Divine Right and Mortal Man

by William Bowles

Last night there was a TV documentary [Picking Up The Pieces, Channel 4, UK, July 22nd] on a man who had been falsely accused of murder and had spent twenty-five years in jail, thirteen of them because he refused to admit that he was guilty. He finally won his appeal against wrongful conviction last year. But in a sense winning his appeal resulted in an even greater crime being committed on this man, for since his release, the state has stonewalled every attempt at getting the crime committed against him by the state righted [the Manchester police beat a false confession out of Robert Brown, in 1977].

?Poor fellow, he suffers from files.?
<br />
Aneurin Bevan

?Poor fellow, he suffers from files.?
Aneurin Bevan

As I sat there watching the story of this single individual’s battle against the power of the state, a feeling of anger and an equal feeling of impotence rose within me, knowing that in the face of the state, this unfortunate man didn’t have a chance. As he said himself, when a confession had been beaten out of him by a corrupt cop, he’d been a young uneducated working class kid and a bit of a tearaway who didn’t know any better, but once in jail he learned that the state, through the institution of the prison, was intent on breaking his will, whether through the day-to-day humiliations and dehumanisation of prison life or through the never-ending assault on his identity through the prison psychologist’s attempts to get him to ‘face up to his guilt’. The fact that he resisted this onslaught for twenty-five years is a testimony to the man’s strength of will and character.

Anybody who has had dealings with the state’s wrath knows the feeling of utter impotence in the face of the overwhelming power that extends from the petty, day-to-day insults and indifference, through to the total force that can be brought to bear on an individual. Most of us, when confronted with such power, cave in. A very few of us refuse, and when we do, the state will do everything in its power to crush and obliterate such people. For at stake is the state’s right to rule, which under an alleged democracy, we the people, extend to the state machine via the electoral system.

Now let’s get one thing straight here, I’m not talking about mistakes or errors of judgement, I’m talking about the deliberate persecution of any individual who challenges the right of the state to rule supposedly on our behalf, and the right to challenge the power of the state in its exercise of that so-called right.

At one end of this ‘compact’ is the man wrongfully convicted for murder, and at the other end is Tony Blair ignoring the great majority of the people’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In between are the immense and immovable structures of the state in all its manifestations that imposes its ideology on us all.

When for example, we talk of institutional racism we are not talking about individuals, but of a culture that finds its expression through policies whether in education, health or the justice system. Such edifices are based upon an armoury of intellectual weapons, produced by an army of professionals inculcated with the ideology of capitalism, which for example sees Western ‘civilisation’ as inherently superior to all others. Okay, they’ll admit to ‘errors’ and that the ‘system’ ain’t perfect but as they are often fond of telling us, ‘it’s the best thing we’ve got, come up with something better and we’ll consider it’.

Of course it’s a ‘shell game’, for no matter which cup you choose, you’ll find the same answer underneath.

All institutions are, by definition, self-perpetuating, not only because they have the power of the state endorsing their right to exist as institutions, but also because the administrative structures have a vested interest in maintaining themselves, whether it’s because of the jobs or through their belief in the ‘system’. Moreover, the system itself has built-in methods of protecting itself - often stupidly simple ones, like not signing a piece of paper or forwarding a request to the relevant department (it got ‘lost’). A single man or woman’s ‘denial of service’ can bring an entire structure to a grinding halt, such is the nature of the bureaucratic system. And the more complex such systems get, the more they get compartmentalised in order to manage complexity, and hence the more vulnerable they become to simple ‘blockages’.

The unfortunate individual who got ‘fitted up’ and spent twenty-five years in jail not only faces the intransigence of a state bureaucracy that rarely if ever admits to being wrong, he also faces monolithic structures that are incapable of responding to external pressures in a timely manner. The two processes work hand-in-hand, with one reinforcing the other. The individual has, unless very fortunate, little in the way of resources to combat such forces. Moreover, time is against him or her. The state is here ‘forever’, it has no sense of its own mortality.

When the US-inspired coup d’etat in Chile in 1973 was set in motion, almost the first tactic was a strike by the state bureaucracy that within a very short space of time brought the government to its knees, for example through the simple expedient of not signing paychecks for government employees, or for services purchased by the state. Sclerosis sets in very quickly, as such actions rapidly cascade throughout the entire economy.

In South Africa, following the 1994 democratic election, winning the vote was the easy part of the process, for the state machinery was (and much of it even now, still is) in the hands of the old apartheid apparatus. Replacing hundreds of thousands of people willing to carry out the new mandate was impossible, and winning over the existing public service was beset with all manner of problems, not the least of which was the understandable resentment of the Black majority that they were still being denied access to jobs previously barred to them under apartheid.

The result was two-fold, for often the new administrators were under intense pressure to remove the old administration, whilst recognising that many were actually well equipped and willing to serve the new government. Many in fact were women who had hit their own ‘glass ceiling’ in the male-dominated civil service. On the other hand, there was a need for perhaps 100,000 newly trained public service workers who were simply not available.

Every revolution of the 20th century was faced with the same problem: the wholesale non-cooperation of the existing state machine, without which even the most basic services do not function. Replacing hundreds of thousands of people is virtually impossible, at least in the short term, hence obtaining the cooperation of the existing state bureaucracy is virtually the first order of business of a revolutionary government. In order to win their cooperation, ‘deals’ have to be done, and often revolutionary governments find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Perhaps without outside interference, such transformations can occur, but rarely if ever do, for countries that choose a non-capitalist route rarely have the luxury - especially poor countries that lack a developed civil society, that is, structures that exist independent of the state that can fill in the gaps left by a destroyed public administration.

Much has been made of the US’s ‘lack of preparedness’ in preserving Iraq’s state machinery when it was invaded, but I contend that the malign neglect on the part of the Imperium was intentional, for without an infrastructure to administer the workings of the state in the delivery of the most basic services, the people of Iraq were utterly defenceless. This is borne out by the nature not only of the sanctions regime conducted by the West against the population of Iraq for a dozen years, but by the nature of the targets selected for destruction, such as water, sewage treatment, electricity, transportation, and so forth. This is genocide on the scale of Nazi Germany’s policy of ‘scorched earth’, that it conducted against the populations of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The media for its part has participated in the shell game by blaming the collapse of civil society in Iraq on Saddam, but the plain fact is that before sanctions and the deliberate destruction of its infrastructure, Iraq had one of the most developed systems of education, health, water, and electricity in the Middle East. It had moreover, a highly educated population of public administrators, scientists and educators, mostly Western-trained and educated. The deliberate destruction of the state’s machinery meant that in the post-invasion period, civil society collapsed entirely, leaving the population defenceless.

In turn, Western propaganda makes much of the ?chaos? and ‘anarchy’ that followed in a process that reinforced the carefully prepared pre-conceptions instilled in our populations concerning all non-Western societies, or at least all non-Western societies that don’t do the bidding of capital, and come under the searchlight of a corporate media that is highly selective in which countries it focuses on.

This ‘right to rule’, which gives the state the legitimacy to act supposedly on our behalf, is the bedrock of any society that possesses a powerful state, and it’s no accident that the concept of the ‘rogue state’ has been created in order to ‘deal’ with states that have seen their own state apparatus destroyed in part by the global expansion of Western capital, through the privatisation of public services.

The two processes are intimately linked that is, on the one hand, the destruction of poor states created by the economic policies of the IMF and the World Bank, that demands the privatisation of state-supplied services such as water, that in turn enables the multi-national corporations to come in and buy, at bargain basement prices, valuable infrastructure, built at great cost, often over generations.

This two-pronged attack on the poor of the world also disguises the role of ‘aid’, that invariably takes the form of conditions that the ‘aid’ be spent on goods and services from the ‘donor country’. Ironically, it’s the capitalist state, through the taxes it steals from its citizens, that in turn is used to subsidise the privatisation policies it forces on the poor countries of the world. So evidently, what’s ‘good for the goose is not good for the gander’, in yet another hypocritical exercise of ‘do what I say, but don’t do what I do’!

There is therefore a direct and intimate link between the unfortunate person illegally incarcerated for twenty-five years, and the genocidal foreign policies of our governments, for both depend on our accepting the ‘divine right’ of the state to rule, supposedly on our behalf. In challenging the right of the state to persecute a single individual is the implicit right to challenge our government’s foreign policies. But under no circumstances can the idea be allowed to develop that the state only persists simply because we allow it to.

And it’s no accident that, yet again, the media has been enlisted in the war to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of its citizens, double-speak for the attempt at restoring the idea of the ‘divine right’ of capital to rule us through its political class, the state, the Labour Party, and its army of professional administrators. Shatter the illusion and you shatter the social compact. Nothing could be more dangerous to the rule of capital.

Published Saturday, July 24th, 2004 - 06:14am GMT

Article courtesy of William Bowles

This is the print-ready version of Divine Right and Mortal Man

It was found in the Oppression at Home section of the World Crisis Web.

To view and post your views on the article in full go to http://www.world-crisis.com/analysis_comments/P496_0_15_0/
Part of the World Crisis Web
24856823 page visits since October 2003.