Thursday, August 03, 2006

Follow the White Rabbit

In this sourcefile we shall consider power, ideology (though this will also be examined in greater detail in a further sourcefile), hegemony, and resistance. The difficulty of defining exactly what is meant by such terms (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2000, p.207) suitably acts as analogy for the elusive nature of their manifest reality. We shall then move on to consider the present Intifada in Palestine, as the word itself means ‘uprising or shaking off’ (Barber, 1999, 206), and consider the manner in which it which it illustrates the extreme ‘…dialectics of domination and resistance,’ (Comaroff & Camaroff, 2002, p.208) in the fight against; ‘state terror.’ (Glendhill, 2000, p.158)

Power and hegemony may be considered as flip sides of the same coin, given that ‘hegemonic apparatus’ (Gramsci, 1971, p.365) are the socio-cultural, political, and economic means of ensuring the continuation of such a power, and only if realisation that such hegemony actually exists can a ‘reform of consciousness’ (Gramsci, 1971, p.365 referring to Lenin) occur. When hegemony is successful it engrains an ideology so discreetly that speaking of such a phenomenon often elicits comments comparable ‘that’s just the way the world is.’ or, and potentially worse, complete denial of the existence of such an observable fact. The truth may actually be that the constraints of the discourse have been set. From a Marxist perspective, ‘people owning means of production also control the process of government and can use this domination to impose their views on society.’ (Evans, 1995, p.230). Speaking of domination, Weber (Lukes, (ed), 1986, p.29, reproducing Weber, 1978, p.941-2) states that ‘the control over economic goods, i.e., economic power, is a frequent…consequence of domination as well as one of its most important instruments.’
Scott in his study on the Malay ‘Weapons of the Weak’ (1990, p.36-7) expounds the sometime delicate ways in which peasants can oppose in what he terms ‘everyday peasant resistance’ (cited by Glendhill, 2000, p.77 & p.88-9). Despite his intricate and sympathetic arguments about how this may apply in his ethnographic area and the ‘dual consciousness’ (Haralambos & Holborn, 1994, p.156) of the peasants, those who truly own the ‘means of production’ are unlikely to live in the Malay. The very discourses which Scott delineates between the ‘classes’, despite the eloquence of his report, can appear an account of a false consciousness, as he notes ‘60 percent of the share capital of Malaysian corporations’ was ‘held by foreigners’ (Scott, 1990, p.51). Scott further cites Engels, who, speaking of class division in nineteenth century England, says,

the workers speak other dialects, have other thoughts and ideals, other customs and moral principles, a different religion and other politics than those of the bourgeoisie. Thus they are two radically dissimilar nations as unlike as difference of race could make them.
(Scott citing Engels, 1990, p.321)

In the modern global economy the ‘bourgeoisie’ are literally in a different ‘nation’ and if one accepts the notion of different races, they are usually distinguishable in this way also. As Lord Cromer (cited by Said, 1994, p.239) states; ‘we do not govern Egypt, we only govern the governors of Egypt’. ‘Weapons of the Weak’ seldom reach into the Western homeland.
Thus talk of the global free market is seldom companion to discussions concerning global labour or human rights, and can be seen as little more than the mask of power shifting from old fashioned colonialism, and/or national class division, to ‘neo-imperialism’ imposing itself on ‘indigenous governments…by Western military or economic aid and by private investment’ (Gough, 2002, p.112). The writer of this paper is reminded of a TV news report in the initial days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A free pipeline supplying water had been run into the city of Basra, and hijacked by local criminals, who proceeded to sell it to their desperate fellow countrymen. A US military officer commenting on the situation joked ‘well at least capitalism is alive and well in Iraq.’ Hegemony and ideology must surely be seen illustrated here, where the nature of capitalism and its proponents is revealed, as Tariq Ali observes ‘this is not so much ‘post-imperialism’ as ‘ultra-imperialism’. It may be invisible to the average Western citizen, but the rest of the world knows of its existence’ (Ali, 2003, p.303). Thus, we may well be left thinking ‘that’s just the way the world is’ or worse, in denial of observable facts.
Globalisation is then, as Howell (2003, p.199) considers, ‘the normative goal that seeks to impose one moral universe. Viewed in this perspective, globalisation gives rise to discourses that ultimately ignore socio-cultural differences, and presuppose, at a macro-level, a single moral universe’. If the legionnaires of the new empire are rarely on the ground (other than indigenous proxy forces) and

If direct political control has disappeared, economic, political, and sometimes military domination, accompanied by cultural hegemony – the force of ruling and, as Gramsci calls them, directive (dirigente) ideas – emanating from the West and exerting power over the peripheral world, has sustained it.
(Said, 1994, p.300)

If we now turn our attention to the Intifada and revisit Scott (1990, p.xv), ‘subordinate classes…have rarely been afforded…open, organised, political activity…such activity was dangerous, if not suicidal.’ In the case of the Palestinians, suicide often takes ‘Bani Israel’ with them.
The current situation is a direct result of the Imperial British mandate over the region (Thomas, 2003). The establishment of the state of Israel, and further by way of its status as a ‘client’ of the US, is seen as a continuation of the ‘problem’ (Glendhill, 2000, p.46) of occidental occupation. The UN recognition of the state of Israel can then be considered naught but the continuation of the ‘League of Nations’ granting mandate. The recent American veto at the UN over a resolution concerning the incursions into Gaza exercised on 5th October ’04 (UN Press release, 05/10/04), will do little to dispel this perception. Should the Palestinians continue their resistance to occupation, what will the international community do about the raising of ‘apartheid structures’? (Usher, 2000, p.79, & Bornstein, 2002, p.202) An Israeli answer to the disapproval of future, or indeed past, criticism might well be, ‘It is not important what the Goyim [the other nations] say, but rather what the Jews do’ (Mor, 2004, p.318, citing Ben-Gurion). Whether the Palestinians will persist in attempting to throw of the yoke long worn is best summated again by David Ben-Gurion, ‘if I were an Arab leader, I would never accept the existence of Israel. It’s only natural! We took their land.’ (Mor, 2004, p.317). However the issue of the occupation is not the end of the Palestinians’ motivation to resist. It is reported that the Israeli journalist Tom Segev (Chomsky, 1999), while walking with an Arab lawyer through the West Bank, experienced the humiliation meted upon the Palestinians first hand. At a check point a member of the IDF ordered the lawyer to follow commands, then whilst laughing dropped his papers and ordered him to recover them from the floor, explaining;

These people will do whatever you tell them to do, if I tell him to jump, he will jump. Run, he will run. Take your clothes off, he will take them off. If I tell him to kiss the wall, he will kiss it. If I tell him to crawl on the road, won’t he crawl?…Everything. Tell him to curse his mother and he will curse her too…Really, not humans.’
(Chomsky, 1999, p.490)

This would appear to be beyond an ethereal hegemony and ghostlike ideology, but rather ‘direct domination’ (Smith, 2004, p.102 citing Gramsci) and oppression without the need of a ‘disguise’. If there is hegemony at play it more likely in the complicity of the media in the West (an accusation that some sectors of the Israeli press are innocent of, as illustrated above); an involvement which is given historical and financial context by Benedict Anderson (2002, p.264-5). This ‘self censorship’ is discussed at length and eloquently by Chomsky in his work ‘Necessary Illusions’ (1989) in relationship to the Middle Eastern situation, but also focusing on US foreign policy in Nicaragua in the 1980’s. Gramsci speaks of the way hegemonic mechanisms can come to be, other than by a conspicuous plan (Gramsci, 1971, pp.57-60). He reports that in the case of the Action Party of the late nineteenth century (admittedly benign in comparison to the fascists of his time), it was done by ‘liberal’, ‘individual’ and ‘molecular’ processes. The mechanisms of hegemony, if naught else, can be so faint as to be invisible. Yet the nature of the dialectic means that dominance and oppression are bound to be met with resistance; astutely in the vein of Chomsky and Said, subtly as illustrated by Scott’s ‘peasants’ (1985), or more aggressively in the case of the Intifada.

To close, remembering the wit of the American officer in Iraq, and borrowing from David Howarth (1995, p.124) who succinctly characterises ‘Western imperial hegemony’ (Asad, 2002, p.138) in a suitable manner citing ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (Carroll, 1987, p.124)

‘“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean. Neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “who is the master. That is all.”’


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