The 2015 general election, and electoral politics further afield, have dominated much of the last few months. As various political parties clamour for our attention, hoping we might grant “permission” to lay hands on the mechanisms of governance, it can be difficult at times to get below this surface noise and enquire with greater clarity into the broader reality of the contemporary state. What holds such a configuration in place? And how can we define and scrutinise its composition; its logic, manifestations, institutions and boundaries?
Disciplinary mechanisms bombard us from all sides, forming borders across territories, bodies and forms of life, wherein a cruel game of accusatory agency is staged, plays out, unfolds: the cult of work, enforced by ritual humiliation at the jobcentre; the housing crisis, micromanaged by local councils whose housing offices place unlawful barriers between people and their homes; the National Health Service, which moulds and punishes psyches deemed unproductive and/or subversive; the Border Agency regime that brutalises migrants who have often simply followed the trail of inherited dispossession back to the colonial heartland – many subjected to indefinite detention and deportation without access to care and support; and the police, always on hand to ensure total violent compliance to prevent a “Breach of the Peace”.
Beyond the immediate encounter with the nation-state, we can broaden the sense of our subjectification under the influence of numerous discursive or institutional tendencies and structures, themselves often emergent via social and cultural reproduction. Oppression has a way of finding roots in many structures and (sub)cultures, even those formed in opposition – and we include here organisations and movements that seek to define themselves as progressive or alternative. Consideration must be given to the distinct formations of differential modes of thought and being, as the concerns with statehood and subjectification are equally apparent across often smaller or more nuanced ‘proto-states’ of differing scales and magnitude; wherein oppression takes on different qualities and appearances; the party form, patriarchy, misogyny – how often we see these qualities emerge beneath the banners of the alternative.
Not only are we confronted with boundless configurations, we also face the similarly abundant conceptions of establishment, especially with forces such as the UK state: long, bloody histories of conquest, colonialism and oppression – and all the guises these have worn. If we wish to articulate our opposition to the everyday imposition of state oppression, we may be in a stronger position in considering its composition not as edifice, but rather as a logic.
The contemporary UK state provides effective management on behalf of capital, instituting strict frameworks of private property – not to mention the reproduction of racism, misogyny, heteronormativity and other violences – and implementing heavy discipline upon its subjects, including in areas of colonial rule. As capital attempts to navigate new horizons beyond the limits it encounters in its endless quest for accumulation, so the state’s logic and representation must adapt to serve and survive beneath this force: after another boom-bust cycle almost seven years ago, “austerity” was the lie given to the process of devaluing the UK working class to poverty wages and, through the coalition government’s Big Society ideals, the state has been willing to outsource some of its less desirable affordances onto already struggling community enterprises, justifying this with the language of responsibility, civil society and efficiency.
The solutions are apparent, and as many state provisions attached to notions of welfare – itself a vestige from the previous limits of capitalism – evaporate, people are coming together to attempt to reimagine production beyond, or beneath, the state. We can see examples scattered across the globe, from the health services provided by volunteers in Greece during the imposition of their harshest cuts, to the collective organising in response to Hurricane Sandy. Closer to home, a growing number of groups and individuals are working together to provide a more fervent culture of care across London. The desire to counter the logic of the big states – capital’s states; nation states – was perhaps best articulated by Aut Omnia, a member of the Out of the Woods collective at a public discussion earlier this year who, paraphrasing Frantz Fanon’s work on colonialism, suggested: “We shouldn’t be interested in ending the state, but rather the end of the world in which the state makes sense.”