership rights into new domains including retirement provision, the atmospheremarine fisheriesriver basinshigher educationcharity, and whole regions of the world from which capitalist property relations were previously absent.

Rent-sharing in a strategy of divide and rule

March 26, 2012

The late Michael Wallerstein models the distributive consequences of affirmative action:

The motivation for redistribution along racial lines in the model is an inefficiency in the labor market creating rents for those holding good jobs, coupled with an exogenously (historically) given difference in the distributions of human capital across races. When racial divisions lead to demands for redistributive policies along racial lines via affirmative action, we show that legislative policy bargaining implies that the amount of redistribution along income lines is less on average than would exist were racial divisions absent. When affirmative action is on the agenda, redistribution along racial lines partly replaces redistribution along income lines and total redistribution, as measured by the change of the Gini coefficient, declines.

The paper shows how a ruling elite might use affirmative action to implement a divide-and-rule strategy. It notes the strategic aim behind Richard Nixon’s approval of the Philadelphia Plan and creation of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise: ‘Nixon’s strategy introduced a new policy dimension that split black workers and white union-members, establishing a Federal program of race-based hiring [and procurement] that has never been revoked.’

Wallerstein mentions the rent-sharing aspect of affirmative action, without elaborating much on this point. I want to do so in this post.

In the bargaining game of affirmative action, the parties (state on one side and interest group on the other) come to a rent-sharing arrangement to divide the surplus arising from some economic activity. Here the state represents a diverse coalition of the proprietary classes, which for strategic reasons (consolidating political stability and securing economic advantage, as Wallerstein shows) allows the other party (elite and professional middle-class members of some disadvantaged group) to capture a share of booty.

The rents may be created by monopoly privileges arising from government economic activity, or they may already exist due to segmented labour markets (e.g. in which, as Wallerstein points out for African Americans, members of one ethnic group are excluded from the labour market for secure, well-paid jobs with promotional ladders). They may also stem from artificially preserved shortages, such as professional guilds (e.g. medical associations) which allow members to earn scarcity premiums. Or rents may simply be generated by the ordinary competitive operations of private firms. An interest group, made up of elites driven by a broad sense of injustice alongside narrow careerist aspirations, uses ethnicity or sectarian identity to stake a claim to a share of these spoils.

The prize usually involves civil-service jobs and preferential admission to universities (which serve as passports to employment in the state bureaucracy, or to the professional salariat). It may also include business favours such as a dedicated share of government contracts, cheap loans, and allocation of licenses to operate exclusively in a particular market.

The US policy – giving what Nixon described as a ‘piece of the action’ to African Americans – has its equivalents elsewhere. In India, public-sector jobs are reserved and university quotas are granted to members of ‘backward castes.’ Malaysia’s New Economic Policy affords a varied set of privileges, including higher-education entry and bureaucratic positions as well as business permits and procurement contracts, to bumiputera (‘sons of the soil’). This privileging of Malay people and Malay-owned firms, at the expense of those with Chinese and South Asian ancestry, has an Indonesian equivalent in preferences for pribumi. Comparable Australian programs, granting discounted credit to businesses owned by people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestry, and seeking to win government contracts for Indigenous-owned businesses (‘supplier diversity… increases the opportunity for ethnic minority owned businesses to supply their goods and services to large public and private sector organisations’), are very much smaller.

On the other hand, Australia, like several other countries, has recognized a new form of property right based on the customary law of indigenous peoples. These vest communal title to land and water in corporate entities, enabling a small number of trustees or agents to exercise control rights over the assets. The previous post discussed a similar set of property rights in ‘ancestral land’ assigned to chiefs and heads of lineages (according to the ‘customary’ provisions of groups deemed to be indigenous) in various sub-Saharan African countries. Such institutional arrangements allow a few individuals to hold assets and exercise managerial powers (negotiation of land-use agreements and transactions with outside parties, investment, etc.) on behalf of beneficiaries to whom they are only weakly accountable. Usually these rights and obligations aren’t directly lucrative, as they don’t confer upon their bearer any entitlement to a share of the net income generated by the assets. Nonetheless they can be leveraged to obtain a stream of money and other benefits from consulting, directorships, government advisory panels, corporate liaison, etc.

These various group-specific privileges allow a tiny subset of the disadvantaged ethnic, linguistic or religious group to claim a portion of the social surplus extracted from other workers. Employment in a government agency usually involves incentive payments to motivate honesty: remuneration is set far above the incumbent’s reservation wage or salary, so that the cost of losing one’s job due to detected corruption is positive (i.e. exceeds the value of the public official’s next-best alternative). Even with mechanisms in place to discourage corruption, employment as a civil servant may be something of a sinecure, involving weak accountability and little public scrutiny. It thus presents opportunities to abuse public office to obtain private benefits through liaison and collusion with private actors. The government official may interact with business interests through the design and implementation of regulation, allocation of permits, subsidies and grants, dispensation of contracts for procurement, monitoring and inspection, etc. This allows bureaucrats to engage in rent-sharing, dividing with firms the spoils of patronage, graft and self-dealing, and establishing personal contacts that may allow a future stream of benefits. Even without explicit corruption, or the abuse of public office for private gain, a public monopoly generates rents which the government employee shares in. Public-sector jobs usually offer more job security and seniority benefits (guaranteed wage premiums and promotional ladders) than private-sector equivalents, privileges which may be especially important in countries without state-funded retirement income.

Similar benefits accrue from preferential access to university courses which allow entry to the liberal professions (i.e. in which graduates become certified academics, architects, lawyers, accountants and similar qualified practitioners). High training costs, or other barriers to entry, create a relative scarcity of these skills and enable their bearers to command a high income. Members of these professions generally work as independent contractors, often in small proprietorships or partnerships. As such they aren’t subject to the employment relationship (in which, in exchange for receipt of a wage or salary, the employee must submit to the authority, monitoring and direction of a manager, supervisor, or agent of the firm’s owners). Along with being residual claimants on the net income generated by their own activities, these professionals retain work autonomy and decison-making control of their production process, e.g. routines, effort, intensity, etc.

Thus the perceived over- or under-representation of Jews, Tamils, Igbo, diasporic Chinese, etc. in government jobs, among salaried professionals or in business interests becomes the stuff of tribalism and inter-group conflict. Do rent-sharing arrangements reduce envy and discontent and encourage ethnic (or linguistic, religious, gender, etc.) harmony?

In a bargaining framework, it’s easy to see that a ‘minority’-based interest group seeking to negotiate a rent-sharing agreement has an incentive to foment ethnic discord and encourage animosity. The bargaining power of each party, and thus the division of spoils resulting from negotiations, depends on the level of its reward (‘disagreement payoff‘) under alternative (non-cooperative) arrangements. A party advances its distributional claim (i.e. increases its bargaining power) if it can increase the costs or disadvantage inflicted on the other party that would result  from a breakdown in bargaining and an implementation of the noncooperative outcome (‘threat point’). Political discord that threatens the stability of the social order and the favourability of the investment climate reduces the state’s (and propertied classes’) fallback position, and thus decreases the latter’s bargaining power. As shown by several of the country examples above, the prospect of a disadvantaged group (especially one whose demographic weight, economic position or geographic distribution makes it crucial to social stability) becoming radicalized may allow elite members of that group to extract favours from the ruling authorities. This is one reason why so many careerists have flirted with socialism, or declared a commitment to left-wing radical politics (only to emerge, a few years later, as a trusted member of the establishment, having passed through a nationalist phase). In return for these benefits, the elite in these groups preserves the prevailing order by channeling frustration along ethnic lines.

A credible threat of secession is a way to signal an interest group’s possession of a good ‘outside option’ (the reservation payoff it would receive, not just from ceasing to bargain, but from terminating the interaction entirely). In some circumstances, creation of a new state or political entity, especially in a resource-rich region (e.g. Katanga), would reliably grant civil-service jobs and commercial opportunities to elite members of the disadvantaged separatist group. In such cases the potential secessionists will be likely to win concessions and privileges to forestall or discourage their withdrawal from the original state. Of course, interactions are usually asymmetric in a quite different way: in most cases the ruling elite has the better outside option, and can make take-it-or-leave-it offers of very paltry prizes which the rent-seekers have little choice but to accept.

Indeed, in several of our examples rent-sharing arises from non-cooperative interactions rather than through bargaining. What this means is that the behaviour of at least one of the parties isn’t subject to binding agreements. In particular, any pledge by elite members of the disadvantaged or backward community to support status-quo institutions can’t be enforced. In such cases rents may be conferred unilaterally by one party (i.e. by the state and propertied classes) on the other, as a kind of incentive device. This regularly involves the cultivation of suitable people over decades, the identification of ‘trustworthy’ or reliable representatives at a young age, and their recruitment into a kind of internal labour market with its own job ladders and career trajectory. Such ‘community representatives’ then serve as bulwarks for the existing institutional setup, as it reproduces the income disparities, ethnic divisions and group-specific poverty which they purport to struggle against.

Property rights, customary law and ethnic identity in middle Africa

March 20, 2012

Occasionally glimpsed in the lurid half-light of war reportage, or promoted in Economist prospectuses and encouraging brochures for the development industry, the societies and states of central Africa are rarely examined for their stable, enduring aspects of rule.

One feature of the local scene, common to several countries in the region, deserves particular note.


Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan political theorist at Columbia University and Makerere University in Kampala, has described how central and east African states have ‘legally enforced race and ethnicity as two salient political identities’.

Inheriting ‘distinctions crafted in colonial law’, post-independence Uganda, DRC/Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have locked in ‘a mode of rule that accentuates difference’ based on ascriptive traits: ethnicity, religion, language, putative indigeneity, etc.

Their populations are divided, based on possession of such characteristics, into distinct institutional universes governing their economic entitlements, legal rights and political administration.

On one side sit those subject to customary law, which vests property rights and political authority in ‘traditional’ chiefs and elders, ‘stamped with an ethnic identity’. On the other stand members of those groups denied the rights of custom but granted, if lucky, the protection of civil law.

Around the African Great Lakes, writes René Lemarchand, ‘ranked societies’ have formed. A ‘two-tiered structure of ethnic domination tended to vest power and privilege’ in some identity groups. ‘Political exclusion’, in one form of another, is the fate for the rest.

At its worst, this ‘tiered’ citizenship brings ‘denial of political rights to specific ethnic or ethno-regional communities, most notably the right to vote, organize political parties, freely contest elections and thus become full participants in the political life of their country.’

The durability of these legal and political arrangements, following decolonization, seems to stem from a kind of institutional complementarity between them and the prevailing rules governing ownership of economic resources. Each contributes to the survival of the other.

Jean Ensminger has shown the existence, throughout sub-Saharan Africa, of a single broadly-defined set of property rights wherever there is subsistence farming supplemented by commercial cash crops. (Of course climate, terrain, resource endowments and population density vary widely over this continent-sized region, giving rise to diverse institutions and cultures. Nonetheless the common pattern is clearly observable.)

For any given resource, various property rights are ‘unbundled’ and assigned to distinct parties. None of these individuals or entities has the full bourgeois panoply of exclusive ownership.

Households or individual cultivators have disposition over the use of land and livestock; but inheritance of farm plots and security of tenure is controlled by chiefs and elders within a village or community, and may be allocated and transferred according to lineage or status. Income generated by the assets goes more-or-less undivided to the cultivator, though local notables may take rent and the state is entitled to a share through taxation.

family plot

In the more arid zones, with sparser populations, pastoralism or foraging holds sway. In these circumstances, land is a common-pool resource (e.g. involving water sharing and communal rights of way). Its use is governed by a mix of common property rights and open access.

Historically, within farming areas, the pre-existing ownership rights of chiefs and heads of lineages granted them the opportunity to extend their power and wealth under European ‘indirect rule’.

Their hereditary exercise of control rights over economic resources (granting legitimate decision-making authority over access, exclusion, transfer, etc.) allowed them to serve as delegated authorities for the colonial power. They were ideally placed to enforce tax payment. In return for this favour they often received a more complete set of private-property rights over land.

In 1900 the British colonial power struck the Buganda Agreement, in which local chiefs were granted large estates, converting their power to that of landholders over tenants. This involved sharecropping or fixed-rent payments:

At the head of each county shall be placed a chief who shall be selected by the Kabaka’s Government, but whose name shall be submitted for approval to Her Majesty’s representative. This chief, when approved by Her Majesty’s representative, shall be guaranteed from out of the revenue of Uganda a salary at the rate of E200 a year. To the chief of a county will be entrusted by Her Majesty’s Government, and by the Kabaka, the task of administering justice among the natives dwelling in his county, the assessment and collection of taxes, the upkeep of the main roads, and the general supervision of native affairs. On all questions but the assessment and collection of taxes the chief of the county will report direct to the King’s native ministers, from whom he will receive his instructions. When arrangements have been made by Her Majesty’s Government for the organization of a police force in the province of Uganda, a certain number of police will be placed at the disposal of each chief of a county to assist him in maintaining order. For the assessment and payment of taxes, the chief of a county shall be immediately responsible to Her Majesty’s representative, and should he fail in his duties in this respect, Her Majesty’s representative shall have the right to call upon the Kabaka to dismiss him from his duties and appoint another chief in his stead. In each county an estate, not exceeding an area of 8 square miles, shall be attributed to the chieftainship of a county, and its usufruct shall be enjoyed by the person occupying, for the time being, the position of chief of the county.

The Toro Agreement and Ankole Agreement (1901) followed as the British expanded their Ugandan protectorate and constructed the railroad.

For the same period, Kathryn Firmin-Sellers has described how chiefs in the colonial Gold Coast (now Ghana) sought political authority and gained privileged claims over economic assets by cynically invoking cultural ‘tradition’ to their favour:

Throughout Africa, customary land tenure laws evolved when land values appreciated at the turn of the century. Individuals and groups competed to appropriate the newly valuable resource by “reinventing tradition,” defining a version of customary land tenure favorable to themselves… British colonial authorities had neither the incentive nor the capacity to impose a new system of private property rights in the Gold Coast Colony… Officials of the colonial state announced that they would uphold customary land tenure and delegated enforcement powers to the Chiefs of the colony’s many traditional states.

Paramount chiefs thus avoided the dilution of their power that would have ensued from sale to immigrant farmers of freehold title to land suitable for the cocoa cash crop, or from concessions to Europeans seeking mineral and timber rights.

Thus, in seeking to subdue and extract income from African societies, rather than sending out their own civil servants to remake rural property relations entirely, European colonial states followed the advice of Machiavelli:

Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does its utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way

And in fracturing ‘native’ populations into different ethnicities, each ruled by its own customary authority, they also plainly followed the Florentine’s divide-and-rule prescription, as given in the Art of War:

A Captain ought, among all the other actions of his, endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy, either by making him suspicious of his men in whom he trusted, or by giving him cause that he has to separate his forces, and, because of this, become weaker.

Yet the colonial era is long gone and, as Mamdani describes, post-independence elites continue to partition populations on the basis of group membership and ascriptive characteristics.

Citizenship rights may be allocated (as in Mobutu’s Zaire and its successor states) on the basis of ancestry rather than residence (so that the Banyarwanda of Kivu were defined as ‘foreigners’ because their forebears had arrived a mere century earlier).

Customary entitlements to ‘traditional’ land, and to political authority, may be granted to elite members of some groups, yet denied to those of other groups deemed ‘non-indigenous’. Assets held by members of such ethnic groups (e.g. south Asians in Uganda, Arabs in Zanzibar, Tutsis in Rwanda) may be expropriated and assigned to members of other (usually ‘indigenous’) groups.

Parochialism and in-group favouritism may determine:

  • the provision of infrastructure and delivery of public goods (irrigation, electricity, sanitation services, education);
  • beneficial granting of civil-service jobs and (through quotas) university entry;
  • patron-client relationships.

A view favoured and promoted by USAID and the World Bank suggests that complete, secure, well-defined property rights increase agricultural yields: transfer rights will allow land to be held by its most productive and efficient users, security of tenure will allow land to be offered as collateral for loans used to fund improvements, and a farmer who can capture all the rewards generated by his work has more incentive to expend effort.

Bolstered by such arguments, various central African states have sought, especially in the past three decades, to convert customary tenure to freehold title, through land registration and titling projects. The Ugandan Ministry of Land has put the case for a transition in property rights in its latest version of a national land policy.

The result [of lingering customary tenure] is legal dualism in the property system, a multiplicity of tenure regimes, multiple rights and interests overlapping in the same piece of land, and a heritage of evictions, arbitrary dispossession, land disputes and conflicts. The phenomenon of land disputes and conflicts have broken across national boundaries, spread to tribal and ethnic groupings, and merged with contemporary phenomena such as the discovery of extensive deposits of mineral wealth to generate overwhelming uncertainties in land rights resulting in tenure insecurity. In addition, land rights of vulnerable groups and land resource-dependent communities are either inadequately protected or poorly enforced… In the current era, Uganda has to face the challenges of a rapidly growing population by devising means to relieve pressure and competition over scarce land resources.

Attempts to establish private ownership in land have often proceeded in two stages, with an initial period when property is vested in the state. (This may be an attempt to avoid the enforcement problems which sometimes occur if land is simply re-allocated between private parties. Rearrangement of property rights by fiat is conferred with popular legitimacy if it is done in the cause of a putative ‘socialism’ or ‘national strength’.)

It regularly involves the kind of land dispossession that occurs during armed conflict and political violence. It was suggested during the past decade that the Museveni government’s forced internment of Acholi people in northern Uganda had as an objective (whether primary or auxiliary) the separation of farmers from their plots.

As Kampala’s land policy states, the push to define and enforce formal property rights in land and water comes with the growing scarcity and value of these inputs.

Commercial farming of cash crops is slowly filling the vast space between Kenya and the Ivory Coast. Perhaps more important are the quickly increasing number of exploration and production projects in minerals and energy which now run from Angola, up past the Gulf of Guinea to Sudan.

Labour has become a relatively plentiful and cheap input to production and land relatively scarce, and consequently more valuable. In such circumstances, it has become increasingly important to delineate for the owner, rather than the diffuse future benefits due the holder of customary title, precise contractually-specified terms concerning who is entitled to what (and who is obliged to do or contribute what) and under which circumstances:

The recent discovery of oil and petroleum deposits in the Albertine Graben has generated excitement in Uganda regarding the promise the resource may yield and the probable economic windfall in the energy sub-sector, its contribution to national economy and social well-being… As anticipated, the rush to secure land in these oil-rich areas is threatening communal lands which are neither demarcated/surveyed nor titled… In the event of oil companies and/or Government acquiring the land for production or processing of petroleum, the owners of land need to have ascertainable interests in land to benefit from the market value of the land.

Let’s quickly look at why an elite coalition of propertyholders and politicians might now expect to benefit from such a property-rights transition, just as many once did from the enforcement of ‘traditional rights’ under colonialism.

Compared to the full bundle of private ownership rights, customary property with fixed-rent tenancy confers a kind of insurance on the chief/landlord. (This is because, in the latter case, residual claimancy – the right to net cash inflows generated by an asset after all promised payments have been made – is assigned to the cultivator. Residual income is frequently negative in farming, thanks to weather-related fluctuations in output). Customary property thus reduces exposure to risk (in the form of income variation), yet at the price of a lower expected income.

But this hedge against uncertainty becomes less attractive as land values appreciate and the potential reward from full private ownership grows. Risk aversion is known to decrease as the level of wealth increases.

This isn’t to say that there’s a cohesive elite project in support of a transition to full private property rights, or that the latter are on the march across sub-Saharan Africa.

Elite bargaining over such a change, between chiefs, heads of lineages, local political authorities, military officers and bureaucrats, takes the form of an assurance game, in which an individual’s payoff to adopting a particular strategy is increasing in the number of others who follow the same strategy.

Each individual would willingly convert his land or water holdings to full private ownership because their potential rewards are highest in that state. But support for such an institutional transition is conditional on knowing that others will commit to do their part. Each party must be assured that a centralized coercive authority (the state) will uphold property rights against the threat of seizure or confiscation, and that other private actors will recognize (either voluntarily or through compulsion) the incumbent individual’s title as legitimate, ‘fair’ and acceptable.

If, instead, the fixed costs of enforcement would fall on private owners themselves, formal property rights may be a relatively unappealing option.

Moreover, where the scale of economic activity isn’t large (e.g. in small agrarian villages with low yields to tilling), the lowest-cost means of enforcing contracts may not be through formal ownership upheld by legal-judicial instruments.

The chief or clan leaders’s authority is based partly on informal or personalized arrangements whereby the landlord or local notable controls his own coercive apparatus, or through the social sanctions and reputational incentives enabled by small communities. Tenants and their families may be tied to a landlord for generations.

This mix of rights and durable obligations is difficult to re-create, at low cost, through formal rules and contracts. Low-productivity agriculture affords no economies of scale. The resulting absence of barriers or costs to entry would allow, under ‘ordinary’ economic conditions, a proliferation of small landowners. On the other hand, under ‘customary’ law, the accumulated power and social status of the chief or lineage head does form a barrier to entry by competitors.

‘Customary’ transactions thus involve personalized patron-client relationships, marked by reciprocity and mutual help. As Firmin-Sellers describes, full capitalist-type property rights promise to dissolve such personal, informal ties between chiefs and subjects. The prestige and status due, as a matter of convention, to lineage heads and chiefs would be ‘now measured in terms of monetary wealth’ and would have ‘little to do with his subjects’ success.’ This may disrupt the norms of reciprocity that (together with the chief’s coercive power) previously ensured compliance with chiefly authority and respect for his ownership. (This may be why the development of market-based economic activity, and creation of private ownership, is often accompanied by the reinvention of ‘traditional’ authority, and the invocation of old rituals and superstitious practices as a guide to current behaviour, and as a means to adjudicate disputes over boundaries, etc. See the spread of witchcraft cults in the colonial Gold Coast following the development of cocoa as a cash crop). This then may lead to quarrels and contests over claims to property. In contemporary Ghana, there is a ‘constant stream of litigation over land and chieftaincy.’

Thus, in the absence of credible guarantees that private property rights will be secure and not too costly, the risk-dominant strategy for each individual is to retain ‘ancestral’ (informal) control rights over land, along with the political authority, and the claim to a portion of the surplus product, that may flow from them.

Ensminger describes how even in Kenya – where privatization has been a consistent policy goal of colonial and post-colonial authorities since at least 1956 – customary tenure on farming land predominates. On the other hand, she notes, it’s been far easier to transfer the commons (e.g. the large parcels of open-access or common-property lands and water used by pastoralists and foragers in northern Kenya) to private ownership.

The post-colonial proprietary classes of central and east Africa (together with those instances mentioned from west Africa) thus find themselves with a similar mix of institutions governing their appropriation of economic resources to those that existed at independence. It’s no surprise that, as Mamdani writes, their legal, military and political apparatuses (which exist above all to pursue or prevent unilateral transfers of property ownership) are similarly unchanged. The ‘decentralized despotism’ of customary authority remains, with populations ‘legally fractured into so many different ethnic minorities’:

The consequence is to divide the population ethnically, empowering those considered indigenous and disempowering others considered nonindigenous… [Ethnic] clashes are more and more about rights, particularly the right to land and to a native authority that can empower those identified with it as ethnically indigenous… leading to a proliferation of armed militia in the context of ethnically driven clashes around land and other rights.

As a result, those societies have been trapped in negative-sum rent-seeking. The potential prizes over which rival elites contend are frequently eliminated by bouts of mutual distrust, antagonism, civil strife, state breakdown, ethnic cleansing, resource destruction and plunder; the costs paid by all parties thus surpass the benefits accruing to the successful party.

The results, it goes without saying, are both inefficient and unjust, implementing a vastly unequal division of the social product. They convey no clear advantage over other feasible arrangements. How then to account for their stability over decades? Throughout the past 50 years, the countries of central Africa have undergone a succession of deliberate attempts to reorganize society along markedly different lines: decolonization, coups, civil wars, etc. Despite these shocks, the assignment of rights and duties to people based on group membership, the devolution of coercive authority to ethnic-based administrative units, and customary law all have survived intact. How to explain this perplexing institutional durability and robustness?

It’s possible to identify one reason.

Note that, because property rights to land are often assigned according to ethnicity or similar group membership, between-group inequality often exceeds inequality within groups.

Consider what this means for the vast majority of the population of these countries: poor farmers and herders, urban petty proprietors and wage workers. Members of these groups hope to secure their livelihood, and that of their families, by getting and keeping access to land, water, tools, farm equipment, shelter, employment, public goods (education, healthcare, sanitation) as well as religious freedom and citizen rights. Under present conditions, such people will find it sensible to agitate for an ethnic ‘homeland’, complete with customary laws and their own administrative authority. If the social rules governing access to livelihood and entitlement to citizen rights are such that each individual’s best response (in current circumstances) is to parochially support the ambitions of elites from his own lineage, clan or ethnic group (and if each expects most of the others to behave parochially for the same reason) then parochialism will persist.

Members of the non-propertied classes will form political alliances on the basis of identity rather than class membership, instead of casting their lot with similarly placed people from other clans or ethnic groups.

Hence, by preventing the multicultural solidarity necessary for the assetless classes to mobilize and act in political concert, the conventions that ‘enforce race and ethnicity as salient political identities’ preserve the power and privileges of the wealthy. The prerogatives of ownership – though informal and ill-defined – survive.

I’ll end by returning to Machiavelli’s famous dictum, quoted above: division is functional for maintaining status-quo institutions. That this is especially true for rule by a propertied elite over a large asset-poor majority – political hierarchy and economic inequality – was later argued by James Madison in The Federalist Papers, has recently been taken up by Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, and is demonstrated by the reservation system in post-independence India. I’ll write more about this in the following post.

Long march through the institutions

November 1, 2011

The personal history of Oakland’s Democratic mayor  a former trade-union official and student activist at UC Berkeley makes for amusing reading, though it’s not at all surprising or unique.

In the 1960s and the 1970s Jean Quan and her future husband, Floyd Yuen, were prominent members of the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA), formed by the Black Panther Richard Aoki.

As part of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), this organization used a campus strike to demand the creation of ‘Third World Colleges’.

These latter would not just revise the existing curriculum and instruction of traditional ‘area studies’, but also give ‘each particular ethnic organization’ control over admissions and hiring patterns of departmental staff and faculty.

According to Aoki:

We Asian-Americans believe that heretofore we have been relating to white standards of acceptability, and affirm the right of self-definition and self-determination. We Asian-Americans support all non-white liberation movements and believe that all minorities in order to be truly liberated must have complete control over the political, economic and social institutions within their respective communities.

Yuen described their purpose as ‘fighting racism, reasserting their race and working for self-identity’.

One spark for the campus movement (which also took in San Francisco State University from 1968) was that the ethnic makeup of college faculty, administrators and students did not reflect the Bay Area’s demographic composition.

But the AAPA and TWLF were also animated by the plight of field and harvest workers, many of them Filipino Americans, producing grapes, strawberries, cotton and lettuce on California’s Central Coast.

As a sophomore Quan reportedly risked losing her scholarship at Berkeley for promoting a cafeteria boycott in support of the Delano grape strike.

The AAPA also opposed the threatened eviction of poor immigrant tenants at San Francisco’s International Hotel in Manilatown.

In 1968 the elderly residents, most of them retired farm workers, were told to make way for a parking lot, part of a wave of downtown redevelopment (e.g. construction of the TransAmerica Pyramid) which also removed low-cost housing in adjacent Chinatown, next to the financial district.

In response to these events, student activists in the AAPA and TWLF demanded a more ‘relevant’ education from Third World colleges focused on ‘contemporary problems of urban and rural living of Third World peoples’.

In a 1969 pamphlet they issued ‘final proposals’ for the ‘scope and structure’ of Ethnic Studies:

[Its] primary goals are to produce students having knowledge, expertise, understanding, commitment and desire to identify and present solutions to problems in their respective communities. Thus the mission of the Third World College is to focus on contemporary living and produce scholars to address the problems that accompany it.

Given the nature of the issues described above (working conditions for migrant labourers employed in ‘factories in the field’; encroachment by real-estate and financial interests into affordable housing and public space), scholarly examination of ‘problems of contemporary living’ might have been expected to involve serious attention to political economy.

For example, around this time at Berkeley’s economics department, Michael Reich was exploring how capitalist property relations were buttressed by racism.

Reich’s work on segmented labour markets  the latter underpinned by differences of race, gender, age, educational attainment and skill  revealed asymmetric barriers to switching between particular jobs, industries and sectors.

These barriers to entry and exit allowed some workers (‘insiders’) relatively higher bargaining power (e.g. guilds required professional accreditation and created artificial skill shortages and lower turnover) and others (‘outsiders’, e.g. those engaged in manual work in the garment industry, food production, cleaning or caregiving) relatively less bargaining power with respect to employers.

African Americans, women and Latinos were disproportionately found in the least-skilled and worst-paid sections of the workforce, performing low-wage, high-turnover, messy and unsafe jobs, separated from ‘good’ jobs (high-salary, long-tenure, low-risk, etc.) by lateral mobility barriers.

Reich showed how this segmentation (along with technical conditions) would subsequently produce a persistent dispersion of wage and salary rates, varying degrees of employee control over their own labour process (routines, effort, intensity) and working conditions, and markedly different conditions of life (from opportunities and tastes to geographic location).

This social stratification of workers, in turn, narrowed the basis for collective identification, such that both the relatively privileged and the extremely oppressed could begin to see themselves as members of separate groups (e.g. ‘whites’, men, ‘Americans’), with the partition inherited from birth, rather than sharing the same universal interest as members of the non-propertied classes.

As the political exclusivity of each group was maintained their aggregate bargaining power was diminished.

Reich asked who gained from racism, and concluded: ‘Capitalists gain and white workers lose, and the income differences between capitalists and white workers are increased.’

In other words, all propertyless people were shown to share a common interest in overcoming racism and other divisions.

This kind of teaching, conducted right before their noses, was supremely relevant to the avowed concerns of the TWLF.

But the students weren’t interested in a broad political coalition of the asset-poor. They were devotees of nationalism: so-called ‘Yellow Power.’

According to Estella Habal – a participant in the activism and now a professor of Asian American Studies at San Jose State University, alongside other movement veterans like Merle Woo – a more ‘relevant’ education was one in which they would ‘learn the true history of their ancestors’ and ‘Find our roots’.

The AAPA insisted that only study of their Volksgeschichte, the ‘Yellow Experience’, would teach students ‘about the “yellow-white” relationship at its social and psychological roots and manifestations.’ Thus Berkeley should create a Department of Asian Studies along with a Department of Black Studies and Department of Chicano Studies.

The protests did eventually lead to the formation of Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Department, and of equivalent schools at universities around the US.

San Francisco State created a college with four separate departments and in 2009 held a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of its birth; Willie Brown and the actor Danny Glover (the latter an alumnus) were listed as ‘honorary hosts’ and ‘community supporters’. As the conference’s program shows, ethnic-studies courses usually offer an interdisciplinary mix of history, anthropological and cultural studies, and their key intellectual current comes from postcolonial theory. (See Vivek Chibber’s article on South Asian Studies for how ‘the erstwhile Marxist intelligentsia transmuted into various species of post-structuralist theory’, with Gramsci as their intellectual-political waystation. With scholarship taking a ‘culturalist bent’ – focused on religion, language and literature – this ‘progressive milieu…while holding on to the mantle of radical critique, has evinced not only a suspicion of class theory and the Marxist tradition, but an outright hostility to it.’)

This taste for the obscurantism of postcolonial theory, as well as for (at best) Third-Worldist variants of economic theory (in which class struggle was replaced with a struggle between nations), suggested deliberate avoidance of the ‘problems of contemporary living’, rather than a deep preoccupation with them.

During the 1980s, meanwhile, Quan became a paid official with the Service Employees International Union, a full-time ‘business agent’ in charge of handling contract negotiations and grievances.

She later joined the Oakland school board and was appointed by President Clinton to a federal committee overseeing the Improving America’s Schools Act, the first statute to provide federal funds for the establishment and promotion of charter schools.

She chaired the Council of Urban Boards of Education. She was the first woman and the first Asian American in several of these positions, a fact much advertised by supporters when she launched a career in municipal electoral politics.

Such a profile is common among Democrats in municipal and state politics. (Quan’s counterpart in San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, also attended Berkeley and took part in the International Hotel campaign; Willie Brown was unmissably the first African American mayor of San Francisco; in LA Antonio Villaraigosa also used to be a union official. On the federal level, and especially since the birth of the DLC, the ranks of Democrat representatives are usually drawn from more elite and trustworthy layers: former corporate lawyers and political staffers.)

The Democrats find it necessary to emphasize the personal characteristics of such candidates in order to maintain the party’s ‘progressive’ sheen among self-identified liberal voters, to keep up the supply of letterboxing foot soldiers and union dues for their electoral campaigns, and above all to prevent the emergence of social unity between wage- and salary-earners outside the grip of the party and union machine.

Since the 1970s the remoteness of union and party bureaucrats from the interests of working people and their social allies has become increasingly clearer.

With the re-entry of China and other large countries to the world market, and the removal of cross-border capital controls during the 1980s, globally labour has become relatively plentiful and capital relatively scarce, increasing the latter’s bargaining power (with managers and owners threatening to close local plants and move production offshore).

Trade-union leaders in the US have played a part in consolidating this new balance of forces. They have agreed to sacrifice wages and conditions in return for retaining their own status and privileges, and in demogogic fashion have attributed to foreign workers the four-decade-long failure of  US capitalism to improve their material living standards of those outside the top income decile. (The AFL-CIO opposed China’s entry to the World Trade Organization, and has consistently promoted xenophobia and nationalism among its members, while relentlessly urging support for the congressional and presidential campaigns of the Democrats, the party of NAFTA).

In such circumstances, it has been necessary to link Democrat candidates to some ‘identity’ project, based around a particularist pursuit of concessions, favours and privileges for this or that gender, ethnicity, etc.

The prospect of ascending to membership of a newly-diverse ruling elite (by securing a position in public administration or entering the class of propertyholders), or of joining the professional or managerial middle stratum, is dangled alluringly before the ‘talented tenth’ of various minority groups. This is enough to secure their allegiance.

To the rest it is advertised that social advancement for the lucky few will redound to the benefit of the group as a whole; leaders who share their demographic characteristics will, once in power, be sympathetic to the plight of their fellows and faithfully overturn entrenched inequality and structural oppression, rather than pursue elite objectives or personal enrichment.

This tends to disrupt solidarity within the working population and to encourage allegiances across class lines. It prompts people to align with their ‘race’ or nation as the primary object of collective identification, and confuses them about who benefits from racism.

During the twentieth century, the workers’ movement learnt (or at least was taught) to beware political alliances with union bureaucrats and party officials, for they led to the betrayals of Stalinist repression and social-democratic reformism.

But today it is the promoters and practitioners of identity politics and nationalism who constitute the chief obstacle. They trade in a narrow particularism that seeks to win privileges for oppressed groups, and aims to uphold the political exclusivity of the latter, i.e. they work to reinforce rather than abolish those categories that give rise to oppression, exploitation, victimization and exclusion.

As I’ve described elsewhere, and as the work of Reich on segmented labour markets shows, this division of the working population, to impede the forming of coalitions, is a ruling-class bargaining strategy.

In repressing Occupy Oakland, therefore, Jean Quan was not ‘betraying her past‘, as some have claimed.

Insofar as the AAPA and TWLF promoted nationalist solutions to social problems, and argued for the separate sectional interests and political agenda of ‘Third World’ people, its members were then, as Quan and the Democrats are today, the enemies of a broad political mobilization by the working population and its dependants in support of universal popular interests: obstacles in the way of a common set of aims and values across sectional boundaries.